31 January 2014

Does EU enlargement policy change countries? Can it inspire the people who have to push through deep and complex reforms? Does it help ensure respect for fundamental rights?

What really are the minimum political standards that candidates will have to meet? What is, in the European Commission’s view, a “functioning market economy”?

What is the future of the Directorate General for Enlargement, the department of the European Commission in charge of this policy? And what is the future direction of the DG for Enlargement’s actions, given the unpopularity of the current policy in certain key member states?

 

Measuring alignment?

2013 EU assessments of countries according to the 32 chapters assessed. When it comes to the state of alignment, Turkey is ahead, despite many chapters being blocked. Macedonia is second, despite not being allowed to negotiate. Serbia is ahead of Montenegro. In October 2013 Albania was the very last. For the origins of the assessments in the 2013 reports see at the bottom of this text. The effects of producing such tables in a credible way is the subject of this text.

For the score this conversion used is:  Advanced = 3 points, Moderate = 1 point, Early = 0 points (Source: EU progress reports – see below!). Since Bosnia and Kosovo have different types of progress reports they are not included here.

 

This week in Brussels I gave a presentation on the future of EU enlargement policy. The occasion was a strategy brainstorming session of the senior team of DG for Enlargement in Brussels, made up of some 60 people. The meeting followed similar presentations to policy makers in Berlin, Stockholm, Zagreb, Skopje, Brussels, Istanbul, Paris, and Rome. While I spoke in Brussels, my colleague Kristof presented similar ideas to Croatian Foreign Minister, Vesna Pusic, in Zagreb.

I was asked to be provocative. So I started with a personal encounter from a few weeks ago.

During a late night conversation in Zagreb, a journalist from a very respected European paper in a large EU member state told me that in his view “DG Enlargement should be shut down.” The argument, (which I had heard before in large EU member states I know well) was as follows:

None of the countries in the Balkans (or Turkey) are today even close to meeting what should be the EU’s demanding standards. They have weak institutions, corrupt administrations, create few or no jobs, and have incredibly polarised political environments. Nor are they moving in the right direction at a credible speed in overcoming these problems to make real change likely in the next decade or two. The EU has already admitted too many weak countries. Against this background having a DG for Enlargement creates constant pressure to repeat an earlier mistake. “Can you really imagine Albania in the EU any time soon?” And if you cannot, what then, is the point of a DG for Enlargement?

A few years ago such a view would have been very radical. In some European member state parliaments it is now on the way to becoming the new mainstream.

Of course, there will continue to be a DG dealing with enlargement for the foreseeable future. There is a policy, there are commitments, and there is inertia. The “European perspective” still produces real results. It is an “anchor.” It is leverage, at a low cost to the EU.

However the challenge posed by skeptics calls for a credible answer to the question of whether or not the basic premise of accession policy – that it changes countries for the better, and for good – is valid. And does the European Commission offer credible assessments of progress, or is it condemned by bureaucratic self-interest to be a cheerleader for badly prepared countries? (Or, to avoid this criticism, does it end up being seen as unfair in accession states?)

We accept that there is a crisis of credibility of the process. We are also convinced that there is an opportunity to substantially improve the impact of what is being done today by the EU in accession countries without changing the basic policy. The focus must return to the concrete and visible results in accession countries –  “concrete” and “visible” for skeptics as well.

Enlargement policy needs to mobilise people or it fails. Without the mobilisation of policy makers, civil servants, civil society, and interest groups in accession countries, the kind of changes that have to happen will not happen.

It is here that we encounter a problem with the way many measure accession progress today: the language of “counting chapters opened.” Any complex process generates technical language, bureaucratic procedures, and jargon for those most involved. In the case of enlargement, however, the technical language has crowded out a focus on what makes this policy worthwhile and inspiring.

Recently I asked some of my Turkish friends what they thought the EU should do next in Turkey. Their answer: “Open Chapter 23. Then the EU can seriously discuss fundamental rights with Turkey.” This is how very serious and committed people talk, full of good intentions. And yet, it is puzzling. For when one asks “what do you believe happens after a ‘chapter is opened’ that makes any real progress more likely? Is there evidence that ‘chapter-opening’ produces change?” people pause. Rightly so, as I showed in my Brussels presentation. There is in fact no evidence that “chapter opening” produces change – Turkey shows this best in recent years – that progress in “un-opened” chapters is faster or slower than in “opened” ones. A country can make all the reforms and then “open and close” all chapters at the very end (Croatia did this in many key policy fields). It can open many chapters and make no progress for years.

See this table. Note that it is based on the Commission’s own assessments in the 2013 progress reports (For more on these assessments see the ESI scorecard further below):

The argument is not against the need to have “chapters,” which define separate policy areas, from consumer protection to public procurement or waste management. These are useful conventions to deal with the vast range of European standards and policies.

