29 April 2015

They are the two most memorable words for texts that are best forgotten: Gibberish and Gobbledygook.

“Gibberish or gobbledygook refer to speech or other use of language that is nonsense, or that appears to be nonsense. It may include speech sounds that are not actual words, or forms such as language games or highly specialized jargon that seems nonsensical to outsiders.” (Wikipedia)

As Glenn Seaborg explained one theory in 1980 in “Our heritage of the elements”:

“… gibberish comes from the name of the famous 8th-century Islamic alchemist Jābir ibn Hayyān, whose name was Latinized as “Geber”, thus the term “gibberish” arose as a reference to the incomprehensible technical jargon often used by Jabir and other alchemists who followed.”

Jabir ibn Hayyan alias Geber
Jabir ibn Hayyan alias Geber

There is no particular reason why texts about economic development should be either gibberish or gobbledygook. And yet, quite a lot of what was written by the European Commission on the economic development in the Balkans in recent years might qualify.

Take a look at the “EU Candidate & Potential Candidate Countries’ Economic Quarterly” published regularly by the Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs (ECFIN) of the European Commission.

The report in late 2014 described trends in the “real sector” of Bosnia and Herzegovina as follows:

“The economic upturn throughout 2013 and the first quarter of 2014 came abruptly to a halt in the second quarter of 2014 mainly as a result of the heavy spring floods. Accordingly, GDP growth slipped into a negative territory by 0.5% y-o-y after expanding by 3.2% in the previous quarter. Going further, preliminary data for the third quarter released by the statistical agency indicate GDP growth to have marginally turned positive (0.6% y-o-y). Similarly, high-frequency indicators for July-October 2014 point towards a modest revival of economic activity with the country-wide industrial production up by 1% yo-y, before turning negative again in November. In particular, the mining and quarrying sector as well as the utility sector registered the largest output contraction y-o-y, -1% and 10.7%, respectively, while the manufacturing sector posted the largest output increase (4.4%). The slump of domestic demand in the second quarter of 2014 started to reverse in July September with the growth of retail sales speeding up by 2.1% y-o-y and even accelerate in October-November to 7.8% y-o-y, well above the expansion of 4.6% in 2013.”

Already at first glance this breaks the basic rule of writing well: the writer is making the reader work too hard.

At second glance, once one begins to analyse this paragraph, it turns out that its meaning is elusive … or, in plain language, this makes little sense. Read this once, twice, three times, and then ask yourself: what has been happening in the Bosnian real sector in 2014, compared to 2013? There was a flood, and the economy suffered: but what do all these quarterly variations add up to? (Note that this paragraph is all the quarterly report tells the reader about the Bosnian real sector in late 2014.)


Or take this analysis of “monetary developments in Kosovo” in early 2015:

“Consumer prices started declining in December 2014 (-0.5% y/y) and continued on a downward trajectory by February (-0.2% y/y). The decline in the price index was almost completely influenced by decreasing prices of transport and education. On the other hand, 65.7% of the CPI components have actually been increasing; most notably food 2.1% y/y, energy 7.4% y/y etc.”

The reader understands that 65.7 percent of the prices of the components of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) have increased (one assumes in February), and (one assumes) 34.3 percent of the prices have not. One learns that there have been (monthly) decreases in the “prices of education” in January and February 2015, though what that means is elusive. There is no explanation which costs of education are included in the Consumer Price Index. Or why any of this matters and to whom. And what the etc. at the end refers to.

The economic sections of progress reports, which the European Commission publishes every autumn to evaluate accession countries, have also been written by ECFIN. The following paragraph is from the 2013 annual report on Macedonia. It invites readers to meditate on the meaning of words and numbers:

“Fiscal discipline was relaxed in 2012, and the quality of public spending deteriorated further. The general government budget deficit reached 3.8%, thus overshooting even the revised deficit target, which the authorities had raised by 1 percentage point to 3.5% in autumn. Another budget rebalancing reduced mainly investment spending, due to severe revenue shortfalls. Total expenditure as share of GDP rose from 31% in 2011 to 34% in 2012, and is estimated to reach 35% in 2013. The primary government budget deficit rose to 3.1% of GDP in 2012, compared to 1.7% in 2011. Capital spending was almost unchanged in 2012 compared to 2011, at 12% of total expenditure, or just over 4% of GDP, projected to decline to 11.3% of total expenditure in 2013, or 3.9% of GDP. The share of social transfers in total expenditure declined slightly in 2012, to 44.7% from 45.2% a year earlier, and is projected to stay largely unchanged in 2013. As a share of GDP, social transfers increased somewhat, to 15% of GDP, up by 0.4 percentage points.”

This creates an illusion of meaning. The reader is offered fourteen facts:

General government deficit target (2012)
Revised general government deficit target (2012)
Actual general government deficit (2012)   
2.5 per cent
3.5 percent
3.8 percent
Total expenditure as share of GDP (2011)
Total expenditure as share of GDP (2012)
Total expenditure as share of GDP (2013 expected)  
31 percent
34 percent
35 percent
Primary government budget deficit (2011)
Primary government budget deficit (2012)   
1.7 percent
3.1 percent
Capital spending as share of total spending (2011)
Capital spending as share of total spending (2012)
Capital spending as share of total spending (2013)
12 percent
12 percent (4 percent of GDP)
11.3 percent (3.9 percent of GDP)
Social transfers in total expenditure (2011)
Social transfers in total expenditure (2012)
Social transfers in total expenditure (2013 projected)
45.2 percent (14.6 percent GDP)
44.7 percent (15 percent GDP)
44.7 percent

What does all of this mean? The reader learns that

  • Fiscal discipline was relaxed and that “the general government deficit grew more than expected”; (two ways to say the same thing)
  • The reason for this: a severe revenue shortfall.
  • In response to this shortfall the government REDUCED investment spending but “capital spending was unchanged.”
  • Meanwhile total government expenditure ROSE.
  • And the share of social transfers in expenditure DECLINED.

So what actually happened in Macedonia?

The government did not collect as many revenues as it had planned. It then reduced investment spending. Social transfers declined as a share of expenditure. Total government expenditure rose. What type of spending increase explains the remarkable increase (by 3 per cent of total GDP!) in government spending? On this, there is nothing. We learn that the “quality of public spending deteriorated further,” a point that is never explained.


The truth about markets Money
Lucid writing on economics

During such meetings I also quoted positive examples of good writing. Oxford professor and FT columnist John Kay on markets. My friend Felix Martin on money. The Dutch Central Bank, describing the “faltering Dutch economy” in its 2012 annual report (page 15). You do not need a PhD in economics to understand the annual reports by the European Central Bank either:

“The economic and financial crisis has reduced euro area potential output via two main channels: lower investment and higher structural unemployment.

First, during the most severe phase of the crisis, investment rates declined considerably, with financing conditions, such as terms and availability of credit, worsening in particular. Increased economic and political uncertainty and an unfavourable economic outlook made it more difficult to assess investment projects and lowered the expected rate of return on investments. High indebtedness of non-financial corporations in some euro area countries also made deleveraging necessary, further reducing credit demand.

Second, the crisis has also led to an increase in short to medium-term structural unemployment rates, indicated by the rise in long-term unemployment and an increase in skill mismatches. The unemployment rate of low-skilled workers has increased more than that of high-skilled workers, largely because the crisis triggered a sectoral relocation in many euro area economies, in particular a shift away from the construction sector. As it may be difficult for low-skilled workers dismissed from one sector to find jobs in other sectors, and as their human capital progressively erodes with the duration of unemployment, structural unemployment rates may remain elevated for an extended period.”

(ECB, 2014 Annual Report, page 23).

Fortunately, during 2014 awareness of the problem posed by unclear writing on economic trends has increased in many EU policy circles. There is good reason to expect that future writing by the European Commission (and ECFIN) on the economies of accession countries will be less impenetrable. (It may also be worth considering a thorough reform – or even a discontinuation – of these quarterly reports: http://ec.europa.eu/economy_finance/db_indicators/cpaceq/index_en.htm)

PS: To add one useful example when it comes to writing about economic trends in the Balkans – certainly for the economic section in the next Kosovo progress report of the European Commission – look here: 2015 Kosovo NERP.

Filed under: Balkans,Books,Bosnia,Economics,Macedonia,Stickiness,Writing well — Gerald @ 8:29 pm
27 November 2014

A crisis of trust

The ESI Roadmap Proposal for Enlargement

Belgrade presentation, November 2014

The ESI future of enlargement project is supported by ERSTE Stiftung in Vienna


Every year the European Commission publishes its Enlargement Strategy. The 2014 Enlargement Strategy, presented in  October, starts out on a very optimistic note with the following sentence:

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This assertion raises questions, though. How does the Commission measure the credibility of enlargement policy? For whom is enlargement policy more credible today than five years ago?

Here is a reality check. Eurobarometer surveys in 2008 and 2013 show growing opposition to enlargement in every single EU member state: old and new, rich and poor, those hit hard by the global economic crisis in 2008 and those relatively unscathed.

Enlargement has never been less popular in the EU than now. The 2013 Eurobarometer survey shows that an absolute majority of EU citizens oppose further enlargement (52 per cent). Opposition is stronger among euro area respondents (60 per cent). This table shows the significant lack of support for enlargement:

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What is even more striking is the overarching TREND in the past five years: a dramatic drop in support across the EU. .

The fall in support for enlargement is sharpest in traditionally pro-enlargement countries such as Italy (where opposition to enlargement increased by 22 percentage points) or Spain (21). Post-2004 EU members, who initially were less sceptical, are rapidly catching up with pre-2004 members. The changes in Cyprus, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are dramatic.

Here opposition to enlargement has increased most since 2008:

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What about the second claim in the opening sentence: that the European Commission has enhanced the TRANSFORMATIVE power of enlargement policy?

Here is a second reality check. Every year the European Commission assesses progress and the state of alignment with EU rules and norms (the acquis) in its annual Progress Reports. It examines for all accession countries whether the alignment in each policy area is “advanced”, “moderate” or at an “early stage.”

Here is what the Commission found in 2013:

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 And here is what the European Commission found for 2014:

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Comparing these two tables, based on the European Commissions’ own assessment of progress, on the TRANSFORMATIVE impact of the enlargement process, we see the following:

First: there is very little change anywhere.

Second: in the case of Macedonia the Commission finds regression (from 9 to 8 “advanced” chapters).

