Tag: Economic reforms

Widowhood in Poland: Reforming the Financial Support System

Image representing a woman and a young girl emphasizing the bond between the mother and child representing financial support system.

Drawing on a recent Policy Paper, we analyse the degree to which the current system of support in widowhood in Poland limits the extent of poverty among this large and growing group of the population. The analysis is set in the context of a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament. We present the budgetary and distributional consequences of this proposal and offer an alternative scenario which limits the overall cost of the policy and directs additional resources to low-income households.


Losing a partner usually comes with consequences, both for mental health and psychological well-being (Adena et al., 2023; Blanner Kristiansen et al., 2019; Lee et al., 2001; Steptoe et al., 2013), and for material welfare. Economic deprivation may be particularly pronounced in cases of high-income differentials between spouses and in situations when the primary earner – often the man – dies first. Many countries have instituted survivors’ pensions, whereby the surviving spouse continues to receive some of the income of her/his deceased partner alongside other incomes. The systems of support differ substantially between countries and they often combine social security benefits and welfare support for those with lowest incomes.

In this Policy Brief we summarise the results from a recent paper (Myck et al., 2024) and discuss the material situation of widows versus married couples in Poland. We show the degree to which the ‘survivors’ pension’, i.e. the current system of support in widowhood, limits the extent of poverty among widows and compare it to a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament, the so called ‘widows’ pension’. In light of the examined consequences from this proposal we relate it to an alternative scenario, which – as we demonstrate – brings very similar benefits to low-income widows, but, at the same time, substantially reduces the cost of the policy.

Reforming the System of Support in Widowhood

Our analysis draws on a sample of married couples aged 65 and older from the Polish Household Budget Survey – a group representing a large part of the Polish population (almost 1,7 million couples). Each of these couples is assigned to an income decile, depending on the level of their disposable income. Incomes of 9.5 percent of the sample locate them in the bottom decile, i.e. the poorest 10 percent of the population, while 4.4 percent of these older couples have incomes high enough to place them in the top income group – the richest 10 percent of the population.

Next, in order to examine the effectiveness of the different systems of support, we conduct the following exercise: incomes of these households are re-calculated assuming the husbands have passed away. This simulates the incomes of the sampled women in hypothetical scenarios of widowhood. The incomes are calculated under four different systems of support as summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Modelled support scenarios.

Using these re-calculated household incomes, we can identify the relative position in the income distribution in the widowhood scenario as well as the poverty risk among widows under different support systems.

The change in the relative position in the income distribution following widowhood under the four support systems is presented in Figure 1. The starting point (the left-hand side of each chart) are the income groups of households with married couples aged 65+, i.e. before the simulated widowhood. The transition to the income deciles on the right-hand side of each chart is the result of a change in equivalised (i.e. adjusted for household composition) disposable income in the widowhood simulation, under different support scenarios (I – IV).

Figure 1. Change in income decile among women aged 65+, following a hypothetical death of their husbands.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using SIMPL model; graphs were created using: https://flourish.studio/

Figure 1a shows that, without any additional support, the financial situation of older women would significantly deteriorate in the event of the death of their spouses (Figure 1a). The share of women with incomes in the lowest two deciles would be as high as 54.7 percent (compared to 17.5 percent of married couples). The current survivor’s pension seems to protect a large proportion of women from experiencing large reductions in their income (Figure 1b), although the proportion of those who find themselves in the lowest two income decile groups more than doubles relative to married couples (to 38.3 percent). The widow’s pension (Figure 1c) offers much greater support and a very large share of new widows remain in the same decile or even move to a higher income group following the hypothetical death of their spouses. For example, with the widows’ pension, 8.0 percent of the widows would be in the 9th income decile group and 5.3 percent in the 10th group, while in comparison 7.0 and 4.4 percent of married couples found themselves in these groups, respectively. The proposed alternative system (Figure 1d) raises widows’ incomes compared to the current survivor’s pension system, but it is less generous than the system with the widow’s pension. At the same time 4.6 percent and 3.4 percent of widows would be found in the 9th and 10th deciles, respectively.

Importantly, the alternative support system is almost as effective in reducing the poverty risk among widows as the widow’s pension. In the latter case the share of at-risk-of poverty drops from 35.3 percent (with no support) and 20.7 percent (under the current system) to 11,0 percent, while under the alternative system, it drops to 11.8 percent. Because the alternative system limits additional support to households with higher incomes, this reduction in at-risk-of poverty would be achieved at a much lower cost to the public budget. We estimate that while the current reform proposal would result in annual cost of 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR), the alternative design would cost only 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR).

The distributional implications of the two reforms are presented in Figure 2 which shows the average gains in the incomes of ‘widowed’ households between the reformed versions of support and the current system with the survivor’s pension. The gains are presented by income decile of the married households. We see that the alternative system significantly limits the gains among households in the upper half of the income distribution.

Figure 2. Average gains from an implementation of the widow’s pension and the alternative system, by income decile groups.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR.


While subjective evaluations of the material conditions of older persons living alone in Poland have shown significant improvements, income poverty within this groups has increased since 2015. This suggests that the incomes of older individuals have not sufficiently kept up with the dynamics of earnings of and social transfers to other social groups in Poland. As shown in our simulations, the current widowhood support system substantially limits the risk of poverty following the death of one’s partner. However, while the current survivor’s pension decreases the poverty risk from 35.3 percent in a system without any support to 20.7 percent, the risk of poverty among widows is still significantly higher compared to the risk faced by married couples.

The simulations presented in this Policy Brief examine the implications of a support system reform; the widow’s pension which is currently being discussed in the Polish Parliament, as well as an alternative proposal putting more emphasis on poorer households. The impactof these two reforms on the at-risk-of poverty levels among widowed individuals would be very similar, but the design of the alternative system would come at a significantly lower cost to the public budget. The total annual cost to the public sector of the widow’s pensions would amount to 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR) while our proposed alternative would cost only 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR) per year.

An effective policy design allowing the government to achieve its objectives at the lowest possible costs should always be among the government main priorities. This is especially important in times of high budget pressure – due to demographic changes or other risks – as is currently the case in Poland.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.


On the Necessity of Pension Reform in Belarus

20220425 Pension Reform in Belarus Image 01

Belarus has a pay-as-you-go pension system that becomes unsustainable with an ageing population. The country has recently finished the process of increasing the retirement age by 3 years to 63 and 58 for men and women, respectively. In Lvovskiy and Bornukova (2022), we show that this reform is not sufficient for delivering sustainability to the pension system, and further reforms are necessary. We show that the available space for further increasing the retirement age is limited and cannot eliminate deficits. The introduction of a fully-funded component delivers balance and pension gains in the long run but deepens the deficit problem for the first 30 years after its introduction. Reforming the pension system and transitioning to a fully-funded system would be a major policy challenge for Belarus after political change, and possible policy options should be explored now.

Demographic Challenges

Similar to many European countries, the population of Belarus is ageing. The average age is rising both due to increasing life expectancy and low fertility.

Another demographic peculiarity that has contributed to population ageing is the series of strong demographic waves post-WWII, which were entrenched by the fertility crisis 1990s following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. As a result of these waves, one of the largest cohorts is entering retirement in Belarus in the coming years, while being replaced by one of the smallest cohorts in the labor market.

Figure 1. Old-Age Dependency Ratio in Belarus

Source: Own projections based on Belstat data on current demographic trends. The base scenario assumes the current total fertility rate of  1.38 children per woman and current age-specific death rates. The emigration of 200 thousand scenario represents the base scenario in addition to 200 thousand working-age adults emigrating from the country in 2022. The TFR= 1.73 scenario assumes current age-specific death rates but an increase in TFR to the recent high of 1.73 children per woman.

Due to the combination of population ageing and the demographic waves, old age-dependency (number of people above the retirement age per number of working-age people) is projected to increase from 0.4 in 2020 to around 0.65 in 2055 (see Figure 1).

Status Quo in the Pension System

Currently, the Belarusian pension system is almost entirely pay-as-you-go, with today’s workers paying contributions that are channelled directly into pension benefits. Almost all workers pay 35% to the Social Security Fund, with 27 percentage points dedicated to pension expenditure. There are several exemptions with lower rates applied: agrarians, IT, and individual entrepreneurs. Considering all the exemptions, we have estimated the effective rate of pension contributions to be 18%.

If the pension system does not undergo substantial reform, it would need to go into large deficits (as shown previously in Lisenkova & Bornukova, 2017), or the pensions (as a percentage of the average wage) would have to decrease. Based on current demographic data, our own demographic projections and financial data from the Social Security Fund, we have simulated two scenarios without any reforms.

Figure 2. Two Scenarios under Status Quo.

Source: Own projections based on Belstat data on current demographic trends.

Base Scenario 1 assumes that the level of pensions remains at the current 39% of the average wage. As seen in Figure 2, under this Scenario the deficit rapidly takes off from the current level of around 0.5% of GDP and surpasses 5% of GDP annually after 2050. Theoretically, it is possible to finance this deficit with budget transfers, but it will require a lot of budget consolidation.

Scenario 2 assumes that the Social Security Fund deficit remains constant at 0.31% of GDP as in 2019, while the size of the pensions adjusts. In this case, by 2050 the replacement rate (the ratio of the average pension to the average wage) falls below 26% from the current level of 39%. While this replacement rate would be similar to the lowest among the OECD countries (31% in Lithuania, OECD 2022), it would put many retirees below the poverty line, given the low earnings in Belarus.

There Is No Easy Way Out

To avoid the negative scenarios that assume either a significant budget consolidation or a deterioration in the well-being of retirees, Belarus would have to reform its pension system. The reforms could either be parametric, like increasing the retirement age; or structural, implying a shift to a fully-funded pension system.

Figure 3. Effects of Retirement Age Increase

Source: Own projections based on Belstat data on current demographic trends.

