wiiw Spring Seminar 2021: Brave New World?

11 May 2021

The economic and political challenges facing Eastern Europe after COVID-19

wiiw held its Spring Seminar on May 5th gathering its members, journalists, policymakers and think tankers to discuss the main challenges Eastern Europe faces after the COVID-19 crisis. Around 200 people participated in the online event, which included a keynote speech, presentations by wiiw researchers and a panel discussion with distinguished economists and political scientists.

The Seminar was opened by wiiw President Hannes Swoboda and wiiw Scientific Director Robert Stehrer.

In her keynote speech Daniela Schwarzer, Executive Director for Europe and Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations (OSF), stressed the main geoeconomic challenges for Europe and outlined ways to make the EU and the euro stronger players in an era of global power competition between the West, Russia and China.

Richard Grieveson, wiiw Deputy Director, presented wiiw’s economic forecasts and medium-term outlook for Eastern Europe, and explored the reasons for the bad second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region. Olga Pindyuk, wiiw Economist, took a deeper look into the financial sector and detected signs of emerging asset bubbles, particularly in housing markets.

Branimir Jovanovic, wiiw Economist and Western Balkan Expert, explored the nearshoring potential of industries to the Western Balkans and outlined how the region could benefit from this trend. He stressed factors like skilled labour, functional institutions and cooperation between foreign and local companies, as the key factors that would drive relocation of production to these countries.

The Spring Seminar closed with a panel discussion on what Eastern Europe will look like in the 2020s. It focused on the main challenges the Western Balkans and the countries of the EU’s Eastern Partnership will face in the decade to come. The panel was chaired by wiiw Executive Director Mario Holzner.

Stephanie Eble, Regional Resident Representative, Office for the Western Balkans of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stressed important short-term challenges which should be immediately addressed to avoid long-lasting damages to the economies of the region. In particular she stressed the quick rollout of vaccination campaigns, continued support to stimulate demand, and a precise targeting of financial support to businesses and vulnerable social groups.

Velina Tchakarova, Director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES) in Vienna, addressed the main geoeconomic and geopolitical challenges the region faces today. Next to the ongoing military conflict in Eastern Ukraine and the still unresolved political situation in Belarus, Ms. Tchakarova also considers the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and its aftermath as one of the primary challenges.

Ivan Vejvoda, Permanent Fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) recalled the EU-Summit in Thessaloniki almost 18 years ago at which EU representatives stressed their ultimate support for the Western Balkan countries to join the EU. In his view, EU enlargement, often mentioned as one of the most successful EU policies, is a crucial means to anchor the region in Europe, and to maintain the credibility of the European project.