Third: in the case of Serbia – which also opened accession talks in January  – the Commission finds no change at all!

Either the EU process is not actually transformative or the current way in which the European Commission measures transformation in its progress reports is inadequate. Or both. Regardless, the most important documents written by the European Commission to show transformative impact of the enlargement process do not support the sunny view of the Strategy paper.

There is a second striking sentence in the 2014 Enlargement Strategy:

Belgrade - ESI Roadmap Proposal - Nov 2014 - Gerald Knaus_Seite_02This is a standard claim, made by EU member states and by the European Commission. On 7 June 2014 the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, made a video podcast on Western Balkan enlargement in which she asserted: “There are very clear criteria for the steps needed to move closer to the EU. In the end it is up to each country whether they pass through this process rapidly or not.” The message: “the process is fair. It depends on merit. It depends on you.”

Is this claim convincing?

Look again at the 2014 assessment by the Commission. Macedonia, which became an EU candidate in 2005, is ahead of all other Balkan countries when it comes to its alignment with the acquis according to the European Commission. And yet it is behind Montenegro, Serbia and Albania when it comes to accession. Clearly this is NOT about merit.

Is Macedonia an exceptional case? Hardly. As bilateral vetoes have proliferated, the political nature of every single step in this process has become ever more obvious.

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In fact, the problem of merit and fairness goes very deep.  Today the accession process is like a stairways with more than 70 steps: to obtain candidate statue, to open accession talks, to open (34 or 35) chapters, to close chapters; then ratification and finally accession. (Note: one could count many more small steps, including the adoption of screening reports, etc …)

For each step up thes estairways there are 28 gatekeepers, EU member states, which have to agree to EACH step taken. And these 28 decide on the basis of political criteria, not merit. Whether Turkey opens Chapter 23, or when and whether Albania, Serbia or Montenegro are allowed to open a chapter, or Macedonia starts accession talks, are all political decisions.

This image captures accession today: a stairways that may well appear to be a stairway to nowhere, given the many veto points and the huge potential for obstruction.

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There is one more striking fact about this stairways that renders the current debate on accession puzzling.

Half of these stairs are linked to the “opening of chapters”.  In fact, much of the political debate on enlargement today is focused on chapters: how many get opened, and when.  But few people – including experts or journalists – ever ask themselves: what is the POINT of “opening a chapter”? What does it mean? What does it do?

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 Take the case of Turkey, the most advanced country in its talks, having started in 2005, as an illustration. In 2014 Turkey had 14 open and 18 closed chapters (we leave two chapters, where the Commission provides no assessment of alignment, out of this table here – chapters 23 and 34).

As the following table – based on the Commission’s own assessments in its progress report – shows, there is no causal or other link between the alignment (state of progress) in a sector and whether a chapter is open or closed. This means: whether a country has many or few open chapters is no indicator of where it is in terms of its preparedness for EU accession.

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What is no less surprising: opening chapters is not only not a yardstick of progress; it is also not an incentive to make more progress in the future. This is what the European Commission found in Turkey in 2013: there was MORE progress in closed than in open chapters in Turkey during the year.

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This raises a basic question: why is it so important to open chapters? Having many open chapters does not indicate progress towards meeeting EU standards. Having many open chapters also does not make future progress more likely.

A recent study of EU-Turkey relations made the following  strong recommendation:

“In the light of the above it is stated that opening the chapters Energy (15), Judiciary and Fundamental Rights (23), Justice, Freedoms and Security (24) and Foreign, Security and Defense Policies (31) would facilitate Turkey’s drawing a robust road map under the EU umbrella at a time when the country faces three successive elections.”

This is the conventional wisdom, repeated in conference after conference, article after article. However, it is not explained HOW opening a chapter is crucial for either the EU or for Turkey; why a Turkish citizen, or a sceptical EU member state parliamentarian, should consider this significant.

In summer 2013 there was a heated debate in Turkey and in the EU whether to open a new chapter after many year in which none were opened: Chapter 22 (regional policy). There were many statements by politicians about how important this would be. Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s chief negotiator, explained in April 2013:

“Since no new chapter has been opened, I have kindly asked our prime minister to slow down everything until a new chapter is opened. I thank him for having done that. Now the process for the opening of the regional policies chapter has begun.”

Foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu stated:

“No postponement or review of the decision to open it is possible. As we said before during the reform follow-up group meeting, we want not only the chapter 22 to open but also the chapters 23 and 24.”

The German government, on the other hand, insisted on delaying the opening until after summer 2013. In the end chapter 22 was formally opened in the autumn.  Leaders – and international media – spoke about this as if something significant had happened (Die Welt:  “Accession talks gain new momentum”)

In fact, following a meeting – the so-called Intergovernmental Conference – when it was declared that Chapter 22 was now “open”, nothing else happened. There was no additional meeting. There was no additional funding. There was no additional impetus for reform. The “opening” was political theater, for one day. It had no link to merit, criteria, or progress. Ultimately it made no difference.

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We can now  easily understand how all these dynamics create a deeply frustrating and dysfunctional process.

In the face of growing public opposition, many EU leaders have given up defending enlargement policy. Seen from Brussels, Berlin, Paris or The Hague, the current group of candidates are problematic. They are poorer, have weaker institutions and are more politically polarised than any previous group of applicants. This has created a vicious cycle. As enlargement loses popularity in EU member states, EU leaders try to reassure their voters that the process is stricter than ever. Yet as the hurdles to be jumped appear more and more arbitrary, candidate countries find it harder to take difficult decisions in pursuit of a goal that is increasingly distant and uncertain. The stairways approach makes vetoes extremely easy. And the public debate is focused on whether chapters are open or closed, not on whether reforms are taking place.

This is not enlargement “fatigue”, suggesting a temporary state of exhaustion. It is a chronic ailment, which is getting worse.

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And at the heart of this frustration are the annual Progress Reports. As ESI found, discussing these in many European capitals during the past year, few people, even EU foreign ministry officials, read these carefully. The reports are not doing a convincing job measuring progress. They do not allow for comparisons between countries in any operationally meaningful detail. They do not educate the public about what needs to happen. Above all they do not make real transformation – if it happens – visible also to sceptics. It is as if everyone – reformers in candidate countries, publics, policy makers in the EU – is proceeding through thick fog.

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Such a proces increases frustrations. We have called this the Godot effect. It is today most pronounced in Macedonia and Turkey. However, unless the process change we may anticipate that something similar could soon happen in Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, as cynicism increases. In Bosnia and Kosovo, there is today frustration, cynicism and apathy before any EU accession process has even begun. Bosnia has not yet applied for accession. Kosovo is not even able to apply.

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 So what is to be done? In order to answer this question let us imagine a very different approach to defining and assessing progress; one that is strict, fair and transparent. A process as follows:

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To imagine such a process is not to daydream. For this is how the Commission has acted for years in the context of visa liberalisation.

In this crucial area ALL countries in the Balkans were given precise visa roadmaps with dozens of benchmarks. These roadmaps set out clearly what the Commission expected. They listed all individual criteria. There were no short cuts. And these roadmps, based on the acquis, were essentially the same for all countries, and thus progress easily compared.

The Commission then organised a serious monitoring and assessment effort. This involved experts from the Commission and from member states.  Based on their findings detailed progress assessments were issued.

The whole process was developed by the Directorate General for Home Affairs together with the Directorate General for Enlargement. And it worked. It inspired many reforms. It made it possible to see where real reforms happened … and when they did not. Above all it convinced even sceptical EU interior ministers that when the Commission did find progress they could trust it.


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In fact, in October 2014, while DG enlargement published its regular progress reports, another part of the Commission also published a detailed document on progress made in the field of visa liberalisation by Turkey. It offers a clear, readable, strict and fair description of where Turkey stands. Each benchmark is assessed, using the following categories:


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The result of such a strict, fair, and meritocratic process in the case of the Western Balkans was to inspire civil servants. It was also clear to them what needed to be done. All countries were assessed based on the same criteria. It was possible to make transformations visible; even in special grade reports, that ESI issued at the time, based on the Commission experts’ assessments:

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We can compare the thoroughness of this process with the current assessment of progress in key chapters in the Progress Reports.  Let us take just one subject, Chapter 18 (Statistics).

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Look at the current assessment of progress in the field of statistics in Turkey, which has been in this process the longest. In 2014 the European Commission published just four short paragraphs, about half a page, on this chapter in the Turkey progress report.  A reader does not understand from this how far Turkey has come, what remains to be done to reach EU standards, or in what specific areas most efforts are still needed. Nor can one see how Turkey compares to other candidates.

This is surprising for many reasons:

1. The recent experience with Greece. Following the discovery of just how unreliable key statistics provided by the National Statistical Service of Greece (NSSG) had been before 2010, a new statistical agency, ELSTAT, was created. This was a priority for reform for the EU!

One might expect the EU to be just as keen to see all Balkan countries reach EU standards for all their key statistics, as soon as possible, and well before actually joining the EU, in order to be able to develop a credible track record.

2. The importance given to “economic governance” in the accession process. Without reliable economic statistics, from GDP per capita to employment, from the FDI stock to exports, discussions of economic governance in progress reports are of little use; and any evidence-based policy making on the part of governments is very hard.

3. One objective of the annual progress reports is to assess whether a country is a “functioning market economy” or FU-MAR-E. How can this be done without comparable and solid numbers and statistics?

The sooner all accession countries reach EU standards in the field of statistics the better. Now imagine a scenario where the European Commission draws up a roadmap for Chapter 18, gives it to every country, and thus spells out what all the key benchmarks for a future EU member are … and then assesses the state of affairs against these benchmarks every year with the help of experts, in order to produce a document on statistics that is similar to the recent October report the Commission produced for the Council and the European Parliament on visa liberalisation.


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The current EU accession process has not halted the erosion of trust in the policy since 2008. It has not led to measurable transformative impact in key policy areas. The visa roadmap process, on the other hand, has inspired and encouraged change. It has also – crucially – made this change visible and credible to sceptical outsiders.


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Given these experiences ESI proposes to the European Commission to put the idea of chapter roadmaps to the test as soon as possible.

We propose that DG enlargement develops four pilot roadmaps, and then assess progress in these four fields similar to the way the Commission has done with visa roadmaps; for all accession countries,  already in the 2015 Progress Reports: Statistics (fundamental for economic governance), Procurement (central to progress in the rule of law and the fight against corruption), food safety (key to attract FDI in a vital sector) and Financial Control.