However, what really matters is that the EU spells out clearly, publicly, fairly, and strictly – and in a way that is understood by the broadest possible public in Albania, Turkey, Serbia or Macedonia – WHAT the basic and fundamental rights and standards should be in a country that wants to join. And it should do this regardless of whether a “chapter” is opened (or a member state decides to veto this, as has happened and may well continue to).

This is what accession is about from the very beginning. To allow for a “veto” against focusing on key issues makes no sense at all. What does make sense is a focus on closing “chapters,” which in any case only happens at the very end, and in turn depends on the nature of the reforms being done!

So by all means, open Chapter 23 with Turkey (and every country), if this is possible. And yes, it was good to “open a chapter on regional policy” (Chapter 22), last summer. It was a “signal” that there was still a process in motion. But in the end, it was also a strange response to the drama of the Gezi protests and their subsequent repression. Yes, there is a process, as the EU stated, but one that does not address WHY opening Chapter 22 is an answer to the question most observers were asking about the state of democracy. How did opening a chapter on regional policy change anything meaningful in Turkey in 2013?  What has it changed since this was done?

The bureaucratic steps designed many years ago to make enlargement manageable are here to stay: the categories of potential candidates, opening one of 35 chapters, opening benchmarks, closing chapters. The bureaucratic process is not the problem. Nor is the fact that at every step, 28 member states have a veto. This is simply a fact of life.

However, what can and must happen is that the European Commission – and supporters of enlargement – see this ladder and the more than 70 steps for what it truly is: an instrument to many more worthwhile ends. And it is only those ends that matter to skeptical EU member states and to people in accession states: more vibrant public debates on political issues, particularly on television. Less discrimination of minorities, whether LGBT or religious minorities. More transparent spending whenever public agencies procure goods and services. A credible strategy to ensure safe food. Environmental inspectorates that ensure that dangerous waste is dealt with appropriately. Less polarised politics. A credible judiciary. Rules for businesses that allow fair competition. And many more…

Take another example. There is an esoteric debate, reminiscent of what scholars discussed in the cathedral schools of medieval Europe, on what is a “functioning market economy” for the European Commission. And in every progress report there is one section on “economic criteria.”

The EU insists that all accession candidates have a functioning market economy before they join: this makes intuitive sense. But the European Commission does not explain how it recognises one. Turkey has a “functioning market economy,” according to the EU. Serbia does not. One could have many long debates on whether a country that is not creditworthy has a functioning market economy (Greece? Cyprus?). Is this status linked to growth or its absence? (Was Finland a functioning market economy in 1988, stopped being one in 1993, and became one again in 1995?)

In fact, I recently learned that some people are trying to take the Commission to court (!) to disclose what its (secret) yardstick for measuring the functionality of an economy is. But it seems a misleading and irrelevant debate. If the Commission WOULD say that Albania will have a “functioning market economy” in 5 years, would members of the Bundestag or the Dutch public believe it? What does withholding this label do for Albania and the EU?

Would it not be better to assess countries by a few clear, measurable, and meaningful outcomes – the results of good economic policy? And to rewrite the currently unreadable and incomprehensible economic sections of progress reports so as to trigger regular and widespread public debates on economic fundamentals?

This could be done by defining and explaining a few key indicators for non-economist readers. Take the employment rate – how many people of working age have worked at least some in the past week, as measured by a credible standardised labor force survey? (Counting people employed in subsistence agriculture – how many of them are among the “employed?” This is also hugely interesting.)  Then one looks a bit closer: if employment is low, is this because few young people work? Or few women?

An accession candidate should focus on these questions, and a progress report by the commission should highlight them, which it does not currently do. In the 2013 Macedonia progress report the authors gave TWO employment rates: 40.7 percent on page 16 and 48.2 percent on page 61, in the same report! (It obviously did not seem central to the authors).

A country that has a low employment rate and yet aims to convince the EU that its economy can, after accession, “withstand competitive pressures” should be asked to show – over the period of the accession process – that it can address this issue seriously, and with at least some success. This is a debate worth having and renewing every year.

The same could be said for other outcomes of economic policy: what about exports per capita, the stock and flow of FDI, the qualifications of the future work force (as measured by the OECD’s PISA tests, which amazingly, not all candidate countries are currently required to participate in), or the ability to spend EU grant money on development?

For most of these outcomes of economic policy there are robust indicators that allow comparisons over time and between countries.  For some the European Commission can easily construct them. Indicators work best if they are completely plausible, and intuitively make sense to a broad public. And there need not be 20. The World Bank’s Doing Business reports started with five in 2004. Better five that every reader can understand, than twenty that are esoteric and hard to grasp.

