A Lot to Gain A Lot to Lose
The region of Central, East, and Southeast Europe faces huge economic challenges as it emerges from the twin shocks of the pandemic and energy-driven high inflation.
The region of Central, East and Southeast Europe (CESEE) has broadly had a good 30 years in terms of economic convergence. In the mid-1990s, following the shocks of the initial transition years, the 11 CESEE countries that are now members of the EU had a per capita GDP in purchasing power parity terms of 45 per cent of the EU level. By 2021, it was 77 per cent (Figure 1). Such has been the success of parts of EU-CEE in particular, that the division between “old” and “new” member states in economic terms is increasingly obsolete. As of 2022, Slovenia, Czechia, Lithuania, and Estonia were all wealthier than Spain, Portugal, and Greece (Figure 2). According to the IMF, in real US dollar terms adjusted for local costs, Slovenia and Czechia have a similar per capita GDP to Japan.
For Western Europe and the whole EU economy, CESEE has become significantly more important. The Visegrád countries collectively are now a more important trading partner for Germany than China or France. Many of the most advanced countries of EU-CEE have integrated strongly into the so-called Central European manufacturing core, developing highly sophisticated manufacturing capabilities, especially in automotive and electronics. The Harvard Growth Lab’s Economic Complexity Index, which measures the number and complexity of products that a country exports, ranks Czechia 6th in the world, behind only Japan, Switzerland, South Korea, Germany, and Singapore. On the same ranking, Slovenia is 9th, Hungary 11th, and Slovakia 12th, all ahead of the US and France.
is deputy director at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (wiiw) and a member of the Balkans in Europe Policy Advisory Group (BiEPAG). He coordinates wiiw’s analysis and forecasting of Central, East and Southeast Europe. In addition, he works on EU policy analysis, European integration, EU enlargement, economic history, and political economy.
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