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Giving such chapter roadmaps to all seven countries, and assessing them by reference to these benchmarks in 2015, would mark a small but very important improvement in the current process of writing progress reports.

One additional effect would be similar to the regional competition we have seen in the field of visa liberalisation. Or to the debates on public policy triggered by the Paris-based OECD with its regular publication of results of its PISA tests in the field of education.

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ESI has recently presented these ideas in many capitals. Here are five of the most frequently asked questions concerning this  CHAPTER ROADMAP PROPOSAL

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The first question often posed concerns incentives. In the case of visa roadmaps, we hear, there was a clear “reward” at the end of the road: visa liberalisation. This was popular with the broader public. Would elites and civil servants in accession countries be equally motivated to carry out reforms in fields such as Statistics or Procurement, without a similar tangible reward?

We believe that this question puts the issue of incentives upside down.

When elected governments say that they want their countries to join the EU as a matter of national interest – and embark on a many-years-long process that requires work, focus, human resources, and that remains uncertain until the very end – they state that they have an intrinsic motivation to carry out reforms. The notion that the EU should “bribe” governments to incentivise them to carry out reforms on this path is wrong. Governments that need to be bribed in such a blunt manner should never apply, and simply risk being exposed as uninterested in the EU accession process. Then it depends on publics and voters who they will react.

The EU acccession process is more similar to a young football player being offered a place at La Masia, the famous football school of FC Barcelona; or to a budding entrepreneur admitted to Harvard Business School.

People do not get paid to submit themselves to rigorous training at these institutions of excellence. Instead they have to work hard. If they do not have intrinsic motivation this will become apparent very quickly, but in a fair manner.

However, no one would think that a young footballer might just as well practice all by himself in the street, rather than benefit from the training system of La Masia; or that a great business school has nothing to offer to those who come prepared to work hard. What such centers offer is excellent coaching by experts, precise feedback, a system of instruction that will make those who take part better at what they say they want to do in the future.

Of course there are also more specific rewards: prestige and certificates to validate progress. In the case of chapter roadmaps more FDI – if investors believe that institutions and rules are becoming more predictable.  One can even imagine more donor aid for those who perform best. But the real reward is for leaders – and civil servants, who do most of the extra work and are not paid more for it – to feel that what they do is taking their countries forward; that is makes sense for their country and for them professionally. For this incentives must be intrinsic.

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Can such chapter roadmaps be done for every chapter? No. We believe that they cannot be done for some chapters where there is no clear acquis (Chapter 23 or Chapter 30).

But this does not mean it cannot or should not be done for most chapters.

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Does such a roadmap-approach encourage superficial reforms? Not if the roadmap – like visa roadmaps – is done well, and measures not just laws but institutions and performance. Then it becomes a very good tool also to assess progress over time and track records.

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Is this a dramatic change in enlargement policy?

No. Member state do not lose their veto. They still have to agree – unanimously – to give candidate status, to open accession talks, to open chapters, to close chapters. However in the meantime the Commission helps these students get better … and provides member states with more information and feedback to assess how accession countries do.

Such an approach allows the European Commission to do better what it is already doing and already has a mandate for:  assess annual progress according to the Copenhagen criteria in all countries in a strict and fair manner, provide feedback, and encourage reform.

Such a change puts the substance of actual reform back at the heart of the accession process. This is  win-win situation for everyone.

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Not everything will be in such roadmaps. Some reforms only make sense just before accession. The aquis changes, so it also makes sense to adapt roadmaps every two years. It is always possible for member states to insist on additional reforms as preconditions for them allowing a chapter to be closed (or even opened, though this can both happen at the same time later; Croatia actually opened and closed a number of chapters all in the final year of its talks).

These chapter roadmaps would likely capture 95 percent of reforms needed in key areas.  This would be a flexible tool (fishery benchmarks might be of different importance in landlocked Macedonia than in Turkey), but in the end the idea is that the acquis is the same for all future members, as they are all heading for the same horizon.

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The past five years have seen a steady erosion of trust in enlargement across the EU and in many accession countries.

Turkey has been negotiating since 2005 and has not yet opened even half its chapters.

Macedonia is a candidate since 2005 and has not yet been given a date even to open talks.

Albania became a candidate this year, but has been warned already that it could be years away from opening accession talks.

Bosnia and Herzegovina concluded its negotiations on the Stabilisation and Association Agreement in 2008 without seeing the agreement enter into force.

To an increasing number of people in accession countries the current process appears to be a stairway to nowhere. And yet, reforms in all these countries are in the interests of their citizens. They are also in the interests of the EU. As the new Commission reassesses how it can best promote reforms, we believe it should seriously look at what has worked in recent years.

We believe that improving the work that goes into the progress reports does not constitute a change in enlargement policy, and that therefore the European Commission can act on its own to improve what it is already doing. However, such a change does alter the way the Commission works. It is a real challenge, and it makes sense to implement it gradually, testing it along the way. It remains to be seen whether the new European Commission is able to carry out such reforms.

For the sake of all Europeans, we can only hope it is.

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Earlier presentation:

See also:

Filed under: Albania,Balkans,Bosnia,Enlargement,Europe,Macedonia,Turkey,Visa — Gerald @ 7:19 pm
12 October 2014

Yannis Boutaris, Mayor of Thessaloniki

Sometimes you meet a person that is a force of nature. A person of convictions, with the modesty that comes from true charisma and the confidence that comes from not having to pretend. A person inspiring others by personal example, making words like engagement, citizenship and dignity shine in all their splendour. Somebody who makes you feel proud to belong to their generation. And who makes you wonder whether you are really doing enough yourself.

In recent weeks I felt this sense of awe working on old and new European dissidents. Meeting Khadija Ismayil and other human rights defenders from Azerbaijan, has this effect. So does rereading the writings of Havel, of the Russian Memorial generation of human rights defenders, of Adam Michnik and other Poles of his generation.

And so does meeting the mayor of Thessaloniki, Yannis Boutaris, to talk about what is possible in local politics at a moment of deep crisis. In a city shaped by decades of deep conservatism and fear of neighbours, from the Cold War to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and later. 72 years old, chain-smoking, with an ear-ring and tatoos, for decades a succesful entrepeneur, a recovered alcoholic, a long time civic and environmental activists, and now twice elected mayor of Greece’s second city.

I have come here this Sunday at the invitation of the Navarino network, a local civic organisation which has worked for a long time to open Thessaloniki to the world. I am to speak about the state of the Balkans in 2014, about false confidence and complacency.

I tell the tragic story of Soviet dissidents like Sergei Kovalev, who went to jail under Brezhnev, then became government human rights officials, and in 2014 face renewed pressure from their state. It is a tragic story with no happy end, with Russia like that fabled creature from Greek mythology, the Ouroboros: a snake that devours itself. Often history is like this. Too often.

Ouroboros – societies sometimes resemble this ancient creature,
devouring themselves

 I also speak about what Greece – and Thessaloniki – might do to prevent future vicious circles in the Balkans. In the end  I present the ESI proposal for how to address the name dispute with Macedonia.  (see in the annex of this report:  Vladimir and Estragon in Skopje. A fictional conversation on trust and standards and a plea on how to break a vicious circle) The only – encouraging – reaction I get from a big auditorium full of Thessaloniki dignitaries and young people is one comment: “Greece is ready to do this, do you think Skopje is ready?”


Then I meet with Boutaris for an interview. This was already a rich and memorable Sunday. It only got better.

Boutaris explains the value of civic engagement, voluntarism and how he strives to make his city embrace a multiethnic past. He explains how even conservatives silently tell him that they approve of his open support for gay pride … though lack the courage to say so openly. He explains why opening to Turkey, Israel and Jews across the world is vital for his city, given its history. And why having a Holocaust museum (at a cost of an estimated 25 million Euro, the design has already been done) will be so important.

How he is happy to have a Durres Park in the city now, and hopes to build many more links with other Balkan cities. How reaching out to Izmir is vital – proposing to have “days of Izmir” in Thessaloniki, and “days of Thessaloniki” there. Why having a Muslim cemetary is the most obvious thing in a city like Thessaloniki. How “Turks are our bothers and Europeans are our partners.” And how, as a Vlach, he recognises the common regional heritage when he visits the village of his ancestors in today’s Republic of Macedonia near Krusevo.

He explains how it is possible to cut the public administration (from 5,000, when he came into office in 2011 to 3,500 today) and reduce the deficit, while moving towards green urbanism and a different traffic policy. How he is encouraged that the number of bicycle shops has gone from 2 to more than 20 in a few years. And how much remains to be done.  How he has worked to encourage budget flight connections and direct links by ferries to his city, with increasing success. How this has resulted in sharply rising numbers of foreign visitors.

How his political goal is to make people proud of this, their liberal and open city. With the new slogan “I love my city and adopt my neighbourhood.” How he hopes city employees will be able to walk in the streets and citizens will respect them for their honesty and competence.

Remember: this is Greece, the EU country in its deepest economic and social crisis in decades. This is the country where the self-proclaimed fascists of Golden Dawn won 16 percent in recent local elections in Athens. With a prime minister who made his name by fostering nationalism in the early 1990s. A country all too often described in the foreign press as a hopeless case, a patient at best, an ungrateful recipient of aid at worst.

But this is also now the Greece of Boutaris and the cosmopolitanism of the new Thessaloniki.

When he became mayor, he tells me, Thessaloniki had a number of big taboos, including Turkey and the Jewish history of the town (where Jews were the largest ethnic group until 1912 and the port was closed on the Sabbath). Not long ago the City Council declared Mark Mazower, author of the great book Salonica, symbolically a persona non grata – for having described the multiethnic past of the city. This was the time when the local bishop called on people not to vote for Boutaris.

Now Boutaris looks forward to the day when citizens of Thessaloniki will be proud of the history of their city, as described in Mazower’s book. The book ends with the observation, true for all of Europe:

“As small states integrate themselves in a wider world, and even the largest learn how much they need their neighbours’ help to tackle the problems that face them all, the stringently patrolled and narrow-minded conception of history which they once nurtured and which gave them a kind of justification starts to look less plausible and less necessary. Other futures may require other pasts.