Increasing the retirement age is a relatively easy way out, and Belarus is already moving in this direction: since 2017, the retirement age was set to gradually increase by 3 years to 58 and 63 years for women and men, respectively. However, Figure 3 clearly shows that this step alone is not enough. Further increasing the retirement age, especially for men, might be problematic given the low life expectancy (69.3 for men and 79.4 for women). Healthy life expectancy for men is 62.3 years (WHO, 2022), already lower than the retirement age. Hence, while minor retirement age increases are possible in the future, at the moment the potential for such reform would be limited to women only

Figure 3 shows how two different scenarios of the retirement age increase could improve the status quo (63/58). Equalizing the retirement ages for men and women to 63/63 keeps the Social Security Fund deficit below 3% of GDP annually in the long run, while further increasing to 65/65 would keep it under 2%. However, the retirement age increases are not enough to balance the Social Security Fund in the long run and still require additional sources of financing.

Introducing a Fully-Funded Pillar

Introducing a fully-funded pillar is not a panacea as it will not resolve the deficit problem in the next 20-30 years. However, it could provide background for a non-deficit Social Security fund in the future, as well as an increase the well-being of retirees.

When introducing a fully-funded component while keeping the pay-as-you-go system, it is important to find the optimal distribution of social contributions between pillars. Through simulations, we found that the optimal amount of contributions to the fully-funded pillar (the amount that minimizes aggregate deficits of the Social Security Fund by 2100) is one-third of total contributions. This amount is also delivering a zero-sum of discounted deficits by 2100.

 Figure 4. Introducing a Fully-Funded pillar

Source: Own projections based on Belstat data on current demographic trends.

As we can see in Figure 4, introducing a fully-funded pillar in 2025 will initially deepen the deficits (since part of the contributions would now go into saving instead of financing current pensions), but after around 30 years of reform, the pension system would turn into a surplus. The surplus could be used to increase the replacement rate and well-being of retirees and pay back the debt accumulated during the initial stage of the reform.


Population ageing makes the pay-as-you-go pension system in Belarus unsustainable. Without reform, the system would need extra financing from the budget (up to 5% of GDP annually). Alternatively, financial sustainability could be achieved at the cost of a lower replacement rate and lower well-being of retirees.

An increase in the retirement age and the introduction of a fully-funded pillar are two of the most frequently discussed options of reform. Our simulations show that none of the options could help Belarus avoid deficits in the medium run. The fully-funded system delivers long-term sustainability.  However, the need to finance large deficits in the process of introducing a fully-funded pillar represents a policy challenge as the policy will deliver benefits only in the long run.

Of course, other policy options are also on the table. Belarus (after political change) could secure loans from IFIs to finance the deficit in the medium run. It could use the proceeds from privatization to cover the deficits, at least partially. The effective contributions rate could be increased by minimizing exemptions and loopholes. Finally, Belarus might decide to finance the deficit of the pension system with the budget expenditure, finding fiscal space elsewhere.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Five Years in Operation: the Polish Universal Child Benefit

Family in the golden hour representing Child Benefits

Over the last five years, Polish families with children have been entitled to a relatively generous benefit of approximately €110 per month and child. Initially granted for every second and subsequent child in the family regardless of income and for the first child for low-income families, the benefit was made fully universal in 2019. With the total costs amounting to as much as 1.7% of Poland’s GDP, the benefit reaches the parents of 6.7 million children and significantly affects these families’ position in the income distribution. Its introduction has led to a substantial reduction in the number of children living in poverty. However, since families with children are more likely to be among households in the upper half of the income distribution, out of the total cost of the benefit, a proportionally greater share ends up in the wallets of high-income families. While the implementation of the benefit has significantly changed the scope of public support to families in Poland, there are many lessons to be learnt and some important revisions to be undertaken to achieve an effective and comprehensive support system.


One of the principal commitments in the 2015 Polish parliamentary elections of the then-main opposition party – Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS), was introducing a generous child benefit. The purpose of this benefit was to support families and encourage higher fertility, which had been one of the lowest in the European Union for a long time. Following PiS’s electoral victory, the new government introduced a semi-universal child benefit of approximately €110 per month (exactly 500 PLN per month, thus the Polish nickname of “the 500+ benefit”) in April 2016. Initially, the benefit was granted for every second and subsequent child in the family regardless of income and for the first child in low-income families. Since July 2019 (nota bene three months before the next parliamentary elections), it was made universal – all parents with children under the age of 18 are entitled to 500PLN per month for every child.  The benefit is relatively generous (for comparison, it accounts for 17.9% of the minimum wage in Poland in 2021), and universal coverage implies substantial costs for the government budget, totalling about 41bn PLN per year (1.7% of the Polish GDP).

Over the last five years, a number of analyses of the consequences of the benefit’s introduction have been conducted. These have encompassed a variety of socio-economic outcomes for Polish families with children – from a comprehensive assessment of these consequences (Magda et al. 2019) to analyses focused on specific effects of the benefit, such as the impact on women’s economic activity (Magda et al. 2018, Myck 2016, Myck and Trzciński 2019) or poverty (Brzeziński and Najsztub 2017, Szarfenberg 2017). The fifth anniversary of the benefit’s implementation seems to be a good opportunity for a summary and update of previous evaluations of the distributional consequences and financial gains for households resulting from this policy (an overview of all the previous CenEA analyses of the child benefit can be found in CenEA 2021). The results presented in this brief are based on analyses conducted using the Polish microsimulation model SIMPL on data from the 2019 CSO Household Budget Survey (more details in Myck et al. 2021). It should be noted that the analyses do not account for the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the material situation of households, as the data was collected before the outbreak. As previous studies suggest, the consequences for households of the pandemic and the series of resulting lockdowns varied greatly depending on various factors, such as the sources of income, sector, and form of employment, thus making it impossible to estimate precisely (Myck et al. 2020a).

The Child Benefit on Household Incomes

Due to its universal character, the distributional consequences of the child benefit payments are directly related to the position of households with children aged 0-17 in the income distribution relative to those without. As households with children are more likely to be in the upper half of the distribution (taking into account the demographic structure of households through income equivalisation), out of the total budget expenditure on the benefit, a proportionally greater share goes to high-income families (Table 1). Families with children in the two highest income decile groups (i.e., belonging to the 20% of households with the highest income) currently receive almost 25% of the total annual expenditure on the child benefit. On the other hand, among the 20% of households with the lowest incomes, families with children receive only 11.7% of the total annual cost of the benefit.

Table 1. Household gains resulting from the child benefit by income decile groups

Source: Myck et al. 2021. Notes: Income decile groups – ten groups each covering 10% of the population, from households (HH) with the lowest disposable income to the most affluent households, calculated on the basis of equivalised incomes.

Compared to the poorest 10% of households, families with children in the highest income decile receive 2.5 times more of the total funds allocated to the benefit.

It is also worth noting that the proportion of benefit in the disposable income is relatively evenly distributed if one considers all households in a given decile (with and without children). The proportional benefits in the first nine income deciles are in the range of 3.4% and 5.3% and only fall to 1.9% in the highest income group. A significant differentiation of the benefit in proportional terms can only be seen when accounting solely for households with children within each income decile. The benefit amounts to as much as 26.9% of the disposable income of households with children in the first decile, and the effect falls in subsequent groups – from 18.9% and 16.4% in the second and third deciles, to only 4.1% in the top decile.

The Child Benefit and the Position of Families With Children in the Income Distribution

Taking into account the magnitude of the policy, the position of families with children in the income distribution relative to other households may, to some extent, be the result of receiving the benefit itself. It is, therefore, reasonable to ask what role the benefit plays in shaping this relative position in the income distribution. Figure 1 presents the number of children under 18 in households by income decile groups when the benefit is included in total household income (left panel) and in a hypothetical scenario when the child benefit payment is withdrawn (right panel). As we can see, the withdrawal of the benefit would cause a substantial change in the relative position of families with children in the income distribution, significantly increasing the number of children in the lowest income groups. While in the current system, the poorest 10% of households include 342 thousand children aged 0-17, this number would be 553 thousand in a system without the benefit. However, the benefit also changes the relative position of high-income households with children. In the current system, the richest 10% of households include 762 thousand children. Subtracting the benefit from their household income would reduce this number to 687 thousand.

Figure 1. The child benefit and its impact on the position of families with children in the income distribution

Source: Myck et al. 2021.

Thus, even when taking into account the income distribution without the benefit, the number of children among the richest 10% of households is almost 25% higher than the number of children in the poorest 10% of households. Looking at the income distribution after including the benefit, there are more than twice as many children in the richest 10% of households than among the poorest 10%. This, in turn, inevitably means that, out of the total cost of the benefit, over twice as much money is transferred to households belonging to the richest deciles as compared to the funds transferred to families belonging to the poorest 10% of households.


With the total costs amounting to 1.7% of Poland’s GDP, the child benefit introduced in April 2016 substantially raised the level of direct financial support for families with children. As shown in this brief, the benefit reaches the parents of 6.7 million children aged 0-17 and significantly affects the position of these families in the income distribution. While, on the one hand, a large proportion of families with children have incomes high enough to be in the highest income groups even without this support , the lowest decile group would include over 200 thousand more children in the absence of the benefit. This confirms that the child benefit alone contributes to a significant improvement in the material conditions of families with children and to a significant reduction in poverty (cf. Brzezinski and Najsztub, 2017; Szarfenberg, 2017). However, the scale of this reduction is modest given the size of the resources involved. This is not surprising given that the bulk of the total costs of the benefit comes from the 2019 program extension to cover all children regardless of family incomes, which largely ended up in the wallets of higher-income families (Myck et al. 2020b). One of the key goals of the benefit upon introduction was to increase the number of births in Poland by easing the material conditions of families with children. Yet despite a radical increase in the level of support, the number of births in Poland over the period 2017-2020 has essentially remained the same as that forecasted by the Central Statistical Office in its long-term population projection of 2014 (Myck et al. 2021). It is thus difficult to consider the benefit a success in terms of this major objective. Moreover, the withdrawal of the income threshold has largely eliminated the negative disincentive effects of the benefit with regard to employment (Myck and Trzcinski 2019). However, it is unclear whether the post-pandemic economic situation will allow for an increase in female labour force participation, which declined following the introduction of the benefit in 2016 (Magda et al., 2018).