The same is true for policy areas covered in the chapters. In my Brussels presentation I suggested doing for each chapter – and for each country – what the EU has done in the recent visa liberalisation process: produce one document that clearly sums up what the core requirements are under each policy area (or chapter) that every accession candidate should meet. They could look like visa liberalisation roadmaps (see here examples)

“Core” requirements means that these roadmaps for chapters need not include everything, but rather most of the important criteria – requirements that countries only need to meet shortly before actual accession can be excluded. These requirements should focus on OUTCOMES:  not just to pass a law, but also to “pass a law, have a credible institution and implement it.” And these requirements should be assessed annually in the progress reports for all countries, so they can be compared. There is no reason not to do this in all 7 countries, including Albania and Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo. This would trigger very healthy debates and competition everywhere. In this way the annual progress report of the European Commission, its sections on “economic criteria” and on the policy areas in the 33 chapters, would become readable, interesting, and useful. It would address all four strategic objectives:

  • Fairness: Regular fair public assessments of where accession countries really stand in terms of meeting EU criteria.
  • Strictness: Strict public assessment of where accession countries are failing or even falling behind. The more concrete and specific the assessments are of what is missing, the better.
  • Clarity: Any EU assessment needs to be understood, not just by a handful of experts, but by the broader interested public in accession countries and in the EU. (Sections that are incomprehensible to an interested non-expert should be cut and rewritten).
  • Comparability: Any assessment should encourage two types of comparisons: between the situation in accession countries and EU standards, and among accession countries. Comparisons help both the fairness and the strictness of assessments.  They encourage friendly competition and mutual learning from best practice.

ESI believes that the regular progress reports – published annually by the European Commission on every applicant country already now – are the obvious and best instrument to achieve all of these objectives. Improving them is rightly at the center of any debate on how to increase the impact and credibility of current enlargement policy.

We are convinced that, building on what the Commission is already doing, progress reports could easily have the same impact on reform debates and reforms in accession countries as the regular OECD Pisa reports have had. Since 2000 these have reshaped the global debate on education.

This would help the Commission to keep (or regain) the trust in its assessments, which it needs to be effective.

In the end, the success of the commission in the field of enlargement cannot be measured by formal criteria: how many countries have started accession talks or how many chapters have been opened is not what matters most. What matters is closing chapters. And this can only happen after reforms are implemented. This means what matters now is what best helps the reform process.

 

BRUSSELS PRESENTATION

Below are a few slides from my Brussels presentation. In the next weeks we are planning to organise many more presentations across Europe. We integrate the feedback into the next presentations and policy papers. If you have thoughts on this, please do let us know: you can write directly to g.knaus@esiweb.org.

One reason PISA tests capture the public imagination: they make it possible to compare results between countries and over time. But the ranking is not a gimmick for the media: the results also allow detailed analysis, such as what kind of schools are doing better than others? Are there differences between reading and science results? Between girls and boys? How significant are the discrepancies between the best and the worst performing schools?

A notable strength of PISA is that it focused on results, not perceptions. DG enlargement needs the same. A credible yardstick – a gripping, readable annual report – would achieve all of these goals. The progress reports should be this:


This requires that all parts of the reports be read, understood, and taken seriously by at least the following members of a focus group: the civil servants who work on it, political leaders in government and opposition, business people who care about EU accession for what it means for them, critical journalists, civil society activists, and interested followers of the news, who might be tempted to look for a translation of the report.

See below a possible focus group in Macedonia: this IS the readership of these reports in any country.

At the same time EU member states need to see what is being done.

There are three parts to progress reports, where different ways of assessment are needed:

Political criteria: A focus on outcomes and areas where countries fall short. This is NOT likely to be usefully measured in quantitative terms, but best by reference to minimum standards, (which need not be low, but should be plausible). More on this in the next ESI reports.

Economic criteria: A focus on plausible OUTCOMES of good policy, a mere handful of key and obvious indicators.

Alignment with EU policies and regulations in sectors: The production – for the 33 chapters – of roadmaps would help because it would allow turning implementation into scorecards. This WAS done for visa liberalisation:

The key is how to identify core objectives in each policy field. The expertise for most or all of the policy fields currently exists in the Commission, as does the text.

This would then also allow comparisons. And this in turn would inspire debates, allow leaders to focus, and allow the media to analyse … it would put the results of the process – not the formal opening of closing of chapters – at the center of attention.

Rethinking the methods of assessment would also allow countries to make real efforts to try to beat low expectations… and to know that this would be recognised. It would allow certain ministers in a government to stand out. This is what happened to Bosnia during the visa liberalisation process in the summer of 2010. (See below the scorecard before and after this real effort).

At the same time, this would allow critical member states to understand in detail HOW the European Commission arrives at its assessments.