The history of the nationalists is all about false continuities and convenient silences, the fictions necessary to tell the story of the rendez-vous of a chosen people with the land marked out for them by destiny. It is an odd and implausible version of the past …”

As Boutaris tells it, being open to the past and to others is simple good sense: “if you accept differences, life is better”. This explains his support for gay pride in this orthodox city, and how he sees attidues changing. He talks about this priorities for the second term: moving towards a green city, a city in which “rich people are proud to take public transport” instead of poor people required to have a car.

When we made the 2008 ESI film on Thessaloniki Boutaris was still in opposition. Now he has been twice elected. The first time by the narrrowest of margins (some 300 votes). The second time with a clear and strong majority and 58 percent. In some elections ever single vote matters. Civic engagement matters. Having convictions matters. And fighting for them for decades can bring results.

If Bosnia had just one mayor like this in one of its big cities, ideally young and full of eneregy, so that he or she could then go on to show what is possible: the country might be a different place If only Greece or Turkey had more independents, former entrepreneurs and social activists, entering politics like this.

Thessaloniki, thank you for the inspiration. It is great to be back.


PS: Some further reading:

Thessaloniki’s exemplary revival:

“The mayor’s greatest legacy, however, may be the city’s much-improved performance in tourism. However, his unconventional approach has made him some enemies among traditionalists. Between end-2010 and end-2013, Thessaloniki achieved 19% growth in tourist arrivals according to data from the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises (SETE), compared with a decline of 13% for Athens over the same period.

To a great extent, this has been achieved through approaching a “traditional enemy” such as Turkey as a potential tourism market, leading to allegations that the mayor was “serving foreign interests”. Mr Boutaris is unapologetic about his bid to present Thessaloniki as a Balkan “melting pot”, stressing the city’s multi-ethnic history, a place where Greeks, Turks, Jews and Slavs lived together until the upheavals of the early 20th century, when the Turks left, the Greeks from Asia Minor arrived and the Jewish population was decimated in the Holocaust. The attraction of Thessaloniki to Turkish visitors stems from the fact that it is the birthplace of Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the modern Turkish state. In addition, the Boutaris administration has made much of the fact that for centuries Thessaloniki had a large and vibrant Sephardic Jewish community. In broadening the city’s tourism profile, a previously rather claustrophobic city is starting to become a more open one, embracing its multicultural past.

The rebranding of Thessaloniki based on this new perception of its past has managed to increase the influx of visitors from Turkey and from Israel. Overnight stays at the city’s hotels increased during the past four years by 226% for Turks and 358% for Israelis, reaching 80,000 and 50,000, respectively, by the end of 2013. Coinciding with a period of deepening national economic crisis, the tourism revival has been welcome. The shift in public opinion in the city has been radical, and previous detractors now firmly support a similar rapprochement with all neighbouring countries … “

Meeting the Mayor


Presenting on the Balkans in 2014



18 June 2014


Sometimes a simple idea has the potential to have a lot of impact. Here is one simple idea for the day, split into three concrete recommendations:

a. the European Commission – and in particular DG enlargement – ask all Western Balkan countries to take the regular PISA tests of the OECD, as one important way to assess whether in the future their economies will be able to “withstand competitive pressure” – which is one of the 1993 Copenhagen criteria.

b. the European Commission includes the scores of PISA as one of its main indicators in the annual progress report section on economic criteria – and includes a table comparing the performance of countries in the region with the rest of the EU.

c. civil society organisations in Balkan countries use this as a trigger to launch a broader debate in their countries on the quality and importance of education in national debates. Both of which are currently – to put it mildly – sub-optimal for countries trying to converge with a much more prosperous European Union.

This morning I met senior people in DG Enlargement in Brussels and made this proposal. I also made it in many recent presentations with EU ambassadors and EU officials in Paris, Skopje, Zagreb, The Hague, Berlin, Rome, Ankara and Istanbul. And as a result of some feedback I am increasingly hopeful on the first and second recommendation above. (This in turn will help with recommendation three.)

For more on all this see our forthcoming report on how to assess in future progress reports whether a candidate has a “functioning market economy”. For those impatient now, here are a few core facts:

Background: candidates, potential candidates and PISA

It seems obvious: one of the most important factors contributing to future development of an economy is the quality of the national education system.  And one of the most straightforward ways to launch a debate on this is to look at the OECD’s PISA tests, taken since 2000, every three years in some 65 countries.

Take a look at some recent findings:

PISA results – mathematics 2012

Taiwan (top country)[1]

Netherlands (top EU15 country) 523
Estonia (top EU13 country) 521
Croatia 471
Serbia 449
Turkey 448
Bulgaria (lowest EU country) 439
Montenegro 410
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

PISA results – reading 2012

Japan (top country)[2] 538
Finland (top EU15 country) 524
Poland (top EU13 country) 518
Croatia 485
Turkey 475
Serbia 446
Bulgaria (lowest EU country) 436
Montenegro 422
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

PISA results – science 2012

Japan (top country)[3] 547
Finland (top EU15 country) 545
Estonia (top EU13 country) 541
Croatia 491
Turkey 463
Serbia 445
Cyprus (lowest EU country) 438
Montenegro 410
Albania 397
Bosnia and Herzegovina


These tables raise many fascinating and important policy questions:

1. How can Albania and Montenegro close the serious gap (serious even compared to other countries in the region)?

2. How can all these countries learn from Estonia or Poland, some of the best performers among former communist countries?

3.  Where would Macedonia, Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina stand if they took the test? (Macedonia took the test in 2000: 381 in math, 401 in science, 373 in reading – abysmal scores I discussed in a recent Rumeli Observer; it is now taking it again for the first time this year).

Of course it would also be useful to have other credible education statistics from ALL candidates and potential candidates that allow for EU-wide and Europe-wide comparisons.
Here are some good statistics which already exist for the EU and some of the candidate countries. Again, they raise interesting policy issues.

They might also – if properly highlighted – trigger more important policy debates.



How many 4 year old are in primary or pre-primary education? In the EU

91.7 % of four year-olds were in pre-primary or primary education across the whole of the EU-27 in 2010. Participation rates of four year-olds in pre-primary or primary education were generally high — national averages of over 95 % in Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Spain, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom; as well as in Iceland and Norway. By contrast, Greece, Poland and Finland reported that fewer than 70 % of four year-olds were enrolled; lower rates were also recorded in the EFTA countries of Liechtenstein and Switzerland, as well as in the acceding and candidate countries of Croatia, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Turkey.”

Only national data are available for Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (data for 2010), where rates stood at 57.4 % and 24.0 % respectively. More than half of the 25 level 2 Turkish regions reported that less than 20.0 % of four year-olds participated in pre-primary or primary education in 2011. The lowest participation rate was recorded for the southern Turkish region of Gaziantep, Adıyaman, Kilis (9.7 %), while the second lowest rate was recorded for İstanbul (10.9 %).”[4]


“The number of students aged 17 in education (all levels combined) in the EU-27 in 2010 was 5.2 million, equivalent to 91.7 % of all 17-year-olds. The age of 17 is important as it often marks the age at which young people are faced with a choice between: remaining in education; following some form of training; or looking for a job. The number of 17 year-olds in education relative to the population of 17 year-olds exceeded 80 % in the vast majority of the regions within the EU in 2011, and this pattern was repeated across all of the EFTA regions … As such, for one reason or another, the vast majority of young people aged 17 remained in the education system at or even after the end of compulsory schooling.”

This indicates, for instance, a clear problem in Turkey:

“Among the acceding and candidate country regions, the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was above 80.0 % in Croatia (national data) and three Turkish regions (including the capital city region of Ankara and two north-western regions of Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik and Tekirdağ, Edirne, Kırklareli). There were four Turkish regions where the proportion of 17 year-olds who remained in education was 50.0 % or lower — they were all in the south and east of the country, namely: Sanlıurfa, Diyarbakır; Mardin, Batman, Sırnak, Siirt; Ağri, Kars, Iğdir, Ardahan; and Van, Muş, Bitlis, Hakkari. The lowest ratio of 17 year-olds remaining in education was recorded in Van, Mus, Bitlis, Hakkari, where the share was only slightly more than one third (35.5 %) in 2011.

“An indicator that presents information about early leavers from education and training tracks the proportion of individuals aged 18–24 who have finished no more than a lower secondary education, and who are not involved in further education or training: some 13.5 % of 18–24 year-olds in the EU-27 were classified as early leavers from education and training in 2011, with a somewhat higher proportion of male early leavers (15.3 %) compared with female early leavers (11.6 %). Europe’s growth strategy, Europe 2020, has set an EU-27 target for the proportion of early leavers from education and training to be below 10 % by 2020; there are individual targets for each of the Member States that range from 5 % to 29 %.”

Tertiary education:

“Tertiary education is the level of education offered by universities, vocational universities, institutes of technology and other institutions that award academic degrees or professional certificates. In 2010 (the 2009/10 academic year), the number of students enrolled in tertiary education in the EU-27 stood at 19.8 million; this was equivalent to 62.7 % of all persons aged 20–24.

In candidate countries:

“In Turkey there was a particularly high concentration of tertiary students in Bursa, Eskişehir, Bilecik — this may be attributed to there being an open university in Eskişehir, where a high proportion of students are enrolled on distance learning courses. Otherwise, the ratio of students enrolled in tertiary education to residents aged 20–24 was below 60 % for all of the remaining regions in the candidate and accession countries.”

Tertiary attainment

“In 2011, for the EU-27 as a whole, just over one third (34.6 %) of 30–34 year-olds had completed tertiary education. These figures support the premise that a rising proportion of the EU’s population is studying to a higher level — in keeping with one of the Europe 2020 targets, namely, that by 2020 at least 40 % of persons aged 30–34 in the EU-27 should have attained a tertiary level education.”

Again Turkey is backward:

“Bati Anadolu (23.6 %) — which includes the Turkish capital city of Ankara — was the only Turkish region to report that more than one in five of its residents aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education. By contrast, the lowest ratios … were recorded for the north-east of Turkey (Kuzeydoğu Anadolu), where only just over 1 in 10 (10.2 %) of the population aged 30–34 had attained a tertiary level education.


One thing should be obvious: if PISA rankings and such tables are seriously discussed in candidate countries, everyone would benefit. And if the EU can manage to encourage a focus on such issues – through its own regular assessments – everyone would gain.

So let us hope that this simple idea will indeed be picked up.


[1] Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong excluded as cities.