The effects of every socio-economic programme should be assessed by comparing cost-equivalent alternatives. Despite all gains the “500+” child benefit has brought to millions of families in Poland over the last five years, the flagship programme of the ruling Law and Justice party does not fare well in this perspective. The need for change seems much broader than the reform of the benefit alone. The benefit was introduced on top of two other financial support mechanisms focused on families with children, namely family allowances and child tax credits, and the three elements have been operating in parallel since 2016. A number of suggestions on creating a streamlined, comprehensive system have been made a long time ago (e.g., Myck et al. 2016). However, a major restructuring of the entire support system with clearly defined socio-economic policy goals in mind seems all the more justified now, when many families may require additional assistance due to the difficult financial situation related to the Covid-19 pandemic.


This Policy Brief draws on the CenEA Commentary published on 31.03.2021 (Myck et al. 2021). It has been prepared under the FROGEE project, with financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The views presented in the Policy Brief reflect the opinions of the Authors and do not necessarily overlap with the position of the FREE Network or Sida.


  • Brzeziński, M., Najsztub, M. 2017. The impact of „Family 500+” programme on household incomes, poverty and inequality”, Polityka Społeczna44(1): 16-25.
  • CenEA 2021. Childcare benefit 500+ in CenEA analyses. https://cenea.org.pl/2021/04/06/childcare-benefit-500-in-cenea-analyses/
  • Magda, I., Brzeziński, M., Chłoń-Domińczak, A., Kotowska, I.E., Myck, M., Najsztub, M., Tyrowicz, J. 2019. „Rodzina 500+– ocena programu i propozycje zmian. (“Child benefit 500+: the evaluation of the programme and suggestions for changes”), IBS report.
  • Magda, I., Kiełczewska, A., Brandt, N. 2018. “The Effects of Large Universal Child Benefits on Female Labour Supply”, IZA Discussion Paper No. 11652.
  • Myck, M. 2016. “Estimating Labour Supply Response to the Introduction of the Family 500+ Programme”. CenEA Working Paper 1/2016.
  • Myck, M., Król, A., Oczkowska, M., Trzciński, K. 2021. “Świadczenie wychowawcze po pięciu latach: 500 plus ile?”(„The child benefit after 5 years – 500 plus what?”), CenEA Commentary 31/03/2021.
  • Myck, M., Kundera, M., Najsztub, M., Oczkowska, M. 2016. „25 miliardów złotych dla rodzin z dziećmi: projekt Rodzina 500+ i możliwości modyfikacji systemu wsparcia” („25 billion PLN to families with children: Family 500+ programme and possible modifications of the family support system”),  CenEA Commentary 18/01/2016.
  • Myck, M., Oczkowska, M., Trzciński, K. 2020a. “Household exposure to financial risks: the first wave of impact from COVID-19 on the economy”, CenEA Commentary 23/03/2020.
  • Myck, M., Oczkowska, M., Trzciński, K. 2020b. „Kwota wolna od podatku i świadczenie wychowawcze 500+ po pięciu latach od prezydenckich deklaracji” („Tax credit and child benefit 500+ after five years since electoral declarations”, in PL), CenEA Commentary 22/06/2020.
  • Myck, M., Trzciński, K. 2019. “From Partial to Full Universality: The Family 500+ Programme in Poland and its Labor Supply Implications”, ifo DICE Report 17(03), 36-44.
  • Szarfenberg, R. 2017. “Effect of Child Care Benefit (500+) on Poverty Based on Microsimulation”, Polityka Społeczna 44(1): 25-30.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Role of Partnerships in Economic Reforms of Fragile States: Perspectives from Somalia | Summary

Image of balancing stones representing Somalia as a fragile state and its reforms

Fragile states are particularly vulnerable to adverse economic shocks and in need of international support. Through constructive collaboration with international partners, however, fragile state governments can successfully pursue ambitious reform agendas for the short and long run. SITE and MISUM (Mistra Center for Sustainable Markets) invited the Minister of Finance of the Federal Republic of Somalia, Dr. Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh, and the Swedish ambassador to Somalia, Staffan Tillander, to discuss the role of international partnership in the recent development of economic reforms in Somalia. This policy brief provides a summary of the key points that were discussed in the webinar.


Fragile states, characterized by poverty, weak governance, and conflict, now also have to confront additional challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. Negative economic shocks arising from climate change, financial crises, conflicts, and pandemics are known to be particularly detrimental for these countries as the countries lack the resources to cushion the negative impact and are vulnerable to anything exacerbating latent socioeconomic challenges and conflicts. 

In these situations, international support becomes essential in reducing the immediate impact on human welfare and help sustain economic reforms that are necessary for long-run development. Somalia is a good case in point, where the recent consolidation of the country and an ambitious reform agenda together with international partners have set the country on a positive trajectory. This progress is challenged, though, by the pandemic, reinforced by drought and locust swarms.

From Independence to Civil War

Despite Somalia’s economically favorable geographical location and abundance of resources, the country has a turbulent history plagued by poverty, conflict, and humanitarian crises. Dr. Beileh provided thoughts on why the country failed to realize these opportunities and what factors led up to the civil war in 1991.

Following Somali independence in 1960, the country was lacking a sufficient level of educated citizens to run a modern government. In addition, tensions with neighboring countries and community demarcations within Somalia led to conflict and a constant struggle over resources. Also, Dr. Beileh argued that the former colonial powers had an interest in keeping the newly independent African states economically reliant in terms of imports of goods and sourcing of raw materials.

Dr. Beileh suggested that the combination of these factors contributed to the fall of the military regime in 1991 whereby Somalia plunged into civil war. With no recognized government over the following 20 years, this power vacuum became a black spot in Somalia’s history, characterized by war and poverty.

Political Consolidation and Debt Relief

After decades of suffering, in 2012 the Provisional Constitution established a federal political structure, with a parliament and the Federal Government of Somalia. Meanwhile, African Union forces liberated the major cities of Somalia from the terror of Al Shabab. In 2013 the government re-engaged with the World Bank and the IMF, and since 2016 the government together with international partners has engaged in numerous structural reforms. The main objective of the reform agenda was to qualify for international debt relief through the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative introduced by the IMF and the World Bank in 1996 to reduce debt levels to sustainable levels in the world’s poorest countries. In Somalia’s case, this required laws and regulations that strengthened rule of law and sustainable economic management as well as poverty reduction strategies.

In March 2020, Somalia became the 37th country to qualify for the first step of debt relief under the HIPC initiative (“the decision point “) which meant that the country’s national debt was significantly reduced. This successful result was commended by the international community and Dr. Beileh stressed that it would not have been achieved without both international partnership and the resilience of the Somali people. Now, with continued successful reforms Somalia is projected to receive further debt reduction in 2023 (“the completion point”).  

Structural Reforms

Besides significantly reducing the national debt, the HIPC program requirements have led to development in many areas and opened new possibilities for international cooperation.

Laws and regulations that institutionalize the rule of governance and strengthen the federal system are essential HIPC prerequisites. Both Dr. Beileh and Ambassador Tillander stressed that strong governance is not only important for a clear division of tasks and competent and honest conduct within government bodies, but also an important cross-cutting issue that influences the ability of the state to achieve other goals.  Dr. Beileh described how far Somalia has come in this regard. When he started at the ministry of finance in 2017, wages, responsibilities, and accountability were up for negotiation. Today, there are rules and regulations in place that guide the responsibilities and accountability of civil servants. For instance, a public procurement authority has been established with the task of scrutinizing all government procurement and disposal of assets. Ambassador Tillander added that the strained regional tensions caused by the civil war and surrounding conflicts have been eased and the improvements in governance have led to a more constructive dialogue between the federal government and the member states.

Drawing on his experience as minister of finance, Dr. Beileh gave insight into the path of economic reform brought about by the HIPC process. The reforms focused on raising domestic revenue to achieve fiscal sustainability, keeping public expenditures at a sustainable level, and promoting various financial sector reforms. Dr. Beileh discussed the challenges related to gaining popular support for some of these reforms implemented in recent years. It is well known that economic reforms that are beneficial in the long-run often entail short-run costs which make them politically difficult to implement. To regain trust of taxpayers is of particular importance for Somalia given the need to increase domestic fiscal revenues.  Efforts have been made to actively inform the public about government activity and spending in order to increase transparency and convince Somalis that they will benefit from the system.

Ambassador Tillander provided examples of how countries like Sweden can help promote democracy and human rights in Somalia. For instance, Sweden has been working closely with the Somali government to help organize elections and increase voting participation, particularly for politically marginalized groups such as women and young adults.

Looking Forward

Despite Somalia’s recent success with debt forgiveness, both speakers acknowledged that much remains to be done.

The value of high-quality educational institutions and long-term investments in human capital is crucial in Dr. Beileh’s view. Having an educated population gives a country not only the skills and knowledge required to run a government but also helps a diverse society to move in the same direction. Although the need for infrastructure and investments in other areas is crucial for economic development, he insisted that it is educated people who in the end bring wealth, build infrastructure, and run governments.

Ambassador Tillander advocated for further promoting inclusion and merit-based selection in politics and business. He argued that progress is not possible if half of the population are excluded based on gender or age. Also, Somalia needs to move away from the clan as a basis for political power and position. As part of the solution, Ambassador Tillander suggested that Somalia should replace its provisional constitution with a new one that more strongly enshrines democratic elections, human rights, media freedom, and freedom of expression.

Although both speakers recognized that the reforms have been necessary, they mentioned that some reforms have also led to unintended negative consequences. For example, regulations to curb money-laundering and anti-terrorism financing have restricted the ability to transfer money to and from Somalia. As a result, many organizations and NGOs have found it hard to access financing, and it has made it hard for the diaspora to send remittances. To solve this issue, Dr. Beileh suggested policies that would improve the transparency of money flows, focusing on creating a personal id system and on strengthening the domestic financial institutions.