All this leads to a few concrete suggestions for EU accession future progress reports:

  • Precise formulations (even more so than today, though in 2013 this was already done)
  • In assessing “alignment” (or “preparation”) consider moving towards terms that more clearly indicate the required end-state: “Fully met,” “Largely met,” and “Not yet met.”
  • Build each chapter assessment on publicly available individual chapter roadmaps, which also list the indicators used to assess implementation.
  • Add scorecards for each chapter
  • Report on all seven countries in the same way so they can be compared.
  • Consider adjusting chapter roadmaps every three years in light of the changing EU acquis.

Scorecard legend for the table below:

Green: alignment is/preparations are advanced / well advanced / rather advanced / relatively advanced; high / sufficient level of alignment)

Yellow: alignment is/ preparations are advancing / moderately advanced / on track

Red: alignment is/ preparations are starting / at an early stage / not very advanced / not yet sufficient. / A country has started to address its priorities in this area.

Alignment with the acquis – per chapter – 2013 Progress Reports

 

Chapter

Turkey

Mace-donia

Serbia

Monte-negro

Albania

1: Free movement of goods

3

3

1

3

1

2: FoM for workers

0

0

1

0

0

3: Right of establishment, freedom to provide services

0

1

1

0

1

4: Free movement of capital

0

1

1

1

1

5: Public procurement

1

3

1

1

1

6: Company law

3

1

3

1

1

7: Intellectual property law

3

1

3

3

0

8: Competition policy

1

3

1

1

0

9: Financial services

3

1

1

1

1

10: Information society & media

1

1

1

1

1

11: Agriculture & rural development

0

1

0

0

0

12: Food safety

0

1

1

0

0

13: Fisheries

0

1

1

0

0

14: Transport policy

1

1

1

3

0

15: Energy

3

1

1

1

0

16: Taxation

1

1

1

1

1

17: Economic & monetary policy

3

3

1

1

0

18: Statistics

3

3

3

1

1

19: Social policy & employment

1

0

0

0

0

20: Enterprise & industrial policy

3

1

1

0

1

21: Trans-European networks

3

3

1

1

0

22: Regional policy, structural instr.

1

0

1

0

1

23: Judiciary & fundamental  rights

24: Justice, freedom & security

0

3

1

1

1

25: Science & research

3

1

1

1

0

26: Education & culture

1

1

1

3

1

27: Environment & climate change

0

1

0

0

0

28: Consumer & health protection

1

1

1

1

0

29: Customs union

3

3

1

1

1

30: External relations

3

1

1

1

1

31:Foreign, security, defence policy

1

3

1

1

1

32: Financial control

1

0

1

1

1

33: Financial & budgetary prov.

0

0

0

0

0

 

 

Detailed assessment by the European Commission (2013)

Chapter

Turkey

Macedonia

Serbia

Montenegro

Albania

1: Free movement of goods

The state of alignment in this chapter is advanced.

Preparations in the area of free movement of goods are advanced.

Preparations in the area of free movement of goods are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of free movement of goods are relatively advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

2: Freedom of movement for workers

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are still at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Alignment with the acquis is still at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of freedom of movement for workers are at an early stage.

3: Right of establishment and freedom to provide services

Alignment is at an early stage.

In the area of postal services, the level of alignment is advanced. There is not yet full alignment with the acquis, particularly as regards mutual recognition of professional qualifications, free movement of services and establishment.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Substantial efforts are still needed to align the legislation and implement the acquis on mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

4: Free movement of capital

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations are on track and gradual harmonisation of the regulatory framework for payment systems is under way.

Alignment in this area is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

5: Public procurement

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of public procurement are advanced.

Alignment in the area of public procurement is moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of public procurement are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the field of public procurement are moderately advanced.

6: Company law

Turkey is well advanced in this area.

Preparations in the area of company law as a whole are moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of corporate law is well advanced.

Preparations remain moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

7: Intellectual property law

Alignment with the acquis is advanced.

Preparations in the field of IPR are moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of IPL is advanced.

Preparations are advanced.

Preparations are not very advanced.

8: Competition policy

Turkey is moderately advanced in this area.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Alignment in this area is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Preparations for the revision of state aid legislation are at an early stage.

9: Financial services

Preparations in the area of financial

services are advanced.

Alignment with key parts of the acquis on financial market infrastructure has not yet been achieved. In the area of financial services, alignment with the acquis is moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of financial services is moderately advanced.

The level of alignment is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

10: Information society and media

Preparations are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are on track.

Alignment with the

acquis in this area remains moderately advanced.

Preparations are on track.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

11: Agriculture and rural development

Preparations in the area of agriculture and rural development are at an early stage.

Preparations remain moderately advanced.

