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The Greek crisis impact on Southeast Europe

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During the course of Greek debt negotiations, debate has been dominated by the questions about the impact of this crisis on the Euro zone. Few discussions have focused on the potential economic and political ramifications the crisis may pose for countries in Southeast Europe (SEE).

With the stakes so high, Greece’s ability to strike a deal with its Euro zone creditors is good news for everyone especially for the countries of SEE. The most recent bailout deal of around 80 billion Euros has generated a good amount of optimism although many details remain hazy . Significant hurdles need to be cleared and the risks have not gone away.

Beyond Greece, the threat of economic instability in SEE is real. The economic situation of Greece’s neighbors remains fragile due to the lingering effects of the European financial crisis. The World Bank notes the region suffered a double dip recession over the last five years with an average regional GDP contraction of 5.9 percent in 2009, and another 1.2 percent in 2012 .

SEE’s heavy dependence on European markets resulted in negative trade and associated financial spillover effects. As it struggles to regain its economic stride, SEE continues to experience sluggish growth rates and poor market and investor confidence .

The current economic turmoil in Greece has only highlighted the region’s vulnerabilities and challenges. The macroeconomic imbalances of the region make them particularly vulnerable to Greek economic contagion. Direct and indirect effects from the Greek crisis concern mainly the banking sector, trade, foreign direct investments, and foreign workers´ remittances .

Over the last two decades, Greek banks established a significant number of subsidiaries in SEE countries. Greek banks represent approximately 20 percent of the financial and banking market of SEE. They play an important role in Bulgaria (20 percent), Macedonia (20 percent), Albania (16 percent), Serbia (14 percent), and Romania (12 percent) .

As the Greek crisis unfolded, SEE Central Bank authorities appear to have put in place measures to insulate the Greek owned banks from a possible contagion by ring-facing the local subsidiaries from their parent institutions.

Indeed, in most of the countries, subsidiaries of Greek banks hold no Greek government securities and seem to have sufficient capital and normal liquidity levels. Strong capital-adequacy ratios have been introduced in SEE to protect depositors, and ensure the stability of the financial system.

However, the question is whether a Greek banking collapse at home would affect customers in the SEE and spread contagion in the form of panic withdrawals. It remains uncertain how a Greek bank bankruptcy and recapitalization would affect Greek banks abroad. Even if not directly impacted by recapitalization, this process would likely force their affiliates in SEE to cut back the lending.

Any panic will predictably slow down lending by other European banks with significant exposure to the Greek sovereign debt. The region is more vulnerable than other areas because the banking system is owned up to 80 percent in some of the countries by foreign banks. If the much squeezed credit market in the region is factored in, the situation further appears even gloomier.

However, there could be some potential good news for the banking sector after the third bail-out deal. According to the most recent agreement with the Euro zone creditors, a new trust fund of 50 billion Euros of Greek assets will be set, with half of it to be used for recapitalization of the banks . Theoretically, this should avert the risk of a crash of the banking sector in Greece and have some positive ramifications for subsidiaries in SEE.

When it comes to trade between SEE and Greece, it has declined over the last years, and Greece is not anymore among the main destinations for the SEE`s exports. However, Greece remains the second biggest importer in most countries of SEE.

The economic recession in Greece has had a negative impact on remittances to SEE countries, mainly for Albania, Bulgaria and Serbia . The return of these economic migrants to their origin countries is another risk that put more stringent pressure to the weak economies in the region.

Formerly, Greece was one of the largest investors in SEE. In 2009, Greece´s outward stock of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region stood at $ 10.5 billion, making up 27 percent of investments . Greek FDI is now less significant in the region.

However, for Greece itself, SEE remains an important market. In fact, if one is to evaluate Greek FDI in general, the stock of FDI per capita in Greece diminished by almost 35 percent from 2009 to 2013 yet the stock of outward investment saw a slight increase, from $3.555 in 2009 to $4.165 in 2013 .

Last but not least, a worrying negative spillover is the political one. Greece’s current situation was no doubt brought about by lax attention to following formal standards and implementing sound fiscal management standards. It is a lesson learned for the EU.

For the SEE, the Greek crisis will likely impact the prospects and the timing of the EU integration of the aspirant countries and may even call into question.

The green light for EU integration of SEE was promised in the 2003 Thessaloniki Summit . It would be ironic if the Greek crisis results in a longer integration process for aspirant countries in this small region.

 

(*)The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent views of Department of Defense or its Components.

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Economy

Circular Economy: New rules will make EU the global front-runner in waste management and recycling

MD Staff

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EU Member States approved a set of ambitious measures to make EU waste legislation fit for the future, as part of the EU’s wider circular economy policy.