Another central topic at the webinar related to how Somalia and its partners should encourage and facilitate investments beyond foreign aid. Ambassador Tillander explained how there is an international misperception of Somalia and that his visit to the Mogadishu tech forum in 2019 was an eye-opener for him in this regard. These types of high-profile events, organized to attract foreign investments and display the opportunities that exist within Somalia, have attracted numerous young entrepreneurs who interact with their foreign counterparts, and showcase a dynamic and growing Somali business sector which is generally ignored in media-depictions of the country. In the context of the Swedish-Somali partnership, Ambassador Tillander suggested that there are enormous unexplored cross-border business opportunities between the countries, where the Somali diaspora in Sweden could play an important role.

Both speakers suggested that the foundations for communication and exchange are already in place. At this stage, the key to increase private investment is to reduce uncertainty for entrepreneurs and improve the predictability of the Somali financial system. People need to have better access to credit and financing, the banking system needs to become more formal, and the rule of law needs to apply more widely than it does today. Thanks to the HIPC process and the Somali government, steps in this direction are already underway but they must continue in order to build faith in the system, so that entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators are willing to take on the risks that new investments typically entail.

Reflecting on the start of the HIPC process, Ambassador Tillander argued that few people had anticipated the extent of progress that Somalia has achieved in only 4 years. Concluding the event, Ambassador Tillander and Dr. Beileh agreed that the cooperation between Somalia and the international community has been instrumental in encouraging and driving a reform process that would have been extremely difficult otherwise.


Speakers at the Event

  • Dr. Abdirahman Dualeh Beileh, Minister of Finance of the Federal Republic of Somalia.
  • Dr. Staffan Tillander, Swedish ambassador to Somalia.
  • Dr. Anders Olofsgård, Deputy Director SITE (moderator)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Belarus Economic Outlook

20201019 Belarus Economic Outlook. FREE Network Policy Brief Image of dark streets in Minsk representing Belarusian economic outlook

The Belarus economy was already struggling to generate growth before both the corona pandemic and the political protests following the August presidential election. The lack of growth was the result of an incomplete transition process to modernize the economy combined with a strong reliance on the Russian economy and its dependence on international commodity prices that have not paid off in recent years. With the added political turmoil and, so far, lack of a new political and economic strategy, the economic outlook for Belarus looks grim. Even if a full-blown crisis may be avoided by restrictive economic policies, stagnation will nevertheless be the most likely outcome without fundamental reforms.


The Belarus economy was for many years doing very well under president Lukashenko, but since the global financial crisis in 2008/09, this course has been reversed. The downward growth trend has been exacerbated by both slumps in international oil prices (particularly important because of linkages with Russia, see Becker 2016a, 2016b, 2018, 2020), and the COVID-19 pandemic. This is clearly illustrated in Figure 1, which shows how the average growth rate has fallen all the way to a negative one percent in the years since 2015, while the period before the global financial crisis generated an average growth of 8 percent.

The lack of growth in Belarus and its causes has been analyzed in several papers long before the current developments. Akulava (2015) discusses how the government already five years ago understood that it needs to stimulate the private sector to generate growth; Kruk and Bornukova (2016) in turn describe how growth in the boom years was driven by capital accumulation but not improvements in productivity (TFP) that could have sustained growth in more recent years. As for policies to generate growth, Kruk (2014) argues that Belarus should focus on institutional changes that create the right incentives for firms and lead to a more efficient resource allocation rather than simply spend money on new equipment for existing firms. The need for productivity-enhancing reforms is further stressed in Kruk (2019) who points out that there is limited space to stimulate growth by expansionary macroeconomic policies.

Although the political situation after the election is strongly linked to the lack of democracy and freedom, the citizens’ willingness to protest is most likely enforced by the very poor economic performance of recent years. And while the importance of economic developments is sometimes glossed over in the current reporting and narrative of Belarus it will be an important factor in the popularity of any future government in Belarus as well as the current one.

Figure 1. Real GDP growth

Source: IMF World Economic Outlook April 2020.

 Note: The chart is based on the April 2020 version of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook and in the just-released October edition, the 2020 forecast is less negative due to global economic developments. However, this does not change the general downward growth trend Belarus has experienced.


On the structural side, the economy of Belarus is heavily connected to Russian economic developments, which in turn depends on international oil prices (Becker 2016a, 2016b). In the group of FSU countries, Belarus stands out as the country that has the largest share of its exports going to Russia and the largest share of its FDI coming from Russia. On top of that, Belarus enjoys subsidized prices on oil and gas from Russia that benefits not only its exporting refineries but also other energy-intensive industries that are important for generating export revenues.

Figure 2. Exports and FDI shares with Russia and Rest of the World

Source: IMF directions of trade, World Bank development indicators and Central Bank of Russia data on FDI

As a final background note, the importance of SOEs in terms of employment has gone down in recent years but SOEs are still an important provider of jobs in Belarus and another sign of an unfinished transition agenda.

Figure 3. Importance of SOEs

Source: Belstat

To improve growth prospects, this is clearly a sector in need of reforms, including some privatizations, to make it more competitive and less of a drain on government finances. However, this process will need to deal with sensitive employment issue regardless of who is in charge politically.

Furthermore, Marozau, Aginskaya, and Akulava (2020) discuss how the corona pandemic may threaten the jobs of the over 1 million people that are employed by SMEs. The financial constraints of the government make it hard to offer widespread support to SMEs, and the authors argue that the government should target future winners among SMEs rather than the big losers in the crisis.

The challenge of increased unemployment is further exacerbated by the lack of an unemployment benefit system with extensive coverage (Bornukova, 2017). The lack of a well-targeted social security system could lead to a new increase in poverty rates. Mazol (2019) shows how past crises had a negative impact on poverty with absolute poverty increasing almost twofold in 2015/2016.

Recent Developments

The economy in Belarus was facing challenges (like much of the world) this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic well before the political crisis following the August election triggered additional problems. The IMF growth forecast for the year was well into negative numbers and given the (not always stable) links to Russia and thus to oil prices, the longer-term outlook was cloudy as well. Although the IMF’s October forecast shows less negative growth for 2020 (from minus 6 to minus 3 percent as the world is expected to see less of a contraction due to the COVID-19 pandemic), the longer-term outlook is one of stagnation with annual growth of around 1 percent.

For 2020, the economic and political difficulties can be seen in exchange rate developments as well as in the evolution of foreign exchange reserves (Figures 4 and 5).  In some ways, the 25-30 percent depreciation of the currency viz the dollar and euro is not the full story on the currency, since the exchange rate viz the Russian ruble has been much more stable. Given the close links to the Russian economy, this is quite important to note. Indeed, foreign currency reserves (the more liquid part of international reserves) have gone down by some 40% this year but are still at around 3 billion USD.

Additional pressure on the financial system in the past months came from significant withdrawals and people moving their savings to hard currencies after the August election. Krug and Lvovskiy (2020) discuss how this development is driven by political turmoil and also how the lack of trust that is currently generated in the system will lead to further stagnation of the economy. This line of reasoning is supported by Mazol (2018), who shows how financial stress in the past has contributed to costly economic contractions.

Figure 4. Exchange rate indices

(Jan 2020=100)

Source: National Bank of Belarus


Figure 5. Foreign exchange reserves

Source: National Bank of Belarus

Outlook and Policy Conclusions

The current economic policy will not generate growth in the short or long term by itself and the current political situation is clearly affecting growth negatively. The current political leadership could of course once again turn to Russia to ask for economic assistance in various forms, including loans, subsidies, or investments. Given the situation in Belarus, this will clearly come at a high political cost that will not necessarily be immediately transparent to people in Belarus or the outside world. Further, a sufficient level of assistance is not bulletproof either – Russia is itself facing difficult economic times ahead, both because of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on oil prices but also because of its own inability to generate sustainable growth that is not based on oil, gas and minerals (Becker, 2018, 2020).

How long the political and economic repression can go on without triggering a full-blown meltdown of the financial system in Belarus is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, a policy mix of more restrictions on financial and exchange transactions in combination with accepting stagnation has been shown to be a model that has “worked” from Cuba, to Iran, Venezuela and North Korea for very long periods of time, so there are no given deadlines for such regimes.

Regardless of short-term policy changes, Russia will remain an important economic player in Belarus for a long time unless something dramatic changes. If there is a transition of political power in Belarus, any new political leadership will have to make careful choices with regard to its relationship with Russia. Quickly cutting ties to its big eastern neighbor could turn out to be very costly for Belarus from an economic perspective given the structure of trade, subsidies, and investments between the two countries.

If the EU (or the West more generally) wants to provide Belarus with a realistic economic alternative to Russia in the short run, it will need to provide substantial funding and strongly support a wide-ranging economic reform program that will need to address transition issues that most of its neighbors did many years ago. This will involve not only selling state assets to foreign investors but also changing the economic system from the ground up, including institutions and management practices. Another important part of the needed change is modern Western education. The importance of higher education institutions (HEI) to generate growth in Belarus is stressed by Marozau (2019), who discusses the role of HEIs in improving productivity and how the universities in Belarus fail to stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship.

The support package may not be cheap for the EU financially but helping the people in Belarus to finally make the transition to a modern, democratic market economy on the doorstep of the EU would certainly be worth it. The question is if the EU will manage to unite around such a policy in a time of COVID-19 lockdowns and economic hardship within its current boundaries. Patience may be required among those that fight for their freedom and a new economic model in Belarus.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Remaining Challenges for Faster Growth in CESEE

20180205 Remaining Challenges for Faster Growth in CESEE Featured Image 02

Between 1995 and 2016, per capita GDP levels in Europe have converged, as countries that had lower income levels in 1995 on average have seen faster growth rates between 1995 and 2016 (Figure 1).

Figure 1

GDP per capita in 1995 and its change, 1995-16

Income differentials between CESEE and Germany have narrowed significantly during this time. If we look at CESEE as a whole, in 1995 GDP per capita of CESEE was only a third of Germany. By 2016 it has increased to almost half. If we look at individual countries, all countries in CESEE have seen faster GDP growth than in Germany, but there have been important cross-country differences. For example, growth has been relatively rapid in the EU New Member States and very slow in Ukraine.