Alignment with the acquis remains at an early stage.

Alignment with the acquis is at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are not very advanced.

12: Food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of food safety and veterinary policy are well on track. Preparations in the phytosanitary area are at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of food safety, veterinary and phytosanitary policy are moderately advanced.

Preparations remain at an early stage.

Preparations remain at an early stage.

13: Fisheries

Alignment in this area is at an early stage.

A large proportion of the fisheries acquis is not relevant as the country is landlocked.

Preparations in the area of fisheries are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations are not very advanced.

14: Transport policy

In the area of transport, Turkey is moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Serbia is moderately advanced in its alignment with the acquis in this area.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Preparations in the area of transport are not very advanced.

15: Energy

Turkey is at a rather advanced level of alignment in the field of energy.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of energy are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of energy are moderately advanced.

Preparations are not very advanced.

16: Taxation

Preparations in this chapter are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of taxation are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of taxation are moderately advanced.

Montenegro’s alignment with the acquis is moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

17: Economic and monetary policy

Turkey’s level of preparedness is advanced.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Serbia is moderately advanced.

Alignment in the area of economic and monetary policy is moderately advanced.

Preparations are not yet sufficient.

18: Statistics

Alignment with the acquis is at an advanced level.

Preparations in the field of statistics are advanced.

Serbia is advanced in the area of statistics.

Preparations in the area of statistics are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

19: Social policy and employment

Legal alignment is moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Serbia has started to address its priorities in this area.

Montenegro has started to address its priorities in this area.

Preparations in the area of social policy and employment are not very advanced.

20: Enterprise and industrial policy

Turkey has a sufficient level of alignment in this chapter.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are on track.

A strategic effort to promote skills at all levels in sectors where Montenegro has significant trade with the EU will be important to improve competitiveness and ensure preparedness for competitive pressures and market forces within the Union.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

21: Trans-European networks

Alignment in this chapter is advanced.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Preparations in the area of trans-European networks are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of trans-European networks are not very advanced.

22: Regional policy and coordination of structural instruments

Preparations in this area are

moderately advanced.

Preparations in

this area are not very advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

23: Judiciary and fundamental rights

24: Justice, freedom and security

Alignment in the area of justice and home affairs is at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Serbia is moderately advanced in the area of justice, freedom and security.

Alignment with the acquis in the field of legal migration, asylum and visas is still at an early stage.

Preparations in this field are advancing.

25: Science and research

Turkey is well prepared in this area.

Preparations in this area are on track.

Preparations in the area of science and research are on track.

Preparations in this area are well on track.

Preparations are not sufficiently advanced.

26: Education and culture

(No assessment of the state of alignment.)

Preparations in the areas of education and culture are moderately advanced.

Preparations for aligning with EU standards are moderately advanced.

Preparations are advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

27: Environment and climate change

Preparations in these fields are at an early stage.

Preparations in the field of the environment are moderately advanced while preparations in the field of climate change remain at an early stage.

Priorities in the fields of environment and climate change have started to be addressed.

Preparations in these areas are still at an early stage.

Preparations in the fields of the environment and climate change are at an early stage.

28: Consumer and health protection

Preparations in this area are on track.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area remain moderately advanced.

Preparations in these areas are moderately advanced.

Preparations are starting.

29: Customs union

The level of alignment in this area remains high.

Preparations in this area are advanced.

Preparations in the area of the customs union are well on track.

Preparations in the field of customs union are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

30: External relations

There is a high level of alignment in this area.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of external relations are moderately advanced.

Preparations in the area of external relations are on track.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

31: Foreign, security and defence policy

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are well advanced.

Preparations in the area of foreign, security and defence policy are well on track.

Preparations in the area of foreign, security and defence policy are on track.

Preparations in this field remain on track.

32: Financial control

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations in this area are moderately advanced.

Preparations are moderately advanced.

33: Financial and budgetary provisions

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations are at an early stage.

Preparations in this field are at an early stage.

Preparations in this area are at an early stage.

Preparations in the area of financial and budgetary provisions are at an early stage.

15 May 2010


Get this man to Kosovo

A while ago I wrote an article proposing, seriously, that Kosovo becomes the first European country to abolishe its summer vacations. You find it here. The argument was that Kosovo needs a BHAG (a big hairy ambitious goal) to change its international image and to focus on a major problem it faces in the field of education:

“A BHAG transforms or (re)defines a country’s image when it changes local realities in a way that even a critical visitor – the foreign correspondent of a leading international paper, for instance – will accept as impressive. The key is that the policy idea is both fresh and sound and can actually be implemented. It precedes public relations. It is about creating the good story that can later be told.