[2] Sic.

[3] Sic

[6] Croatia, 2002; Serbia, 2004.

[7] Albania, 2007.

[8] Albania, 2009.


7 June 2014


Една од државите во светот за која сигурно очекувате да биде на врвот на сите национални рангирања сигурно е Финска. Не е важно што се мери – среќа, креативност, одржливост, родова еднаквост, благосостојба на децата…Финска секогаш завршува како глобален лидер.

Минатото лето патував во Финска за да научам повеќе за финската експертиза во менаџирањето на границите. Патував низ земјата со еден фински генерал и ги посетувавме границите со Русија, крајбрежната стража и аеодромот во Хелсинки учејќи за новите технологии и алатки за меѓународна комуникација во регионот на Балтичкото море.

Тоа беше една импресивна демонстрација на финската компетенција и потсетник за тоа како една мала нација е изложена геополитички со векови. Но, отвори и прашања – како финската нација станала толку просперитетна? Дали нивната приказна на напредокот и просперитетот содржи пошироки лекции и за други мали европски држави со проблематично минато и комплицирано соседство? Што би и требало на Македонија (Косово, Албанија, Босна или Србија) за да станат богати и просперитетни како Финска во некое време во иднина? Зошто Македонија не е Финска?

Во обид да „ископам“ што е можно повеќе за Финцките се обидов да ја најдам и прочитам сета достапна литература на германски и англиски. Се надевам дека моите фински пријатели ќе ме поправат доколку текстот содржи површни импресии и коментари и ќе ги додадат и своите гледишта.

Колку за споредба

Прво, нешто околу тоа како се мери успехот на земјата. Ако проучувате колку многу и колку различни интернационални рангирања постојат, сигурно ќе бидете во право ако решите да не ги земате пресериозно. Како и да е, земени како група рангирањата можат да раскажат интересна приказна. Еве една колекција од повеќе интернационали рангирања кои ги погледнав за минатата година пред да тргнам на пат кон Северот.

Постои Индексот на среќа на Обединетите нации кој е базиран на работата на Глобалниот институт на Џефри Сачс.

„Според извештајот за среќа на ООН од 2 Април Финска е рангирана како втора најсреќна земја после Данска“

Потоа, тука е и Индексот за просперитет од 2012 година каде што Финска е седма:

1 Норвешка
2 Данска
3 Шведска
4 Австралија
5 Нов Зеланд
6 Канада
7 Финска
8 Холандија
9 Швајцарија
10 Ирска

Потоа го имаме Индексот на одржливост на општествата каде што Финска повторно е во првите десет:

Човекова благосостојба Економска благосостојба
2006 2008 2010 2012 2006 2008 2010 2012
Исланд 5 4 4 1 Швајцарија 9 1 1 1
Норвешка 2 1 1 2 Шведска 4 3 2 2
Шведска 1 2 2 3 Норвешка 12 9 3 3
Финска 3 3 3 4 Чешка 8 5 4 4
Австрија 6 5 5 5 Данска 1 6 6 5
Јапонија 4 6 6 6 Финска 6 7 7 6
Швајцарија 13 9 9 7 Естонија 5 2 9 7
Холандија 12 14 14 8 Словенија 3 4 5 8
Ирска 9 8 7 9 Австралија 11 13 10 9
Германија 7 7 8 10 Луксембург 2 12 8 10

Глобалниот индекс на креативноста се однесува на технологијата, талентите и толеранцијата. (Финска е прва во првите две категории):

1. Шведкса
2. САД
3. Финска
4. Данска
5. Австралија
6. Нов Зелан
7. Канада
8. Норвешка
9. Сингапур

Индексот за благосостојба на децата на УНИЦЕФ ја рангира Финска во првите 5 земји:

1. Холандија
2. Норвешка
3. Исланд
4. Финска
5. Шведска
6. Германија
7. Луксембург
8. Швајцарија
9. Белгија

Финска е и првата земја во светот која на жените им го дала правото на глас и правото да бидат бирани во парламентот. Првиот фински парламент во 1906 има 19 жени од 200 пратеници. Овој процент не беше достигнат во Турција се до 2011. Последниот Индекс за родовите разлики од 2012 покажува дека Финска се уште е лидер во однос на правата на жените и рамноправност на половите:

6.Нов Зеланд

Дури и неодамнешнио Индекс на земји со пријателска инфраструктура за велосипеди ја сместува Финска во топ петте земји:

1. Данска
1. Холандија
3. Шведска
4. Финска
5. Германија
6. Белгија
7. Австрија
8. Унгарија
9. Словачка
10.Обединето кралство


Конечно, рангирањата кои допринесуваат најмногу за тоа Финска да биде глобална сензација се ПИСА тестовите, односно Програмата за меѓународно оценување на учениците спроведена од Организацијата за економски развој и соработка (ОЕЦД). Тестовите мерат писменост, математика и научни вештини на 14 и 15 годишните ученици низ целиот свет. Финските резултати од овие тестови од 2001 наваму буквално донесоа илјадници делегати во северната земја кои сакаат да видат во што е тајната на финскиот успех.

Да, но зошто?

Накусо, на Финскаи оди добро. Очигледното прашање за Македонците, Албанците, Босанците и Србите кои гледаат на овие рангирања е дали тие воошто имаат некаква релевантност во нивните општества.

Која е причината и ефектот од ваквата успешна приказна? Дали е изненадување дека во општество во кое децата живеат добро и се здрави, растат во семејства чии родители живеат и работат во креативни градови и исто така, имаат добри училишта? Зарем не е очигледно дека држава каде што девојчињата живеат во околина која негува рамноправност на половите ќе биде подобра држава во однос на образованието што им се нуди на жените отколку патријархални општества каде што жените не можат да наследат земја како што е во случајот на Косово?! Дали финскиот успех е резултат на нивниот добар образовен систем…или е обратно?

Позади ова навидум нерешливо прашање лежи друго, поголемо прашање. Дали некој знае друга држава чиј што јазик го разбираат многу малку странци, а кои што успеале да произведат корисни патокази за домашните реформи?

“Ако племето од другата страна на реката преминало од камено во бронзено доба, тогаш вашето племе се соочува со изборот или да се држи до својата компаративна предност од каменото доба или да емулира со соседното племе во бронзената доба…стратегијата на емулација беше задолжителна премин-точка за сите нации кои денеска важат за богати“ (Ерик.С. Рејнерт)

Земете го образованието. Досега многу е напишано на тема „лекции од Финска“ и нивниот успех на ПИСА тестовите. Финските деца одат на училиште помалку часови од другите деца било каде на светот: 5.500 часа на возраст од 7 до 14 години споредено со повеќе од 7.000 часа во другите земји членки на ОЕЦД. Италијански петнаесетгодишник ќе оди на училиште две години подолго од негов фински врсник. Тие, исто така, тргнуваат две години порано на училиште. Италија е рангирана 32 во математика и наука и 27 во читање на ПИСА тестовите. Очигледно, успехот не е механички резултат на часовите поминати на училиште.

Ова покренува многу прашања. Што да се емулира? Што Финските ученици учат, кога тие не се во училиште? Во цело поглавје во неодамнешната книга за финското образование  се опишува за учењето во не-училишната средина,   улогата на музеите и библиотеките. Во 2010та година имало 790 главни  и филијални библиотеки во Финска. Годишно, имало по 53 милиони посетители во библиотеките, а просечниот број на  кредити по предметите годишно за секој Финец е 18. Би било интересно да се споредат статистиките од Македонија или Косово, почнувајќи со бројот на народните библиотеки и споредувањето на читателските навики Експертот за образование Паси Сахлберг, напиша:

Што прават учениците во Финска кога часовите им завршуваат порано за разлика од другите земји:? Во принцип, учениците слободно можат да си одат дома во попладневните часови, освен ако не им се нуди нешто во училиштето. Основните училишта се охрабруваат да организираат  активности за најмладите  после училиште и едуактивни или рекреативни клубови за постарите.

Тој додаде дека две третини од учениците на возраст од 10 до 14 години се дел од најмалку една младинска асоцијација.

Што се лекциите на политиката: Дали се тоа деца во земјите каде што има многу креативни симулации надвор од училиштето, па не треба да трошат премногу време за часовите… но, дали реверсот е точен во земјите кои немаат музеи или јавни библиотеки?  Дури и во  интернет ерата книгите и мрежата на јавни библиотеки е важна кога станува збор за симулирање на љубовта кон читањето? (Или, можеби  е уште поважно кои видови на детски книги ќе се најдат на нивниот јазик, откако тие стапнале во библиотека?

Од друга страна, ако сѐ работи, бидејќи „тоа трае село да се едуцираат дете”, дали учењето на поединечните аспекти  на финската политика нуди водич за македонскиот, косовскиот, албанскиот или босанскиот  Министер за образование?

Всушност, вистинската лекција – главната поента е да се нагласи и дискутира  од балканска  перспектива – може да биде поинаква и многу базична. Не дека е  најважен овој или оној аспект од финското образование, јавната администрација или социјалната политика. Тоа е општиот став кон напредокот и развојот, во смисла на она кои прашања најмногу значат, која обликува како да распределите дел од највредните ресурси … времето и вниманието.Реалната и значајна разлика меѓу Македонија и Финска се интересите на луѓето  – носители на одлуки, родителите, наставниците – со што тие сметаат дека е доволно важно за да се борат  сѐ додека не најдат поединечни подобрувања.


Sculpture in Helsinki overlooking the Baltic Sea Title: Happiness

Добро е познато дека финските учители се извонредно образовани. Во Финска наставниците во основно училиште мораат да имаат завршено магистерски студии и мораат да имаат направено вистинско истражување во образованието во рамки на студиите. Од нив се очекува да размислуваат сериозно за активностите во кои се впуштаат. Од нив се бара да размислуваат за основното образование, да поставуваат поинакви и нови прашања за тоа на што се базира и на што може да се базира успехот. На овој начин тие заземаат простор во широка национална диксусија.

Дали ова е дел од образованието на учителите низ Балканот? Дали учителите во Македонија или Косово имаат мислечки педагошки вештини? Дали образованието како такво е главен субјет на нивното образование?

А што е со креаторите на политики? Дали дебатите за образовните политики во Западен Балкан се продолжуваат на база на емириски истражувања? Дали реформите се темелат на реалните проценки на статус-кво? Дали образовните политики се дискутираат сериозно во националните парламенти?