Nevertheless, CESEE is still much poorer than Germany. The richest country in CESEE – Slovenia – has the income level per capita Germany had in 1990 (Figure 2). Poland is as rich as Germany was in the late 1970s. And Ukraine, which in early transition had similar level of income to Poland, is now as rich as Germany was in the early 1950s.

Figure 2

GDP per capita in Germany

CESEE is poorer both because labor productivity is lower and a smaller share of the population works. GDP per capita is the product of GDP per worker and the employment to population rate:

GDP per worker and the employment to population rate

In 2015, labor productivity in CESEE was still well below that in Germany and the Netherlands (Figure 3, x-axis). Employment rates were also lower, but those differences were less pronounced (Figure 3, y-axis).

Figure 3

Labor productivity and employment to total population ration, 2015

Differences in employment rates are, however, more pronounced if we take into account that in CESEE a higher share of the population is of working age. The employment to population rate is the product of the employment to working age population [1] rate:

Employment to population rate

The share of the working age population in CESEE is relatively high (Figure 4), although it is now declining. The employment to working age ratios in CESEE are well below those in Germany (Figure 5); only the Baltics come close.

Figure 4

Population ages 15-64

Figure 5

Employment rate

It will be challenging to further increase the employment to total population rate, given the impact of aging and the already relatively low level of unemployment. The decline of the working age population will accelerate in the next decade (Figure 6) as the baby-boom generation is retiring; in a number of countries the working age population is set to decline by more than 1 percent annually. [2] If the share of the working age population that works remains constant, the share of the employment to total population rate will fall sharply. At the same time, the unemployment rate in many countries is already close to pre-crisis lows (Figure 7). It will therefore be key to increase labor force participation rates, which in most countries are still below those of Germany, particularly those of women (Figure 8).

Figure 6

Working age (15-64) population growth

Figure 7

Unemployment rate

Figure 8

Labor force participation rate, 2015

A higher capital stock may be even more important than raising the employment rate. There is a strong correlation between the level of capital stock per capita and GDP per capita (Figure 9, left panel). The relationship between the employment rate and GDP per capita is much weaker (Figure 9, right panel).  Further convergence of CESEE will thus require capital deepening. As of 2015, the capital stock per capita in CESEE region is on average only a quarter of that in Germany.

Figure 9

Capital stock per capita and GDP per capita

Figure 10

Net capital stock per worker growth

Figure 11

Investment to GDP ratio, 2015

Figure 12

National saving ratio, 2015

Unfortunately, the growth of the capital stock per capita has slowed (Figure 10), which reflects the decline in investment rates. Investment rates are low compared with other emerging market countries (Figure 11). Saving rates are low too (Figure 12), which suggests that a rebound of investment could lead to a re-emergence of high current account deficits, unless savings increases as well. Yet it may be challenging to boost saving. With labor markets tightening, wages shares are likely to increase, which is likely to reduce corporate profits. Indeed, in a number of countries this is already happening (Figure 13). Household savings are difficult to influence. Boosting public savings would help, yet even though unemployment rates are falling, few countries plan a meaningful fiscal tightening (Figure 14).

Figure 13

Change in wage share of income and corporate saving, 2013-16

Figure 14

Change in unemployment rate and structural balance

TFP growth has slowed as well. TFP growth has recovered somewhat in recent years, but it is still much slower than in the pre-crisis years (Figure 15). The TFP slowdown might be a result of both the decrease of productivity in main trading partners and unfinished post-crisis adjustment.

The IMF’s CESEE Regional Economic Issues have identified several factors that might restrain productivity and investment. The May 2016 and November 2016 IMF CESEE Regional Economic Issues [3] analyzed several areas where reforms are needed in CESEE, and recommended to improve institutions to boost productivity. The May 2016 REI suggested the largest efficiency gains might come from increasing protection of property rights, upgrading legal systems and other government services. In this context, the November 2016 REI discussed the need to improve public investment management and tax administration. Given the large gaps in infrastructure and capital stock to Western Europe, improving the efficiency of public investment by improving its allocation and the implementation of frameworks and procedures could boost potential growth significantly. Regarding tax administration, reducing compliance gaps, would help improve tax collection, which could generate more fiscal revenues and allow for higher public investment.

Figure 15

Total factor productivity growth

In short, further catch-up is possible but challenging. Labor force participation could be further increased, which would also help to offset declining share of working age population. A slowdown or even reversal of net emigration would also contribute. The capital stock is relatively low, and higher investment is needed especially in infrastructure, but raising the saving rate will be a challenge. Since the crisis the TFP has slowed considerably, and re-igniting TFP growth will be crucial for boosting growth. For all this, improving the quality of institutions and legal frameworks will help.

Bas Bakker is the IMF’s Senior Resident Representative for Central and Eastern Europe; Marta Korczak and Krzysztof Krogulski are economists in the IMF’s regional office for Central and Eastern Europe in Warsaw. The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy. Comments by [Jorg Decressin] on an earlier version are gratefully acknowledged.

[1] The working age population is the population ages between 15 and 64.

[2] In many countries, demographics pressures have been exacerbated by the net emigration. A reduction in emigration, or even reversal, would also help. See IMF Staff Discussion Note “Emigration and Its Economic Impact on Eastern Europe” available at https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2016/sdn1607.pdf

[3] In many countries, demographics pressures have been exacerbated by the net emigration. A reduction in emigration, or even reversal, would also help. See IMF Staff Discussion Note “Emigration and Its Economic Impact on Eastern Europe” available at https://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/sdn/2016/sdn1607.pdf

Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE

An image of cars travelling up and down the highway next to tall buildings representing convergence in CESEE

Since 1989, there have been large differences in the convergence of the income levels of the former communist countries in CESEE with those in the US. Most Central European countries have seen a sharp rise in relative incomes, but many countries in former Yugoslavia and the CIS have not—indeed, some countries, including Moldova and Serbia, are now poorer than they were in 1989 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Transition outcomes

01 Figure Transition outcomes. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 2. GDP level in Poland and Ukraine

02 Figure GDP level in Poland and Ukraine. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

The difference between Ukraine and Poland is particularly stark. In 1989, both had similar income levels, but Poland is now more than three times as rich (Figure 2). As a result, cross-country income differences in CESEE remain large. In 1989, the Czech Republic, Russia, Slovenia and Croatia had the highest income per capita in 1989, about 4 times as high as in Albania and Moldova, the poorest in the group. Twenty-six years later, the differences are even larger. GDP per capita in Slovenia is 6 times as high as in Moldova (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Cross-country income differences

03 Figure. Cross-country income differences. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

 What Explains Convergence Differences?

These differences in convergence do not seem to reflect data problems. True, GDP statistics in 1989 were not very good. It is hard to measure value added when prices are not quite right. Moreover, GDP at that time was probably not a good indicator or of consumer welfare. Much of what was produced was not wanted by consumers (e.g. military expenditures) and/or of low quality. Nevertheless, these issues apply to all post-communist countries in the regions—it is not clear that some countries suffered from data problems more than others.

Indeed, more direct measures of economic activity also suggest large initial output falls and large cross-country differences. Between 1990 and 1995 electricity consumption per capita fell by almost 40 percent in Ukraine and Moldova. By then electricity consumption in Poland had nearly recovered to the 1990 level (Figure 4).

Figure 4. An alternative measure of decline in economic activity

04 Figure. Alternative measure of decline in economic activity. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: IFA Statistics and IMF staff calculations.

Instead, several factors seem to have a played a role:

  • The speed of transition to a market economy
  • War and conflicts
  • Boom-busts
  • EU Membership
  • Whether transition has been completed

Countries that reformed early had a shorter and shallower post-transition recession. The lower the EBRD transition index in 1995 (i.e., the less the economy was reformed), the sharper the output decline between the beginning of the transition and 1995 (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Market reforms and post-transition recession

05 Figure. Market reforms and post-transition recession. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Why was this? In late 1989, a fierce debate broke out over what came to be called gradualism versus shock therapy. Many gradualists argued that the structural flaws of the economy would frustrate attempts at liberalization, and therefore that reforms should be implemented in a gradual, sequenced way. But for others—including key figures such as Leszek Balcerowicz in Poland—understanding the nature of the problem meant the opposite: reform was a seamless web that could only succeed if all the changes happened together, because liberal prices, improved governance, and a stable economic and financial environment were needed to reinforce one another; little could be achieved with a partial reform. The evidence from the past 25 years has vindicated the seamless web theory of transition. There is no doubt that some reforms took much longer than anticipated, including privatization, both of banks and companies. But it seems clear that the countries that made sweeping changes, and that kept at reform and stabilization have done well.[2] Countries that followed a more gradual path suffered from the decline of the old industries and did not get the boost from the growth of new firms. And in some countries bouts of macroeconomic instability repeatedly undermined reforms and sapped political momentum.

Weaker growth in the early transition years was not compensated by faster growth later. Countries, where output declines were deeper in early 1990s, did not see more rapid growth in subsequent years (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Permanent output losses in the early transition

06 Figure. Permanent output loses in early transition. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Wars and conflicts also played an important role. It is striking that the five countries with the lowest growth all had a war or serious conflict between 1990 and 2015 (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Wars and conflicts impact on long-term growth

07 Figure. Wars and conflicts impact on long-term growth. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Avoiding boom-busts helped boost longer-term growth. Steady growth rates seem to be more conducive to higher long term growth than booms followed by busts. Between 2002 and 2008, Romania had capital inflows fueled boom and grew much faster than Poland, but thereafter it suffered a deep bust, and between 2002 and 2015, Poland has grown faster (Figure 8).

Figure 8. The hare and the tortoise

08 Figure. The hare and the tortoise. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

EU accession was a powerful catalyst for reforms and upgrading of institutional frameworks. CESEE countries that joined the EU were required to bring their regulations and institutions up to Western European standards. There is a striking difference in the level of EBRD transition indicators between EU countries and non-EU countries (Figure 9).

Figure 9. EU accession as a reform catalyst

09 Figure. EU accession as reform catalyst. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: EBRD and IMF staff calculations.