Which brings me to a Big idea which I believe Europe’s youngest and poorest society, Kosovo, might do well to consider pursuing. It is inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s last book (Outliers), as well as by ideas I had preparing recent presentations on Kosovo and the state of the Balkans in Vienna, in Valencia (for NATO parliamentarians) and at Harvard. For these I had to reread ESI reports and new material on the state of Kosovo. It was not encouraging reading, to put it mildly.

So here is the basic idea: Kosovo urgently needs to convince first its own citizens and then the world that it is serious about addressing one of its most crippling structural problems, a wide education achievement gap with the rest of Europe. It needs to do so urgently; with the limited resources it has at hand, it also needs to be innovative.

The basic problem is clear: today Kosovars are less well educated and less prepared to compete in the common European market than almost any other society in Europe. School enrolment rates (including at secondary level) are low and have not improved in the past four years. Two out of three young people leave the education system without any qualifications. More than 10 percent drop out of compulsory education. The vocational training system is in dire straits. And there is a lack of money, even if spending on education has increased as a percentage of GDP: it does not help that Kosovo’s GDP is in fact one of the lowest in Europe.”

The proposal was the following:

Kosovo should become the first country in Europe to abolish the long summer school vacation. Kosovo children should be able to spend more hours per day and more days per year in primary school than children anywhere else in the region. This additional time in school could be used to give Kosovo pupils one of the most solid basic educations in the region.

This proposal would address three major problems at once:

1. There is in fact a desperate shortage of space in Kosovo schools. As a number of recent reports noted, school infrastructure is stretched “almost to breaking point” (ETF country analysis, May 2008). The majority of schools in Kosovo operate in two shifts, and a significant minority even in three. Given the growth of Kosovo’s young population, demand for space will increase further.

So there is an urgent need to use space more efficiently. It seems a waste of resources to leave schools empty during the summer. It is also silly, given the need to import expensive energy, not to use the summer months for teaching as well.

2. At the same time, first shortening and then abolishing the long summer vacation could help young Kosovars catch up and – in some fields – overtake other European students, particularly when it comes to basic skills taught at primary school level.

One way to do this with limited resources would be to increase the number of hours and days students spend in primary and lower secondary school classes. Currently, due to space constraints, Kosovars probably spend less hours in school than pupils in most other parts of Europe. The goal should be to reverse this and to use any additional hours to increase teaching foreign languages and basic reading, writing and mathematic skills at an earlier age than in other countries in the region.

As Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, citing the example of a public school in NY, the number of hours spent in school does matter a lot, particularly for those from a disadvantaged background.The tradition of a long summer vacation – “considered a permanent and inviolate feature of school life, like high school football or the senior prom” – is above all a problem for children from poorer families: it is vacation time that explains a large part of the “achievement gap” between richer and poorer children in different tests done in the US.”

For the full argument go here.

Now I received a very interesting comment by Hazel Slinn. Let me share it with you, in the hope that this debate continues:

“Your analyis is broadly speaking correct. However, the lack of progress is not only due to the lack of a BHAG. The Canadian government invested millions (six, I believe) in trying to establish a teacher education system and improved matters with the Ministry of Education. Last week I was in Kosova and it was as if they had never been there. Heartbreaking.

I would add something to your analysis, something that seems to be consistently overlooked – where and how is the space to be made for training the teachers? The Ministry of Education is excellent at producing intiatives. They produced, with the help of the Canadians, standards for teachers, stages for development, requirements and so forth. Policy papers as far as the eye could see. These were given to regional and local education officials who could then brandish them at semi-qualified, poorly paid teachers as a threat, that if they didn’t get qualified by the next school year, or the one after that, then they would have no job at all. However, there was no release to attend training, no scheme for requiring that the university should provide courses for teachers at weekends, or as you suggest, during holidays. Heaven forbid, one should ask a university employee (professor or cleaner) to be present at work when they can be earning money elsewhere. One of my close friends has been enrolled at the University of Prishtina for almost two decades – paying admin fees ever since 2000. The political problems, the war, the lack of money, the lack of time have all prevented her from graduating, so she risks losing her job every September because she is still unqualified, despite being a dedicated professional in everyone’s eyes except the authorities. She is not the only one. And because she is not qualified she is paid a pittance.

The example of Poland should be followed. They had a BHAG, back in 1990. They set themselves the target of training 20,000 language teachers for the year 2000. They were so successful they actually trained more and their language teaching these days is a model for all to admire. How did they do it? The required those of us working in higher education to train teachers in the evening and at weekends. We were paid a little extra for doing it, but it was only for the period of the project. Teachers in school had their timetables blocked so they had all their classes Mon-Thursday lunchtime. Thursdays – Saturdays they were ‘Ours’ – to do with as we wished, well not exactly, to train on a three year programme leading to a degree. Many went on later to add a Masters, which was not required, but they got quite into it.