The new rules – based on Commission’s proposals part of the Circular Economy package presented in December 2015 – will help to prevent waste and, where this is not possible, significantly step up recycling of municipal and packaging waste. It will phase out landfilling and promote the use of economic instruments, such as Extended Producer Responsibility schemes. The new legislation strengthens the “waste hierarchy”, i.e. it requires Member States to take specific measures to prioritize prevention, re-use and recycling above landfilling and incineration, thus making the circular economy a reality.

Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella said: “The final approval of new EU waste rules by the Council marks an important moment for the circular economy in Europe. The new recycling and landfilling targets set a credible and ambitious path for better waste management in Europe. Our main task now is to ensure that the promises enshrined in this waste package are delivered on the ground. The Commission will do all it can to support Member States and make the new legislation deliver on the ground.”

The Commission had originally presented proposals for new waste rules in 2014, which were withdrawn and replaced by better designed, more circular and more ambitious proposals on December 2015 as part of the Circular Economy agenda of the Juncker Commission. These proposals were then adopted and are now part of the EU rule book.

The new rules adopted today represent the most modern waste legislation in the world, where the EU is leading by example for others to follow.

The details of the new waste rules:

Recycling targets for municipal waste

By 2025 By 2030 By 2035
55% 60% 65%

In addition, stricter rules for calculating recycling rates will help to better monitor real progress towards the circular economy.

New recycling targets for packaging waste

  By 2025 By 2030
All packaging 65% 70%
Plastic 50% 55%
Wood 25% 30%
Ferrous metals 70% 80%
Aluminium 50% 60%
Glass 70% 75%
Paper and cardboard 75% 85%

Separate collection

Building on the existing separate collection obligation for paper and cardboard, glass, metals and plastic, new separate collection rules will boost the quality of secondary raw materials and their uptake: hazardous household waste will have to be collected separately by 2022, bio-waste by 2023 and textiles by 2025.

Phasing out landfilling

Landfilling of waste makes no sense in a circular economy and can pollute water, soil and air. By 2035 the amount of municipal waste landfilled must be reduced to 10% or less of the total amount of municipal waste generated.

Incentives

The new legislation foresees more use of effective economic instruments and other measures in support of the waste hierarchy. Producers are given an important role in this transition by making them responsible for their products when they become waste. New requirements for extended producer responsibility schemes will lead to improving their performance and governance. In addition, mandatory extended producer responsibility schemes have to be established for all packaging by 2024.

Prevention

The new legislation will place a particular focus on waste prevention and introduce important objectives for food waste in the EU and halting marine litter to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals in these areas.

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Strong labour relations key to reducing inequality and meeting challenges of a changing world of work

MD Staff

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Globalisation and rapid technological innovation have spurred unprecedented economic growth but not everyone has benefited. Unions and employers, together with governments, can play a major role in making growth more inclusive and helping workers and businesses face the challenges of a changing world of work. Good labour relations are a way to reduce inequalities in jobs and wages and better share prosperity, according to a new OECD-ILO report.

Building Trust in a Changing World of Work finds that trade union membership is declining in a majority of countries, while in several emerging economies large shares of the workforce are still in the informal economy. The share of employees whose job conditions and pay are regulated by collective bargaining varies greatly across sectors and countries, from less than 10% in Turkey to over 90% in Sweden. Coverage of collective bargaining have also seen a marked decline in many countries over the last decades, although in some countries more workers are covered today thanks to decisive policy reforms.

“Creating more and better jobs is key to achieving inclusive economic growth. At a time marked by increasing job insecurity, wage stagnation and new challenges from the digital revolution, constructive labour relations are more important than ever,” said OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría, launching the report alongside Swedish Foreign Affairs Minister Margot Wallström, French Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud, ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow and ILO Deputy Director-General for Field Operations & Partnerships, Moussa Oumarou.

The report is part of the Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth, an initiative launched in 2016 by the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and developed in cooperation with the OECD and the ILO. This multi-stakeholder partnership aims to foster social dialogue as a way of promoting better-quality jobs, fairer working conditions and helping spread the benefits of globalisation, in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals. The Global Deal has around 90 partners representing governments, businesses, employers’ and workers’ organisations and other bodies who make voluntary commitments to contribute to a more effective dialogue and negotiated agreements on labour issues.

“We are convinced that the Global Deal for Decent Work and Inclusive Growth can  help to spur more and better social dialogue so we can provide all workers with strong voices, protection, fair working conditions and good levels of trust with employers,” Mr Gurría said.

“The new report shows that enhanced social dialogue can create opportunities for more inclusive labour markets and economic growth, better socio-economic outcomes and greater well-being for workers, improved performance for businesses and restored trust for governments,” said ILO Director-General Guy Ryder.

Some 2 billion workers around the world – more than half the global labour force – are in informal and mostly insecure jobs, according to the report, meaning they do not have formal contracts or social security. Annually there are 2.78 million work-related deaths and 374 million non-lethal work-related injuries and illnesses.