Thus, prospects of EU Membership have led to more reforms and, as a consequence, to stronger growth (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Market reforms and changes in income levels

10 Figure. Market reforms and changes in income levels. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: EBRD, Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Countries that upgraded their institutions to EU standards saw a decline in cross-country income differences. Countries that joined the EU in 2000s show clear pattern of convergence. The difference between Bulgaria and Slovenia has narrowed by 15 percent of Slovenia’s GDP since the former begun EU accession negotiations in 2000 (Figure 11, right panel). Similarly, a group of candidate and potential candidate countries, including Croatia (which joined the EU only in 2013) have converged as well (Figure 11, left panel).

Figure 11. Convergence within CESEE regions

11 Figure. Convergence within CESEE regions. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations. Note: The EU has recognized Bosnia and Herzegovina as potential EU candidate countries.

By contrast, there was no convergence among the European CIS-countries. Russia, the richest of CIS countries grew by only 0.6 percent annually since 1989, while output per capita declined in Moldova and Ukraine. Only Belarus achieved growth rates comparable to non-CIS countries, but its largely unreformed economy may have approached the limits of the current extensive growth model (Figure 12).

Figure 12. Convergence in the European CIS region

12 Figure. Convergence in European CIS region. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Countries that have a more completed transition are richer. There is a strong correlation between progress in market reforms and a country’s income level (Figure 13).

Figure 13. Market reforms and income level

13 Figure. Market reforms and income level. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: EBRD, Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Similarly, richer countries have a more vibrant private sector (Figure 14).

Figure 14. Market reforms and private sector share in the economy

14 Figure. Market reforms and private sector share in the economy. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: EBRD, Total Economy Database and IMF staff calculations.

Correlation does of course not mean causality but is it telling that there is no highly reformed poor country.

Convergence Post-2009 Crisis

Post-2009, catch-up has slowed down. Pre-crisis, convergence was rapid and widespread. In some countries, the GDP per capita gap to the US narrowed by more than 12 percentage points in 2003-08. Since 2010 only two-thirds of countries in the region have continued to catch-up with the US, while Ukraine and Slovenia saw a widening of income differences (Figure 15). And if we include the 2009 crisis, which was deeper in CESEE than in Western Europe, convergence has been even less.

Figure 15. Convergence pace pre- and post-crisis

15 Figure. Convergence pace pre- and post-crisis. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: WEO database and IMF staff calculations.

More recently, there have also been large differences across regions: while the CIS was in recession, the non-CIS countries doing much better.

  • The CIS countries suffered from falling commodity prices, and from the impact of sanction on Russia.
  • By contrast, the non-CIS countries saw a gradual acceleration of GDP growth, on the back of a pick-up of domestic demand in the euro area. Labor markets in many EU New Member States (NMS) are tightening rapidly, and unemployment is quickly approaching pre-crisis lows, though GDP growth rates are well below those in the pre-crisis years.

How can we boost Convergence going forward?[3]

GDP per capita is the product of GDP per worker (labor productivity) and the share of the population that works (the employment rate):

15.2 Formula calculation

Low GDP per capita can thus be the result of both low labor productivity and a low employment rate. In CESEE, both factors play a role:

  • In most CESEE countries, the employment rate is below that in Western Europe (Figure 18). Low employment rates are a particular problem in SEE and some CIS countries.
  • The labor productivity gap with Western Europe is still large, even though it has declined in the past twenty years.

Figure 16. Big differences in growth among regions

16 Figure. Big differences in growth among regions. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: WEO database and IMF staff calculations.

Figure 17. Labor markets in EU new member states

Figure 17. Labor markets in EU new member states. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Eurostat.

Figure 18. Labor utilization and productivity

18 Figure. Labor utilization and productivity. Cross-Country Differences in Convergence in CESEE. FREE Policy paper

Source: Total Economy Database, UN population statistics and IMF staff calculations.

To raise labor productivity more investment is needed.  The capital stock per worker in a typical CESEE economy is only about a third of that in advanced Europe. Domestic saving rare are too low in most the region; policies should, therefore, focus on institutional reforms that reduce inefficiencies and increase returns on private investment and savings.

Boosting total factor productivity (TFP) is important as well. CESEE countries have to address structural and institutional obstacles that prevent efficient use of available technologies or lead to an inefficient allocation of resources. The recent IMF CESEE report suggests the largest efficiency gains are likely to come from improving the quality of institutions (protection of property rights, legal systems, and healthcare); increasing the affordability of financial services (especially for small but productive firms), and improving government efficiency.


Since the fall of communism, there have been large differences in the convergence of income levels with the US among CESEE countries. Much of these differences reflect differences in policies. Countries that reformed more and earlier saw faster growth than countries that reformed less or later. Macro-stability also helped, and countries that avoided boom-busts tended to grow faster.

Continued convergence will require a higher investment, higher TFP, and higher employment rates. The capital stock per worker is still below that in Western Europe. Higher investment rates will require higher saving rates, lest large current account deficits emerge anew. Addressing structural and institutional obstacles would also help convergence, as it will support higher labor force participation and allow for a more efficient allocation of resources.

Notes and References

  • [1] Bas B. Bakker is the Senior Resident Representative and Krzysztof Krogulski an economist in the IMF’s Regional Office for Central and Eastern Europe in Warsaw. The views expressed in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of the IMF, its Executive Board, or IMF management.
  • [2]This is not to say that the rapid and seamless approach was without problems, notably large losses of output and high unemployment in the short run. Thus, reform will always have to worry about the social safety net and, under some circumstances, may benefit from external assistance, which is where the IMF and others can come in.
  • [3]The IMF addressed this question in depth in the spring 2016 issue of “CESEE Regional Economic Issues.”

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy papers and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Socio-Economic Policy in Poland: A Year of Major Changes in Benefits, Taxes, and Pensions

Socio-Economic Policy in Poland - FREE Policy Brief Image

2016 was the first full calendar year of the new Polish government elected to power in October 2015. The year marked a number of major changes legislated in the area of socio-economic policy some of which have already been implemented and others that will take effect in 2017. In this policy brief, we analyse the distributional consequences of changes in the direct tax and benefit system, and discuss the long-term implications of these policies in combination with the policy to reduce the statutory retirement age.

The Law and Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) won an absolute majority of seats in both houses of the Polish Parliament in the parliamentary elections of October 2015. Earlier that year, Andrzej Duda of PiS was elected President of the Polish Republic. In both cases, the electoral victories came on the wave of pledges of significant financial support to families with children and to low-income households, especially pensioners. The new president pledged to cut back the pension age to the levels prior to the 2012 reform, which introduced a gradual increase from 60 and 65 to 67 for both women and men, and to nearly triple the income tax allowance. Following Duda’s victory in May 2015, PiS reiterated these pledges in the parliamentary election campaign and added the promise to increase the total level of financial support for families with children by over 140% through a nearly universal benefit called “Family 500+” and to hike the minimum wage by over 8%.

Despite a rather tight budget situation, the government went ahead with the “Family 500+” and successfully rolled it out in April 2016 (Myck et al., 2016a). The new instrument directs support of 500 PLN per child per month (110 EUR) to all second and subsequent children in the family in the age group between 0 and 17. Benefits for the first child in the family in this age group are granted conditional on overcoming an income threshold of 800 PLN (180 EUR) per person per month. Since April 2016, over 2.7 million families have received the benefit and 60% of them received the means tested support (if they have more than one child this is paid out in combination with the universal benefit).

The second key electoral pledge – to increase the tax allowance from 700 to 1,850 EUR at an estimated cost of 4.8 billion EUR – has so far been postponed (CenEA, 2015a). Increases in the allowance became a major policy issue in October 2015 when the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that maintaining its level below minimum subsistence, as it was at the time, was unconstitutional. To satisfy the Tribunal’s ruling, the allowance would have to increase to ca. 1,500 EUR at a cost of nearly 15 billion PLN (3.4 billion EUR, and about 0.8% of GDP, CenEA 2015b). Instead of a simple increase in the allowance, the government decided to implement a digressive tax allowance for 2017. This raised the value to the required minimum subsistence level for the lowest income tax payers, but since it is rapidly withdrawn as taxable income rises, the allowance will be unchanged to a large majority of taxpayers and will cost the public purse only 0.2 billion EUR (CenEA, 2016). This policy will be more than paid for by the fiscal drag given the decision to freeze all other parameters of the tax system, which will cost the taxpayers 0.5 billion EUR (Myck et al., 2016b).

The policies that directly affect household budgets will in total amount to about 5.5 billion EUR in 2017 (1.3% of GDP and 6.2% of the planned central budget expenditures) and will include also an increase in the minimum pension to benefit about 1.5 million pensioners. The cost of the “Family 500+” reform makes up the large majority of this value (5.4 billion EUR). Households from the lower income decile groups will benefit the most from this reform package, with their monthly disposable income increasing on average by 15.1% (ca. 60 EUR). High-income households from the top income decile will see their income grow on average by only 0.5% (see Figure 1). Overall, nearly all of the gains will go to families with children, with single parents gaining on average about 95 EUR and married couples with children about 84 EUR per month. Other types of families will, on average, see negligible changes in their household disposable incomes (see Figure 2). Thus, the implemented package clearly has a very progressive nature and redistributes significant resources to families with children.

Figure 1. Distributional consequences of changes in direct tax and benefit measures implemented between 2016-2017

Source: calculations using CenEA’s microsimulation model SIMPL based on PHBS 2014 data.