Kosova is tiny compared to Poland, so why don’t they want to offer their teachers some proper training? It’s easier to hold power over them and make them feel afraid if they remain unqualified maybe? Sooner or later I hope someone will hear my voice. I have been suggesting this scheme since I first worked there in 2000. I sang this song to the UN Department of Education when they were running the show, I have tried to get someone in the Faculty of Education to understand the need to train those who are already in school and I have discussed it endlessly with teachers who are exhausted, underpaid and feeling inadequate.

I hope your idea for a BHAG works – perhaps one day someone will hear my plea. I hope I haven’t ranted too much – I do feel very strongly about this.”

Filed under: Books,Education Policy,Kosovo — Gerald @ 6:59 pm
9 December 2008

They are waiting for a BHAG: children in Kosovo

Governments of small states who want to send a positive message to the outside world need a BHAG: a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal.  This is not a matter of public relations.  It is about actually doing something new, difficult and innovative, something that both transforms society and carries a larger message for the world about the will of this society to change.

The small country of Estonia (1.3 million people) had a BHAG: turning itself into an internet-savy, forward looking and information-technology-friendly society.  Thus Estonia created a national infrastructure of wireless internet access, free of charge, covering the whole country.  It set out to create early on one of the most advanced forms of e-government.  And while doing so it did not forget to tell the rest of the world about its experience.etf

A few weeks ago in November I went to Tallinn for a meeting of the European Council on Foreign Relations.  Many of the ECFR board members, including, to my surprise, some of the Swedes in our group, had never been to Tallinn before.  At the beginning of the meeting, which took place in the Museum of Estonian Architecture, an Estonian civil society representative gave a 10-minute video-assisted presentation about his country. It was short but effective and even a few weeks later it is easy for me to recall its main messages: that there was an Estonian “singing revolution” (in 1991), which led to independence; that Estonian governments pursued a vision of transparent e-government, including a paper-free government meeting room that has turned into an attraction for visiting delegations; and that Estonia set out to provide free wireless internet access throughout the country as part of a national vision of development. Of course, other Estonian Big Ideas, such as the implementation of its flat tax, have also contributed to its image of being not only open to but a leader in innovation.  This is not a bad record for such a small country on the edge of the EU.

A BHAG transforms or (re)defines a country’s image when it changes local realities in a way that even a critical visitor – the foreign correspondent of a leading international paper, for instance – will accept as impressive. The key is that the policy idea is both fresh and sound and can actually be implemented.  It precedes public relations.  It is about creating the good story that can later be told.

Which brings me to a Big idea which I believe Europe’s youngest and poorest society, Kosovo, might do well to consider pursuing.  It is inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s last book (Outliers), as well as by ideas I had preparing recent presentations on Kosovo and the state of the Balkans in Vienna, in Valencia (for NATO parliamentarians) and at Harvard.  For these I had to reread ESI reports and new material on the state of Kosovo. It was not encouraging reading, to put it mildly.

So here is the basic idea: Kosovo urgently needs to convince first its own citizens and then the world that it is serious about addressing one of its most crippling structural problems, a wide education achievement gap with the rest of Europe.  It needs to do so urgently; with the limited resources it has at hand, it also needs to be innovative.

The basic problem is clear: today Kosovars are less well educated and less prepared to compete in the common European market than almost any other society in Europe.  School enrolment rates  (including at secondary level) are low and have not improved in the past four years. Two out of three young people leave the education system without any qualifications.  More than 10 percent drop out of compulsory education.  The vocational training system is in dire straits. And there is a lack of money, even if spending on education has increased as a percentage of GDP: it does not help that Kosovo’s GDP is in fact one of the lowest in Europe.

Kosovo policy makers thus need to find a way – despite limited budgetary resources – to make rapid and serious progress in addressing education problems while convincing the rest of the world that in this field the situation in Kosovo is not only not hopeless but that the rest of the region might even learn something from Kosovo.

Learning from Kosovo in the field of education policy?

You can certainly see why this would be both a surprising and fascinating topic for articles in the European press – and conversations in European capitals – in a few years time.  It sounds counter-intuitive enough to be interesting.  But is it possible?

On the other hand: who would have thought that one could learn so much from Estonia even one decade ago?

In fact, being forced to think outside the box can sometimes help identify good ideas. The proposal is simple: Kosovo should become the first country in Europe to abolish the long summer school vacationKosovo children should be able to spend more hours per day and more days per year in primary school than children anywhere else in the region. This additional time in school could be used to give Kosovo pupils one of the most solid basic educations in the region.

This proposal would address three major problems at once:

1. There is in fact a desperate shortage of space in Kosovo schools. As a number of recent reports noted, school infrastructure is stretched “almost to breaking point” (ETF country analysis, May 2008). The majority of schools in Kosovo operate in two shifts, and a significant minority even in three. Given the growth of Kosovo’s  young population, demand for space will increase further.