Мислам дека повеќето од вас кои го читате ова ќе се посомневате дека воопшто постојат одговори на овие прашања. Но, како овие состојби можат да се променат? I

Да ги земеме резултатите од ПИСА од 2012 година и да ја споредиме Македонија со Финска:

ПИСА ресултати математика – 2012

Шангај – топ држава 613
Холандија (топ ЕУ 15) 523
Естонија (топ ЕУ 13) 521
Хрватска 471
Србија 449
Турција 448
Бугарија (најслаба ЕУ држава) 439
Црна Гора 410
Албанија 394
Босна и Херцеговина

ПИСА резултати – читање 2012

Шангај 570
Финска (топ ЕУ 15) 524
Полска (топ ЕУ 13) 518
Хрватска 485
Турција 475
Србија 446
Бугарија (најслаба ЕУ држава) 436
Montenegro 422
Albania 394
Bosnia and Herzegovina

ПИСА резултати – наука 2012

Шангај – топ држава 580
Финска (топ ЕУ 15) 545
Естонија (топ ЕУ 13) 541
Хрватска 491
Турција 463
Србија 445
Кипар (најслаба ЕУ држава) 438
Црна Гора 410
Албанија 397
Босна и Херцеговина

Во 2012 Финска има најдобри резултати во наука и читање од сите членки на ЕУ. Полска и Естонија, исто така, имаат добри резултати. Србија е полоша од Турција. Албанија помина навистина лошо.

А Македонија? Воопшто и не зема учество на тестот! And Macedonia? It did not even take the test! Сето ова е сè повеќе и повеќе збунувачки со оглед на драматичните резултати кога Македонија го направи тестот, еднаш и за последен пат, во 2000 година:

“На најдолниот крај од скалата, 18 отсто од учениците од земјите на ОЕЦД и над 50 отсто од учениците во Албанија, Бразил, Индонезија, Македонија и Перу имаат Ниво 1 вештин или подолу. Овие ученици, во најдобар случај можат да се справат само со најосновните задачи на читање. Студенти кои учествуваа во тестот не се случајна група”, се вели во известувањето од тестот на ОЕЦД.

Процентот на студенти со сериозни потешкотии при читањето во 2000 е следниов:


Level 1 and below!
Финска 7
Полска 15
Унгарија 23
Грција 25
Бугарија 40
Македонија 63
Албанија 71

Има и пошокантни детали:

под ниво 1 ниво 1 ниво 2 ниво 3 ниво 4 ниво 5
Македонија 35 28 24 11 2 0
Албанија 44 27 21 8 1 0
Бугарија 18 22 27 22 9 2
Грција 9 16 26 28 17 5
Унгарија 7 16 25 29 18 5
Финска 2 5 14 29 32 18
Полска 0 15 24 28 19 6


(Македонија токму сега по 14 поминати години реши да го земе учество во тестот по втор пат. Дали е ова можеби почеток на една поинаква дебата?)

Сите лидери имаат лимитиран буџет на внимание. Кои се мислите на премиерите и министрите кога си легнуваат навечер и кога се будат наутро? Кои прашања им ги поставуваат на странските гости? Таткото на модерниот менаџмент Питер Дракер, еднаш напиша:

“Ние со право сакаме да задржиме што е можно повече топки во воздухот како циркуските жонглери. Но, дури и тие го прават тоа околу 10 минути и не повеќе. Ако жонглерот пробуваше да го прави тоа подолго, сигурно кога тогаш ќе ги испуштеше топките“.

Најпосле, единствениот тотално нефлексибилен ресурс кај секој поединец е времето – родител или премиер – тоа е времето. Ова е се разбира точно и за политичката класа. На кои активности им се посветени? Што се дебатира во парламентот, во локалната самоуправа, во здруженијата на родители или наставници, што? Ако обрзованието не една од овие теми, тогаш е разбирливо зошто Македонија не може да фати чекор со остатокот од Европа. Може да се претпостави и дека моменталната генерација на млади кои излегуваат од училиштата нема да можат да се натпреваруваат со своите врсници низ Европа.

Но, како воопшто едно општество станало толку опседнато со човечкиот капитал, образованието и поттикнувањето на креативноста како што е оваа мала нордиска нација?



Во суштина, приказната за просперитетот и развојот на Финска е приказна за прераспределба на време и внимание. Тоа е приказна за фокус, за тоа како  со текот на времето, делумните промени можат да доведат до драматични трансформации.

Финска не е  отсекогаш успешна приказна за каква што ја знаеме  денес. Овој успех е резултат на визијата на националната политика. Тоа е приказна за неверојатен успех.

“Финска без дилеми може да претендира за еден од најголемите успеси на модерната ера,” вака почнува предговорот на Дејвид Кирби во книгата „Кратка историја на Финска“.

Тој додава:

“Трансформацијата на она што безмалку еден век претставуваше лошо земјоделско земјиште на северната периферија на Европа во една од најпросперитетните држави на Европската унија денес е една извонредна приказна, но тоа воопшто не значи дека приказната е спокојна”.

Фред Синглтон ја започнува својата Куса историја на Финска вака:

“Денес Финците се една од најпросперитетните, социјално прогресивни , стабилни и мирољубиви нации во светот“.

Но, ќе запише Синглтон „домот на Финците од прва воопшто не ветуваше дека може да биде база за една успешна држава“.

Зошто успехот на оваа држава се именува како „неверојатен“? Повеќето пресметки за предодреденоста на успехот започнуваат со епската тема – природата. Фред Синглтон за ова ќе забележи „во текот на историјата Финска не можеше да привлече освојучи или трговци во една далечна земја на езера и шуми со студени зими“.

Со други зборови, природните богатства не можат да објаснат зошто Македонија е полоша од Финска денес. Ниту пак, климата. Финска има долги, темни и студени зими. Тогаш морето, главниот начин на транспорт, замрзнува во 90 проценти па мора вештачки да се одрзмнува за да може да биде функционално. Оваа клима претставува сериозно ограничување во земјоделството. Во северниот дел снегот ја покрива земјата дури 22 дена.

Успехот не е ниту прашање на суровини. Во споредба со своите соседи, Норвешка и Русија, Финска има ограничена природни ресурси, настрана шумите од бор и смрека  кои покриваат половина од територијата. Поради студот, овде се е поскапо – од изградба на транспортни мрежа до фабрики за греење. Во 1918 година Финска уште беше првенствено земјоделски општество. Половина од нејзиниот БДП добиени од земјоделството. Повеќето не-земјоделски активности се фокусирани на дрво и пулпа.

А геополитиката? И дали балканските нации не се подеднакво „проколнати“ со својата географија?

Всушност, и геополитиката во Северна Европа во 20 век не е баш за оние со слабо срце. Со векови контролата врз Јужна Финска е од стратешко значење во големите борби за власт: помеѓу Шведска и Русија во 19 век; помеѓу Германија и Советскиот сојуз во 20 век.

Финците, исто така, се соочуваат со уште еден предизвик познат на балканските народи: јазичен конфликт. Со векови па до модерната ера, финскате елита зборуваше шведски. Финска икона од 20 век, генералот Густаф Манерхајм или финскиот ататурк – зборуваше многу подобро шведски од фински. На Финска и треба време за нејзината култура да биде признаена дури и од своите наблиски соседи, Швеѓаните.

Финците добиваат еднаков статус во администрацијата со Швеѓаните единствено во 1863. Кога еден барон во 1884 година на имот на благородништвото ќе се обрати на фински, тоа ќе предизвика сеопшт бес. Во 1880 помалку од една третина од училиштата се на фински јазик. Во 1900 тие се само две третини.

Реалноста на неодамнешното економско минато на Финска почива на длабока сиромаштија. Финците се соочуват со катастрафални времиња на глас во 1860 од кој што стотици илјади умираат. Слоганот по кој се живее во 1860 гласи „Природата го истура бесот врз нашиот народ. Емигрирај или умри!“ На почетокот на 20 век Финска е дом на земјоделци без земја и безимотни работници. почетокот на 20 век Финска беше дом на многу станари земјоделците и Безимотните работници. Во 1910 година повеќе од половина од фармите се помали од пет хектари, односно помали од минимумот со кој според прописите на Сенатот може да добијат субвенции. Ова ги потхранува политичките тензии и ги зголемува фрустрациите. Финските сиромашни селани се подготвени да ја излеат одмаздата кон побогатите земјоделци, па сето ова води до граѓанска војна веднаш по независноста во 1917 година.

Историјата на раната финска демократија е во знакот на конфликтите. Веднаш штом станува независна од руската импреија, Финска се втурнува во граѓанска војна помеѓу „Црвените“ и „Белите“. Исходот од војната само потврди дека германските трупи неминовно доаѓаат во Хелсинки. По инвазијата од страна на Русија во 1939 година, Финска беше принудена да ја отстапи територијата на посилниот сосед и да прифати поместување на 400.000 бегалци од Карелија. Потоа следи катастрофалниот сојуз на финската демократија со германските нацисти кога заедно се втурнуваат во „света војна„ за завземање на Карелија. Ова доведе од друга загуба на советсктите војници во 1944. Следи уште една војна против германските војници во Лапонија. На овој начин, во правата половина на 20 век Финците се бореа во три војни.

По втората светска војна Финска мораше да плати огромни репарации кон Советскиот сојуз. Повоена Финска беше принудена да расели стотици илјади, а остана и надвор од маршаловиот план и не доби американска помош. Финска дури не се ни приклучи кон Советот на Европа се до мај 1989 година.

По втората светска војна или непосредно пред навидум невозможната трансформација на грдото пајче во величествен лебед, финските лидери решаваат да ги напуштат сите поголеми геополитички аспирации. Тие се откажуваат од таканаречениот “Концепт на Голема Финска.” Нивните лидери сега го дефинирани финскиот национален карактер преку прагматизам. Манерхајм, генералот кој тогаш станува претседател, го предводеше патот:

“Манерхајм сфати дека Финска веќе не би можеле да биде бастион за судирите помеѓу христијанската цивилизација и варварските орди на болшевизмот. Немаше повеќе простор за крстоносните војни против исконските непријатели. Наместо тоа, имаше трезвени благодарност за тоа што ако Финска требаше да преживее и да успее како едно демократско општество, тогаш мораше да најде начин мора да опстојува во мир со џиновскиот источен сосед”, ќе забележи авторот Синглтон во книгата.