The pension age and public finances in the years to come

The most recent major reform, legislated at the end of 2016 and which will come into effect in October 2017, represents an implementation of yet another costly electoral pledge. This policy has overturned gradual increases in the statutory retirement age, initiated by the previous government in 2012. Despite the very rapid ageing of the Polish population, the new government decided to return to the pre-2012 retirement ages of 60 and 65 for women and men, respectively. This comes at a time when, according to EUROSTAT (Eurostat, 2014), the old-age dependency ratio in Poland, i.e. the proportion of the 65+ population to the working-age population, will grow from the current 24% to 27% in 2020 and to 40% in 2040. With the defined contribution pension system, the shorter working lives resulting from this change will be reflected in significantly reduced benefits (Figure 2). For example, pension benefits of men retiring in 2020 will on average be 13.5% lower than the pre-reform value. For women that retire in 2040, the pension benefits will on average fall by 15.2%, which corresponds to a 43% lower benefit than the pre-reform value, and with consequences of the reform becoming more severe over time. The reform will also be very costly to the government budget. In 2017, it is expected to cost 1.3 billion EUR and its full effect will kick in after 2021, when the cost of the reform will exceed 3.9 billion EUR per year (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Reducing the statutory retirement age and its implications on pension benefits and public finances

Source: Based on data from Council of Ministers (2016).


Since coming to power in October 2015, the PiS government has implemented a majority of its costly electoral pledges. Direct changes in taxes and benefits will cost 5.5 billion EUR in 2017 and benefit primarily those in the lower end of the income distribution and in particular families with children. The reduced statutory retirement age will add an extra 1.3 billion EUR in 2017 and as much as 3.9 billion EUR four years later. The very generous “Family 500+” programme has significantly reduced child poverty and may have important positive long-term effects in terms of health and education for today’s beneficiaries. However, its fertility implications are still uncertain and the programme is expected to reduce the employment rate among mothers. While the government maintains that its financing is secured, it is becoming clear that maintaining the policy will not be possible without higher taxes.

The government came to power claiming that the implementation of this programme will be based on reducing tax fraud and that only a small fraction will be financed from tax increases. While it seemed likely at the time when these declarations were made, the expected major shift in the reduction of tax fraud has yet not materialised. The government have withdrawn from the pledge of reducing the VAT and from assisting those with mortgages denominated in Swiss Francs, while its income tax allowance reform was nearly thirty times less expensive compared to that announced in its electoral programme.

With a very tight budget for 2017 based on relatively optimistic assumptions, the key factors determining further realisations of the generous programme will be the rate of economic growth and related dynamics on the labour market. Developments of the labour market will also be essential for the longer-term economic success of the implemented reform package. This relates both to the future level of participation of women and to the success of extend working lives of people who will soon reach the new reduced retirement age.


  • CenEA (2015a) Konsekwencje prezydenckiej propozycji podwyższenia kwoty wolnej od podatku (Consequences of the presidential proposal to raise the incoem tax allowance), CenEA press release, 3 December 2015.
  • CenEA (2015b) Co z kwotą wolną od podatku po wyroku Trybunału Konstytucyjnego? (what will happen to the income tax allowance after the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal?), CenEA press release, 13 November 2015.
  • CenEA (2016) Zmiany w kwocie wolnej od podatku za 800 mln rocznie (Changes in the income tax allowance at the cost of 800m per year), CenEA press release, 29 November 2016.
  • EUROSTAT (2014) Eurostat – Population projections EUROPOP2013, access 21 December 2016.
  • Myck, M., Kundera, M., Najsztub, M., Oczkowska, M. (2016a) 25 miliardów złotych dla rodzin z dziećmi: projekt Rodzina 500+ i możliwości modyfikacji systemu wsparcia. (25bn for families with children: plans for the Family 500+ reform and other options to modify the system of support.), CenEA Commentaries, 18 January 2016.
  • Myck, M., Kundera, M., Najsztub, M., Oczkowska, M., 2016b, Zamrożony PIT i utrzymane wyższe stawki VAT – jak brak zmian w podatkach wpłynie na budżety gospodarstw domowych? (Frozen PIT and higher VAT – how lack of changes in taxees will affect househod budgets?), CenEA Commentaries, 05 October 2016.
  • Council of Ministers (2016) Position of the Council of Ministers on the presidential bill proposal, Warsaw, 25 July 2016.

The Economic Track Record of Pious Populists – Evidence from Turkey

FREE Network Policy Brief | A Case Study of Economic Development in Turkey under AKP

In this policy brief, I summarize recent research on the economic track record of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey. The central finding is that Turkey under AKP grew no faster in terms of GDP per capita when compared with a counterpart constructed using the Synthetic Control Method (SCM). Expanding the outcome set to health and education reveals large positive differences in both infant and maternal mortality as well as university enrollment, consistent with stated AKP policies to improve access to health and education sectors for the relatively poorer segments of the population. Yet, even though these improvements benefited women to a large extent, there are no commensurate gains in female labor force participation, and female unemployment has increased under AKP’s watch. Of further concern is the degree to which the SCM method applied to institutional measures fail to find any meaningful early improvements along this dimension, and more often than not reveals adverse institutional trajectories.

The Turkish political economy represents something of a puzzle. After a traumatic financial crisis in 2001, a series of political and economic reforms brought higher economic growth and a promise of EU membership. An authoritarian political elite, spearheaded by a military with a troubled past of controversial coups ousting democratically-elected governments, looked set to give way to a new cadre of political and economic elites who, despite a recent past as radical Islamists, seemed to favor free markets as well as democratic reform.

News media, as well as several international organizations, heaped praise on the Turkish government. In some cases, these represented optimistic interpretations of events, whereas in some cases they inadvertently served to spread a misleading picture of the strength of the Turkish economy. A recent World Bank report described Turkey’s economic success as “a source of inspiration for a number of developing countries, particularly, but not only, in the Muslim world” (World Bank, 2014).

Today, the state of Turkey’s political economy is represented very differently. Several international rankings of political institutions (Meyersson, 2016b) and human rights show Turkey spiraling ever lower, following years of stifling freedom of speech, recurring political witch hunts, and escalating internal violence. Lower GDP growth rates, falling debt ratings and exchange rates are evidence less of a rising new economic giant than a stagnating middle income country under increasingly illiberal rule. A recent IMF staff report (IMF, 2016) noted how Turkey remains “vulnerable to external shocks” and a labor market “marred by rapidly increasing labor costs, stagnant productivity, and a low employment rate, especially among women.”

What has been the AKP’s track record on economic growth in Turkey? While some has described it as an economic success (as noted above), others have pointed out that Turkey’s economic development has not been much more than middling (Rodrik, 2015).

Evaluating the economic track record of the AKP faces numerous challenges. The rise to power of the AKP government came in the wake of one of the worst financial crises in modern history and following a number of substantial economic and political reforms. Finding a candidate for the counterfactual, a Turkey without AKP rule, is challenging and looking solely at time series of Turkish development omits significant trends that likely shape its trajectory.

The focus of my new paper (Meyersson, 2016a) is thus to examine the economic and institutional effects of the AKP in a comparative case study framework. Using the Synthetic Control Method (SCM), developed by Abadie et al. (2010, 2015), I estimate the impact of the AKP on Turkey’s GDP per capita by comparing it to a weighted average of control units, similar in pre-intervention period observables. The construction of such a “synthetic control” avoids the difficulty of selecting a single (or a few) comparable country, and instead allows for a data-driven approach to find the best candidate as a combination of many other countries. This avoids ambiguity about how comparison units should be chosen, especially when done on the basis of subjective measures of affinity between treated and untreated units. The method further complements more qualitative research with a research design that specifically incorporates pre-treatment dynamics, which due to the financial crisis preceding the election of AKP to power, is essential. Similar to a difference-in-differences strategy, SCM compares differences in treated and untreated units before and after the event of interest. But in contrast to such a strategy design, SCM allocates different weights to different untreated units based on a set of covariates.

Figure 1. Results for Turkey’s GDP per capita

fig1Note: Upper graph shows Turkey’s GDP per capita compared to a synthetic counterpart. The middle graph shows the difference between the former and the latter (black line) as well as placebo differences for untreated units (gray lines). The lowest graph plots the weights assigned to countries that constitute the synthetic control for Turkey. See Meyersson (2016a) for details.

As shown in Figure 1, I find that GDP per capita under the AKP in Turkey has not grown faster than its synthetic control. A “synthetic Turkey” (upper graph in Figure 1), which went through similar pre-2003 dynamics in its GDP per capita, also experienced an economic rebound very similar to that of Turkey.

This is robust to a range of specifications that in different ways account for the pre-AKP GDP dynamics. Restricting the set of control units to Muslim countries only, reveals Turkey to have actually grown significantly slower than the weighted combination of the Muslim counterparts. Moreover, a comparison of severe financial crises using SCM shows Turkey’s post-crisis trajectory in GDP per capita to be no faster than its synthetic control. The focus on post-crisis recoveries allows estimation of the composite effect, including both the financial crisis of 2001 as well as the election of AKP and, under the assumption that post-crisis – and pre-AKP – reforms were indeed growth enhancing, provides an upper bound for the effect of the AKP.

These results, however, hide some of the more transformative aspects of how the Turkish economy has changed during the AKP’s reign. Focusing on education outcomes, I instead find large positive effects on university enrollment for both men and women. These improvements are mirrored for key health variables such as maternal and infant mortality, and are likely responses to large-scale policy changes implemented by the AKP that are discussed in Meyersson (2016a). The policy changes include the extensive Health Transformation Program (HTP) implemented by the AKP government (Atun et al 2013), as well as mushrooming of provincial universities from 2006 and onward (Çelik and Gür, 2013).

As such, to the extent that the AKP has engaged in populism from a macroeconomic perspective, it has nonetheless also experienced a significant degree of social mobility, especially among the poorer segments of society. An exaggerated focus on economic output risks obfuscating the structural changes in key factor endowments that could very well prove beneficial in the long run. Still, the improved access to these areas has not been followed by improved outcomes in the labor markets, especially for women. The period under AKP has seen significant reductions in both female labor force participation as well as higher female unemployment. This raises concerns over to what extent the Turkish government has been able to put a valuable talent reserve to productive use, as well as allowing women meaningful labor market returns to education.

Figure 2. Results for Turkey’s gross enrollment in tertiary education

fig2Note: Upper graph shows Turkey’s gross enrollment in tertiary education compared to a synthetic counterpart. The middle graph shows the difference between the former and the latter (black line) as well as placebo differences for untreated units (gray lines). The lowest graph plots the weights assigned to countries that constitute the synthetic control for Turkey. See Meyersson (2016a) for details.