So there is an urgent need to use space more efficiently. It seems a waste of resources to leave schools empty during the summer. It is also silly, given the need to import expensive energy, not to use the summer months for teaching as well.

2. At the same time, first shortening and then abolishing the long summer vacation could help young Kosovars catch up and – in some fields – overtake other European students, particularly when it comes to basic skills taught at primary school level.

One way to do this with limited resources would be to increase the number of hours and days students spend in primary and lower secondary school classes. Currently, due to space constraints, Kosovars probably spend less hours in school than pupils in most other parts of Europe. The goal should be to reverse this and to use any additional hours to increase teaching foreign languages and basic reading, writing and mathematic skills at an earlier age than in other countries in the region.

As Malcolm Gladwell points out in Outliers, citing the example of a  public school in NY, the number of hours spent in school does matter a lot, particularly for those from a disadvantaged background. The tradition of a long summer vacation – “considered a permanent and inviolate feature of school life, like high school football or the senior prom” - is above all a problem for children from poorer families: it is vacation time that explains a large part of the “achievement gap” between richer and poorer children in different tests done in the US.  This can be measured by comparing students’ scores on tests at the beginning and at the end of long summer vacations:

“the wealthiest kids come back in September and their reading scores have jumped more than 15 points.  The poorest kids come back from the holidays and their reading scores have dropped almost 4 points. Poor kids may out-learn rich kids during the school year. But during the summer, they fall far behind.”

It is not hard to think of Kosovo pupils as the “poor kids” in comparison to any European country. The average Kosovo household probably owns fewer books than the average Slovenian or Irish household. Vacation time is probably used less often for further education in (still largely rural) Kosovo than in most other European countries. There are also fewer private schools and other education opportunities for children during the summer.

Thus a long summer vacation is a luxury Kosovo should reconsider if it wants to become a competitive economy.  And there are examples for this: while the average school year  in the US is 180 days long, it is some 190 days, in Finland, and 243 days lin Japan (German Länder also have shorter summer vacations; see the article by Michael Barrett below under recommended reading.)

3. Finally, there is a need for a clear and compelling vision to mobilise Kosovo society around the need to dramatically raise educational standards. Currently the realistic goal of Kosovo education policy is to avoid falling further behind. There is already now a huge achievement gap, – and it must not grow even larger.

Not falling behind is not the same as catching up. What Kosovo needs is not merely to prevent the gap from growing: it needs to close it! And the best way to do so is to invest significantly in providing the best possible primary education to children at a very young age.

This would require major efforts: more teachers, adjustments in teaching standards, further revisions of curricula (to focus more time on core skills at an earlier age).  There will be many who would argue that for this or that reason it would be impossible to do.

But if more teachers are required, why should more teachers not be trained? This certainly seems one of the most obvious investments to make in Kosovo’s future. Given extremely low employment rates – especially for women – there is no shortage of potential primary school teachers. Still, government incentives are necessary.

A radical and innovative step such as this would also send a clear signal that Kosovo society is serious about catching up. It is a radical and realistic idea. And if it works, it is only a question of time until some neighbours will come and see whether there is something that can be learned here.

Thinking about a prosperous future for Kosovo requires thinking outside the box.  Current trends will not lead to closing the gap. Kosovo is not in short supply of strategic documents on education: there are strategies for developing higher education, for developing pre-university education, vocational education strategies, a national strategy for entrepreneurship education and training, an adult education strategy, and many more.  However, as one very recent assessment noted:

“None of the planned activities in the operational plans accompanying the strategies have been implemented as foreseen.  This is due not only to unrealistic planning but also to low programming and implementation capacities at all levels of the sector, central and regional.” (Lida Kita, European Training Foundation working paper, May 2008)

Further strategies are being prepared, and a new study is planned to “enable Kosovo authorities to depart from fragmented strategic documents” and move towards a “strategic framework for lifelong learning.” There is a very active and committed young Minister of Education, Enver Hoxhaj. There are some committed donors.  So not all is as bleak as the status quo and current trends would suggest. But Kosovo still urgently needs a Big Idea, and becoming an innovator in the field of education policy seems a very good way to start. Questioning the need for a long summer vacation, and defining the national target as a primary education system as good as anywhere else in Europe, seems a good point to start.

PS: Next week I will travel to Kosovo to give a presentation, show a film, and hopefully to test this idea with policy makers and friends, including the current Minister of Education. If there is any interest to explore this further, there might be some ESI discussion paper on this in the coming year.

Further reading:

Filed under: Education Policy,Estonia,Kosovo — Gerald @ 3:50 am
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