The report highlights the crucial role that unions and employers can play in shaping the future of work by jointly deciding what technologies to adopt and how, contributing to manage transitions for displaced workers, helping identify skills needs and developing education and training programs. The report also shows that when looking at the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises companies with a higher social score (a measure of their capacity to generate trust and loyalty among the workforce, customers and wider society) also have a stronger financial performance.

This report analyses the voluntary commitments made by Global Deal partners and gives examples of initiatives to improve labour relations that have been taken in different countries and sectors.

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How digital is your country? Europe needs Digital Single Market to boost its digital performance

MD Staff

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European Commission published the results of the 2018 Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), a tool which monitors the performance of Member States in digital connectivity, digital skills online activity, the digitisation of businesses and digital public services.

According to it, the EU is getting more digital, but progress remains insufficient for Europe to catch up with global leaders and to reduce differences across Member States. This calls for a quick completion of the Digital Single Market and increased investments in digital economy and society.

Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the Digital Single Market, said: “This is a shift, albeit small, in the right digital direction. As a whole, the EU is making progress but not yet enough. In the meantime, other countries and regions around the world are improving faster. This is why we should invest more in digital and also complete the Digital Single Market as soon as possible: to boost Europe’s digital performance, provide first-class connectivity, online public services and a thriving e-commerce sector.”

Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said: “We look forward to a rapid progress on major reforms such as the European Electronic Communications Code aiming at boosting investments in enhanced connectivity. This year’s Digital Economy and Society Index demonstrates that we must deploy further efforts to tackle lack of digital skills among our citizens. By integrating more digital technologies and equipping them with skills, we will further empower citizens, businesses and public administrations. This is the way to succeed the digital transformation of our societies.”

Over the past year, the EU continued to improve its digital performance and the gap between the most and the least digital countries slightly narrowed (from 36 points to 34 points). Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands scored the highest ratings in DESI 2018 and are among the global leaders in digitalisation. They are followed by Luxembourg, Ireland, the UK, Belgium and Estonia. Ireland, Cyprus and Spain progressed the most (by more than 15 points) over the last four years. However, some other EU countries still have a long way to go and the EU as a whole needs to improve to be competitive on the global stage.

DESI 2018 shows:

Connectivity has improved, but is insufficient to address fast-growing needs

  • Ultrafast connectivity of at least 100 Mbps is available to 58% of households and the number of subscriptions is rapidly increasing. 15% of homes use ultrafast broadband: this is twice as high as just two years ago and five times higher than in 2013.
  • 80% of European homes are covered by fast broadband with at least 30 Megabits per second (Mbps) (76% last year) and a third (33%) of European households have a subscription (23% increase compared to last year, and 166% compared to 2013).

The number of mobile data subscriptions has increased by 57% since 2013 reach 90 subscriptions per 100 people in the EU. 4G mobile networks cover on average 91% of the EU population (84% last year).

Indicators show that the demand for fast and ultrafast broadband is rapidly increasing, and is expected to further increase in the future. The Commission proposed a reform of EU telecoms rules to meet Europeans’ growing connectivity needs and boost investments.

More and more Europeans use the internet to communicate

The highest increase in the use of internet services is related to telephone and video calls: almost half of Europeans (46%) use the internet to make calls, this is almost a 20% increase compared to last year and more than 40% increase compared to 2013. Other indicators show that 81% of Europeans now go online at least once a week (79% last year).

To increase trust in the online environment, new EU rules on data protection will enter into force on 25 May 2018.

The EU has more digital specialists than before but skills gaps remain

  • The EU improved very little in the number of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates (19.1 graduates per 1000 people aged 20 to 29 years old in 2015, compared to 18.4. in 2013);
  • 43% of Europeans still do not have basic digital skills (44% last year).

Alongside the Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, the Commission has launched the Digital Opportunity Traineeships to tackle the digital skills gap in Europe. The pilot initiative will provide digital traineeships for up to 6,000 students and recent graduates until 2020 in another EU country.

Businesses are more digital, e-commerce is growing slowly

While more and more companies send electronic invoices (18% compared to 10% in 2013) or use social media to engage with customers and partners (21% compared to 15% in 2013), the number of SMEs selling online has been stagnating over the past years (17%).

In order to boost e-commerce in the EU, the Commission has put forward a series of measures from more transparent parcel delivery prices to simpler VAT and digital contract rules. As of 3 December 2018, consumers and companies will be able to find the best deals online across the EU without being discriminated based on their nationality or residence.

Europeans use more public services online

58% of internet users submitting forms to their public administration used the online channel (52% in 2013).

  • 18% of people use online health services.

In April 2018, the Commission adopted initiatives on the re-use of public sector information and on eHealth that will significantly improve cross-border online public services in the EU.

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