An evaluation of the AKP’s institutional effect using multiple institutional indicators, measuring various aspects ranging from institutionalized authority, liberal democracy, and human rights results in a failure to find any durable early positive effects during AKP’s tenure. In the longer run, for all outcomes the overall effect seems to have been clearly negative. Finally, the significant reduction in military rents, whether measured in terms of expenditure or personnel, is illustrative of the degree to which the military’s political power diminished relatively early on, and posits concerns over lower economic rents as another source of friction between the civil and military loci of power in the country.

Overall, the results point to Turkey undergoing a transformative period during the AKP, socioeconomically as well as politically. Even though the initial years of higher GDP per capita growth under the AKP, in absolute terms, dwindle significantly in comparison to a synthetic counterpart, increased access to health and education provide reasons for political support of a government that has extended a socioeconomic franchise to a larger segment.


  • Abadie, Alberto, Alexis Diamond, and Jens Hainmueller, “Synthetic Control Methods for Comparative Case Studies: Estimating the Effects of California’s Tobacco Control Program,” Journal of the American Statistical Association, 105 (2010), 493-505.
  • Abadie, Alberto, Alexis Diamond, and Jens Hainmueller, “Comparative Politics and the Synthetic Control Method,” American Journal of Political Science, 2015, 59 (2), 495-510.
  • Atun, Rifat, Sabahattin Aydin, Sarbani Chakraborty, Safir Sümer, Meltem Aran, Ipek Gürol, Serpil Nazlıoğlu, Şenay Özğülcü, Ülger Aydoğan, Banu Ayar, Uğur Dilmen, Recep Akdağ, “Universal health coverage in Turkey: enhancement of equity,” The Lancet, Vol 382 July 6, 2013.
  • Çelik, Zafer and Bekir Gür, “Turkey’s Education Policy During the AKP Party Era (2002-2013),” Insight Turkey, Vol. 15, No. 4, 2013, pp. 151-176
  • International Monetary Fund, “Staff Report for the 2016 Article IV Consultation: Turkey,” IMF Country Report No. 16/104
  • Meyersson, Erik, 2016a, “’Pious Populists at the Gate’ – A Case Study of Economic Development in Turkey under AKP”, working paper.
  • Meyersson, Erik, 2016b, “On the Timing of Turkey’s Authoritarian Turn”, Free Policy Brief, http://freepolicybriefs.org/2016/04/04/timing-turkeys-authoritarian-turn/
  • Rodrik, Dani, 2015, “Turkish Economic Myths”, http://rodrik.typepad.com/dani_rodriks_weblog/2015/04/turkish-economic-myths.html
  • “The World Bank, Turkey’s Transitions: Integration, Inclusion, Institutions.” Country Economic Memorandum (2014, December).

Important Policy Lessons from Swedish-Russian Capital Flows Data

A recent study of capital flows between Sweden and Russia provides many policy lessons that are highly relevant for the current economic situation in Russia. In line with studies on other countries, bilateral FDI flows were more stable than portfolio flows, which is important for a country looking for predictable external sources of funding. However, much of the FDI flows came with trade and growth of the Russian market. The sharp decline in imports and fall in GDP is therefore bad news also when it comes to attracting FDI. The conclusion is (again) that institutional reforms and reengaging with the West are crucial policies to stimulate both the domestic economy and encourage much-needed FDI.

In a recent paper (Becker 2016), I take a detailed look at the trends and nature of bilateral capital flows between Sweden and Russia over that last 15 years. Although the paper focuses on the capital flows of a relatively small country like Sweden with Russia, it sheds some light on more general theoretical and empirical issues associated with FDI and portfolio flows that are highly relevant for Russia today.

Measuring Bilateral FDI

One general qualifier for studies of bilateral capital flows is however the reliability of data; Not only is a significant share of international capital flows routed through offshore tax havens which makes identifying the true country of origin and investment difficult, but also many investing companies are multinationals (MNEs) with operations and shareholders in many countries so it is hard to have a clear definition of what is a “Swedish” or a “Russian” company. In addition, when different official data providers, in this case Statistics Sweden (SCB) and the Central Bank of Russia (CBR), report capital flows on the macro level, there are large discrepancies.

Private companies also gather company level data on FDI that can be aggregated and compared with the macro level FDI data. This data is on gross FDI flows and should not be expected to be the same as the net macro level FDI flows data but is a bit of a “reality check” of the macro data.

Figure 1. Average annual FDI flows

Fig1Sources: SCB, CBR, fDi Market, MergerMarkets

The reported annual average flow of FDI from Sweden to Russia varies from around USD500 million to USD1.2 billion depending on the data source. Russian flows to Sweden are rather insignificant regardless of the source but the different sources do not agree on the sign of the net flows (Figure 1).

The differences between data sources suggest that some caution is warranted when analyzing bilateral FDI flows. With this caveat in mind, there are still some clear patterns in the capital flows data from Sweden to Russia that emerge and carries important policy lessons in the current Russian economic environment.

FDI vs. Portfolio Investments

There is a large literature discussing the distinguishing features of FDI and portfolio flows (see Becker 2016 for a summary). Some of the key macro economic questions include which type of flows provides most international risk sharing; are most stable over time; or most likely to contribute to balance of payments crises when the flows go in reverse. In addition, there are potential differences in terms of the amount of international knowledge transfers and how different types of capital flows respond to institutional factors.

Figure 2. FDI and portfolio investments

Fig2Source: SCB

Figure 2 shows that FDI has been much more stable than portfolio flows in the years prior to and after the global financial crisis as well as in more recent years. Although all types of capital flows respond negatively to poor macroeconomic performance, and the stock of portfolio investments swing around much faster than FDI investments, i.e., portfolio flows go in reverse more easily and can contribute to external crises. This makes FDI a more preferable type of capital flow for Russia.

FDI and Trade Go Together

Since FDI is a desired type of capital flow, it is important to understand its driving forces. The first question to address is whether FDI and trade are substitutes or complements. Since the bulk of FDI comes from MNEs that operate in many countries, we can imagine cases both when FDI supports existing trade and cases when it is aimed at replacing trade by moving production to the country where the demand for the goods is high.

In the case of Sweden and Russia, the macro picture is clear; FDI has increased very much in line with Swedish exports to Russia (Figure 3). Both of these variables are of course closely correlated with the general economic development in Russia, but even so, the very close correlation between FDI and trade over the last 15 years suggests that they are compliments rather than substitutes.

Figure 3. Swedish Exports and FDI to Russia

Fig3Source: SCB

Most FDI is Horizontal

FDI flows are often categorized in terms of the main motivating force for MNEs to engage in cross-border investment: vertical (basically looking for cheaper inputs), horizontal (expanding the customer base), export-platform (producing abroad for export to third countries) or complex (a mix of the other reasons) FDI.

Looking at the sectoral composition of FDI from Sweden to Russia (Figure 4), most investments have come in sectors where it is clear that MNEs are looking to expand their customer base. Even in the case of real estate investments, a large share is IKEA developing new shopping centers that host their own outlets together with other shops. Communication and financial services are also mostly related to service providers looking for new customer. Only a small share is in natural resource sectors that would be more in line with vertical FDI, while there are very few (if any) examples of MNEs moving production to Russia to export to third countries.

Figure 4. Sectors of Swedish FDI to Russia

Fig4Source: SCB

Policy conclusions

The above figures on bilateral capital flows from Sweden to Russia carry three important policy messages: 1) FDI is more stable than portfolio flows; 2) Trade goes hand in hand with FDI; and 3) FDI to Russia has mostly been horizontal and driven by an expanding customer base.

In the current situation where Russia should focus on policies to attract private capital inflows, the goal should be to attract FDI. Instead, the government is now looking for portfolio inflows in the form of a USD3 billion bond issue. But FDI is a more stable type of international capital than portfolio flows and also come with the potential of important knowledge transfers both in terms of new technologies and management practices.

However, as we have seen above, FDI inflows have in the past been correlated with increased trade and an expanding Russian market. In the current environment, where imports with the West declined by 30-40 percent in the last year, GDP fell by around 4 percent, and the drop in consumers’ real incomes have reached double digits in recent months, it is hard to see any macro factors that will drive FDI inflows.

Instead, attracting FDI in this macro environment requires policy changes that remove political and institutional barriers to investments. The first step is to fulfill the Minsk agreement and contribute to a peaceful solution in Ukraine that is consistent with international laws. This would not only remove official sanctions but also provide a very serious signal to foreign investors that Russia plays by the international rulebook and is a safe place for investments from any country.

The second part of an FDI-friendly reform package should address the institutional weaknesses that in the past have reduced both foreign and domestic investments. It is telling that many papers that look at the determinants of FDI flows to transition countries include a ‘Russia dummy’ that is estimated to be negative and both statistically and economically significant (see e.g. Bevan, Estrin and Meyer, 2004 and Frenkel, Funke, and Stadtmann, 2004). One factor that reduces the significance of the ‘Russia dummy’ is related to how laws are implemented. Other studies point to the negative effect corruption has on FDI.

Reducing corruption and improving the rule of law are some of the key reforms that would have benefits far beyond attracting FDI and has been part of the Russian reform discussion for a very long time. It was also part of the reform program that then-President Medvedev presented to deal with the situation in 2009 together with a long list of other structural reforms that would help modernize the Russian economy and society more generally.

As the saying goes, don’t waste a good crisis! It is time that Russia implements these long-overdue reforms and creates the prospering economy that the people of Russia would benefit from for many generations.


  • Becker, T, 2016, “The Nature of Swedish-Russian Capital Flows”, SITE Working paper 35, March.
  • Bevan, A, Estrin, S & Meyer, K 2004, “Foreign investment location and institutional development in transition economies”, International Business Review, vol. 13, no. 1, pp.43-64.
  • Frenkel, M, Funke, K & Stadtmann, G 2004, “A panel analysis of bilateral FDI flows to emerging economies”, Economic Systems, vol. 28, no. 3, pp. 281-300.