Синглтон ќе ја опише оваа точка на пресврт како вртење грб на романтичниот национализам.

Финска мораше „да се соочи трезвено и без илузии со мрачната вистина дека единствениот пат кој опстанокот води во обратна насока од оној кој претходно го следеа. Романтичниот национализам од 19 век кој одигра витална улога во формирањето на финскат нација повеќе не можеше да понуди ниту комфорт ниту поддршка“

Сега финските елити се фокусирани на растот, и покрај несигурното геополитичко соседство. Земјата систематски ги развива своите компаративни предности од дизајнирање на апарати за домаќинство до развивање дрвни продукти. Синглтон ќе забележи:

„Емерсон сигурно би можел да мисли на Финска кога рекол дека „ако човек може да ја напише подобрата книга или да направи подобра стапица за глувци од неговиот сосед, тој, дури и ако ја изгради својата куќа длабоко во шумата, светот ќе бетонира патека до неговата врата“.

Клучно за една од „подобрите стапици за глувци“ е финскиот образовен систем сам по себе. Во 1952 година 9 од 10 Финци имаат завршено само основно образование (7 или 9 години). Кон крајот на 1970 три четвртини од возрасните Финци имаат завршено само базична форма на образование. Финска беше извозник на работна сила се до 1980 кога  бројот на Финци кои работат во Шведска изнесуваше 750.000 луѓе или најголемата емигрантска заедница во таа држава.

Да се образоваат луѓето најдобро што може, да се позајмуваат најдобрите идеи од другите и да се мотивираат луѓето во воспитно-образовниот процес….сето ова е центарот на финскиот идентитет. Класичната финска литература е интерпретирана токму во ова светло. Финската национална приказна е приказна за триумфот на образованието над сиромаштијата, триумф на умот над материјата. На наставниците во основните училишта се гледа како на носители на националните идеи. Тоа е наратив граден на морална бајка. Дури и финското национално движење од 19 век е интерпретирано низ образованието. Дури и на приказната од финскиот национален еп „Калевала“ се гледа како на славење на менталната агилност. Првата финска новела „Седум браќа“ е четиво кое ја слави вредноста на учењето.

Една симболична не-херојска приказна за креативноста насочена кон подобрувањето на животот доаѓа од учителката Маију Гебхард. Таа пресметала дека финските домаќинки поминуваат 30.000 часови од животот во перење и сушење на садови или еднакво на 3.5 години од нивниот живот. Така таа го измисли плакарот за сушење алишта кој денеска е инсталиран во секој фински дом. Финската фондација за иновации ова го смета за еден од најзначајните фински изуми на милениумот.


Креативност и секојдневен живот


Всушност, финската приказна е како бајките – од партали до богатство. Како детските приказни за обичните луѓе кои се отпишани од сите како помалку вредни, а кои одеднаш застануваат под светлото на сцената и се испоставува дека се исклучителни.

Се уште не знам многу за Финска, но чувствувам дека нивната приказна вреди да се раскажува на Балканот. Во овој пост-хероиче наратив на една малечка земја, образованието се смета за тајната состојка на националната трансформација, еквивалент на спанаќот кој го трансформира Попај морнарот или магичната ламба на сирачето Аладин.

Тука е и централната лекција која нема ништо заедничко со бајките. Штедење на време и напор преку едноставни изуми за секојдневниот живот, креирање елегантна керамика за домаќинствата, промислување на сите аспекти на образовниот систем – сето ова бара време, но и уште повеќе внимание. Фокус. Фокус од страна на лидерите, интелектуалците и обичните луѓе.


Скопје 2014

А сега погледнете го Западен Балкан низ призма на раниот 21 век.

Погледнете ги нештата со кои се опседнати лидерите во Скопје. Големи престижни проекти на кои се фокусирани нивното време и внимание.(Да, некој можеби ќе рече „ете и тие позајмуваат нешто од соседите Грци, но, сепак, модерна Грција не е Финска со причина).

Погледнете ги нештата за кои дискутираат интелектуалците, академиците и политичарите во Босна и Херцеговина. Многу ретко тие дебати се за „правање подобра стапица за глувче“, а многу повеќе – ако постоеја бајки ние ќе имавме нов устав и сите одеднаш ќе бевме среќни.

Погледнете како се насочени времето, енергијата и парите на Косово. Колку споменици на војници се направија…а колку се направија библиотеки каде што би можеле да се образоваат идните генерации?

Веројатно сега можеме да дадеме одговор на прашањето зошто Македонија не е Финска. Недостига национален наратив кој ќе го слави прагматизмот, обичниот човек, образованието и просветителите како нациоални херои на иднината. Македонија застана онаму каде што беше Финска пред еден век во однос на зајакнувањето на позицијата на жената. Македонија не бега од националниот романтизам, туку напротив, се уште го слави.

Еден ден на Западен Балкан ќе се појават лидери со кои ќе се гордееме, лидри кои ќе градат музеи на науката и дизајнот наместо храмови на мртви воини и бандити. Но, кога ова ќе се случи, останува да видиме.



Filed under: Education Policy,Finland,Macedonia — Gerald @ 12:00 am
26 May 2014

A morality tale – Part II

For Part I please go here: Why-macedonia-is-not-finland-rankings-and-the-pisa-gap


At its heart, the Finnish development story is a story about reallocating time and attention. It is a story about focus, about how – over time – incremental change can lead to dramatic transformations. Finland was not always the success story it is today. This success was the result of a national policy vision. It is the story of an unlikely success.

This is certainly the consistent theme in all modern history books on Finland. David Kirby opens his Concise History of Finland as follows:

“Finland can fairly lay claim to have been one of the big success stories of the modern age.”

Then he adds:

“The transformation of what less than a century ago was a poor agrarian land on the northern periphery of Europe into one of the most prosperous states of the European Union today is a remarkable story, but it is by no means an uneventful one.”

Fred Singleton starts his Short History of Finland like this:

“Today it is one of the most prosperous, socially progressive, stable and peace loving nations on earth.”

Then he adds:

“The homeland of the Finns is not, at first glance, a likely base for such a successful state.”

Why was success unlikely here? Most accounts begin with nature, the epic theme of wresting a living from the soil in Europe’s northernmost country, a third of which lies within the Arctic Circle. Fred Singleton notes that throughout history “there was little to attract conquerors or traders to this remote land of lakes and forests with its harsh winters.”

In other words: natural endowments do not explain why Macedonia is worse-off today than Finland. Nor does climate. Finland has long, dark and cold winters. Then the sea – across which 90 per cent of exports are transported today – freezes over (necessitating ice-breakers to permit traffic). This climate poses severe limitations for agriculture. In the north of the country the snow covers the ground for up to 220 days.

Nor is it a matter of raw materials. Compared to its neighbors, Norway and Russia, Finland has limited natural resources, aside from pine and spruce forests that cover half the territory. Due to the cold, everything is more expensive here, from building a transport network to heating factories. In 1918 Finland was still primarily an agricultural society. Half of its GDP derived from agriculture. Most non-agricultural activities focused on timber and pulp.

How about geopolitics: are Balkan nations not uniquely cursed by their geography? In fact, the geopolitics of the European North in the 20th century was not for the faint-hearted. For centuries control of Southern Finland has been central to the great power struggles in the North: between Sweden and Russia until the early 19th century; between Germany and the Soviet Union in the 20th. (During the Crimean war in the 1850s Helsinki and other coastal towns of Finland, then within the Czarist Empire, were bombed by the English fleet).

Finns also faced another challenge familiar to Balkan nations: linguistic conflict. For centuries, well into the modern era, elites in Finland spoke Swedish. Finland’s iconic 20th century hero, General Gustaf Mannerheim – the Ataturk of Finland, voted the most important Finn ever in a recent survey – spoke much better Swedish than Finnish. It took a while for Finnish culture to be recognised even by its closest and friendliest neighbor, Sweden. As the editor of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s leading daily, put it in the 19th century:

“it took centuries for Swedish culture to lead the Finnish people, whom it had taken under its care and protection, to civilization, self-esteem and independence.”

Finnish only obtained equal status with Swedish in the administration in 1863. When a baron spoke in Finnish in the estate of nobility for the first time in 1894 (!) it caused a furor. In 1880 less than one third of grammar schools were in Finnish. By 1900 it was still only two thirds.

The reality of Finland’s recent economic past is one of deep poverty. There were truly disastrous famines in the 1860s – hundreds of thousands died then, Finland suffered “shockingly high mortality rates” (Kirby). In the 1860s, a slogan was “Nature seems to cry out to our people: Emigrate or Die!” Early 20th century Finland was home to many tenant farmers and landless laborers. In 1910 “over half of the holdings were smaller than the five hectares deemed by the 1900 Senate commission on land tenure to be the minimum size for subsistence.” (Kirby). This fed political tensions, with rising frustrations, and  “a large number of poor Finnish peasants were prepared to resort to desperate measures against the richer farmers in order to wreak vengeance upon those who had oppressed them.” It also lead to civil war immediately after independence in 1917.

The history of early Finnish democracy was conflict-ridden. Once independent from the Russian Empire Finland plunged immediately into civil war between Reds and Whites. The outcome was only determined when German troops reached Helsinki. Invaded by Russia in 1939, Finland was forced to cede territory to the mighty neighbor, and to accept the displacement of four hundred thousand Finns as refugees from Karelia. Then there was a disastrous alliance of Finnish democracy with Nazi-Germany to fight a “holy war” (Mannerheim) to retake Karelia. A doomed effort to hold on to Karelia followed. This led to another loss in 1944 to Soviet troops. Another war against German troops in Lapland followed. In the first half of the 20th century, Finns had thus fought in three wars.

After World War II, Finland had to pay huge reparations to the Soviet Union. Post-war Finland was forced to resettle hundreds of thousands, forced to pay huge reparations to the Soviet Union, forced to abandon a peninsula outside Helsinki to the Soviets until the 1950s.  It also stayed out of the Marshall Plan and did not receive US aid. It did not even join the Council of Europe until May 1989!

It was only after this ordeal that the transformation of the (seemingly) ugly duckling into the majestic swan takes place. For after World War II something crucial happened. Finland’s leaders abandoned all greater geopolitical aspirations. They gave up on what Singleton called the “Concept of Greater Finland.” Their leaders now defined the Finnish national character through pragmatism. Mannerheim, the general who now became president, led the way:

“Mannerheim realized that Finland could no longer pose as a bastion for Christian civilization against the barbarian hordes of bolshevism. There was no more talk of crusades against the hereditary enemy. Instead there was a sober appreciation that, if Finland was to survive and prosper as a democratic society, a way must be found to live at peace with the giant eastern neighbor.”

Singleton described this turning point as turning away from romantic nationalism:

Finland had to “face soberly and without illusions the bleak truth that the only road to survival leads in the opposite direction from that which had previously been followed. The romantic nationalism of the nineteenth century which had played a vital part in the formation of the Finnish nation could offer no comfort or support in the world of the mid twentieth century.”

Now Finnish elites focused on growth, despite an uncertain geopolitical neighborhood. The country systematically developed its comparative advantages, from designing household appliances to developing forestry products. Singleton notes:

“Emerson might have been writing about Finland when he said ‘If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbor, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.’ Finland’s ‘better mouse-traps’ include ice-breakers, glassware, ceramics, pharmaceutical products, high-quality textiles, pre-fabricated houses, sports equipment, electronics, cruise liners, and a whole host of other specialized products …”

Crucially one of these “better mousetraps” was the Finnish education system itself. In 1952 nine out of ten Finns had only completed 7-9 years of basic education. As late as the early 1970 “for three-quarters of adult Finns, basic school was the only completed form of education.” Finland was a net exporter of labor until the 1980s with some 750,000 people going to work in Sweden between 1945 and 1994, turning Finns into the largest migrant community there.

Educating everyone as best as possible, borrowing the best ideas for this from others, motivating educators … all this now came to be seen as central to Finnish identity. Classical Finnish literature was interpreted in this light, the Finnish national story told as a story of the triumph of education over poverty, mind over matter.  Primary school teachers came to be seen as standard bearers of national ideals. It is a narrative that resembles a morality tale. The Finnish national movement in the 19th century was interpreted as being centrally about education. The stories in the Finnish national epic Kalevala were seen to celebrate “mental agility”. Finland’s first novel – Seven Brothers – was read as a story about the value of education.

One symbolic story of un-heroic and life-improving creativity is that of the teacher Maiju Gebhard. She calculated that Finnish housewives spent 30,000 hours in life washing and drying dishes. That was equivalent to 3,5 years of life. So she invented something uniquely Finnish: the astiankuivauskaappi (or dish draining closet – see photo) installed today in almost every Finnish kitchen (but in no other countries). This was then “developed in the Finnish Association for Work Efficiency from 1944 to 1945. The Finnish Invention Foundation has named it as one of the most important Finnish inventions of the millennium.”

Creativity and daily life

An invention by teacher Maiju Gebhard: the astiankuivauskaappi (or dish draining closet), still found today in every Finnish household.

It is a riveting rags-to-riches story. It is like the children’s story of an ordinary person, dismissed by everyone as of little account, who suddenly steps to the center of the stage and turns out to be exceptional. The story of the obscure squire who, without effort, pulls the sword out of the mighty stone in the churchyard; the ungainly duckling, ridiculed for its clumsiness, who becomes a swan; the story of Clark Kent, the bespectacled reporter, who suddenly transforms into ‘Superman’.

I still do not know much about Finland, but I do feel that this is a story worth telling in the Balkans. In this post-heroic narrative of a small country, “education” came to be regarded as the secret behind a national transformation, the equivalent to the tin of spinach that transforms Popeye, the ineffectual sailor; or the magic lantern that helped the little orphan Aladdin rise up in life.

And there is the central lesson, which that has nothing to do with fairy tales. Tinkering with mousetraps, saving time and effort through simple inventions in daily life, designing elegant ceramics for household, thinking through all aspects of the national education system all takes time. Attention. Focus. By leaders, by intellectuals, by ordinary people.

Skopje, 2011

Now look at the Western Balkans in the early 21st century through this prism.

Look at the issues that obsess leaders in Skopje, the great prestige projects they have focused their time and attention on. (Yes, they are in some ways just copying their neighbors … but modern Greece is no Finland either, and for a reason).

Look at the issues that intellectuals, academics and politicians most like to discuss in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is rarely about how to design better mousetraps, but usually about how – if there would be a magic fairy – a new constitution would suddenly appear and all would be well.

Look at leaders’ allocation of time, energy and money in Kosovo. How many monuments to warriors have they built … and how many libraries to instill the love of books in the next generation?

Perhaps we can now answer the question of why Macedonia is not Finland. It lacks the national narratives that celebrate pragmatism, ordinary people, education and teachers as the national heroes of the future. Macedonia has not followed where Finland led one century ago in the field of women’s empowerment. It is not turning away from romantic nationalism but celebrates it.

One day leaders will emerge in the Western Balkans who take pride in building museums of science and design instead of temples to dead warriors and bandits. But when this will happen remains to be seen.


Finnish impressions – a post-heroic nation

Reminder of a complex neighbourhood: the Russian church in Helsinki

A national trauma and its consequences – losing Eastern Karelia, twice, to Russia in the 20th century

Gustav Mannerheim. His life reflects his country’s dramatic 20th century history. From a Swedish-Finnish family, growing up in the Czarist Empire, he volunteered for service in the Russian-Japanese war. He then became a spy in the “Great Game” in Asia. Following the revolution in 1917 he returned to Finland and led the Whites in the civil war against Finnish revolutionaries. He came out of retirement to fight in the Winter War in 1939. He was decorated by his own country, by the allies (French Legion d’honneur), by neutral Sweden and by the Nazis (receiving the Iron Cross; the surprise guest at his 75th birthday in Finland was Hitler). He then ended his political career as president of democratic Finland.

Rumeli Observer in Helsinki

Filed under: Finland,Macedonia — Gerald @ 5:44 pm

A morality tale in two acts – Part I

One country in the world you expect looks forward to every new international ranking and comparison must surely be Finland, a small Nordic European nation of 5 million. It does not matter what is being measured – happiness, creativity, sustainability, gender relations, the well-being of children, even bike-friendliness: Finland always ends up as a global outlier.

Last summer I travelled to Finland to learn more about Finland’s special expertise in border management. I travelled around the country with a Finnish border general, visiting the Russian land border, the coast guard headquarters and Helsinki airport, learning about smart borders, new technology and international cooperation in the Baltic Sea. It was an impressive demonstration of Finnish competence, and a reminder of just how geopolitically exposed this small nation has been for centuries. It was also puzzling. Why was Finland so prosperous? Did this story of democracy and prosperity in the 20th century hold broader lessons for other small European countries with a troubled past in a complicated neighborhood? What would it take for Macedonia (Kosovo, Albania, Bosnia or Serbia) to become as wealthy and prosperous as Finland anytime in the future? Why is Macedonia not like Finland?

As a novice to all things Finnish I dug into reading whatever I could find in English and German. I hope Finnish friends will correct my necessarily superficial impressions and comment and add to these reflections.


A matter of comparison

First, a word on how to measure a country’s success. If you study how various international rankings are put together, and how many there are, you are certainly right not to take any single one of them too seriously. However, considered as a group, rankings can tell an interesting story. Here is a collection of international comparisons I looked at last year before setting out on my trip to the North.

There is the UN World Happiness Index, based on work by Jeffrey Sachs’ Earth Institute:

“FINLAND has been judged to be the world’s second happiest country in the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, which was released on 2 April. Denmark took top spot.”

There is the Legatum Prosperity Index 2012: here Finland came seventh.










New Zealand











There is the Sustainable Society Index, with Finland again among the top ten:

Human Wellbeing Economic Wellbeing
2006 2008 2010 2012 2006 2008 2010 2012
Iceland 5 4 4 1 Switzerland 9 1 1 1
Norway 2 1 1 2 Sweden 4 3 2 2
Sweden 1 2 2 3 Norway 12 9 3 3
Finland 3 3 3 4 Czech Republic 8 5 4 4
Austria 6 5 5 5 Denmark 1 6 6 5
Japan 4 6 6 6 Finland 6 7 7 6
Switzerland 13 9 9 7 Estonia 5 2 9 7
Netherlands 12 14 14 8 Slovenia 3 4 5 8
Ireland 9 8 7 9 Australia 11 13 10 9
Germany 7 7 8 10 Luxembourg 2 12 8 10

The Global Creativity Index looks at technology, talent and tolerance (Finland comes first in the first two categories):

1. Sweden
2. United States
3. Finland
4. Denmark
5. Australia
6. New Zealand
7. Canada
8. Norway
9. Singapore
10. Netherlands


The UNICEF Child well-being index looks at the welfare of the youngest:

1. Netherlands
2. Norway
3. Iceland
4. Finland
5. Sweden
6. Germany
7. Luxembourg
8. Switzerland
9. Belgium
10. Ireland

Finland was famously the first country in the world to grant women the right both to vote and to be elected to parliament. In the first Finnish parliament in 1906 there were 19 women MPs out of 200. This percentage was not reached in Turkey until 2011! The most recent 2012 Global Gender Gap index shows that Finland has not lost ground since:

1.      Iceland
2. Finland
3.      Norway
4.      Sweden
5.      Ireland
6.      New Zealand
7.      Denmark
8.      Philippines
9.      Nicaragua
10.  Switzerland

Even a recent index on bike-friendliness puts Finland in the top group in Europe:

1. Denmark
1. Netherlands
3. Sweden
4. Finland
5. Germany
6. Belgium
7. Austria
8. Hungary
9. Slovakia
10. UK

(See: European Cyclists’ Federation Cycling Barometer. Based on daily cycling levels, bike sales, safety, cycle tourism and advocacy activity).

Finally, the rankings that contributed most to making Finland a global sensation are the OECD’s PISA tests, measuring the literacy, math and science skills of 14-15 year olds across the world. Finland’s PISA success since 2001 has brought literally “thousands of delegations” (Pasi Sahlberg, who wrote a great book on the topic) to Europe’s North to find out how Finland achieves these successes.


Yes, but why?

In short, Finland is doing well. The obvious question for a Macedonian, Albanian, Bosnian or Serb who looks at these rankings is whether this has any relevance for their own societies.

What is the cause and effect in such a success story? Is it surprising that a society where children live well, are healthy, brought up by parents who live and work in creative cities, also has good schools? Is it not obvious that a country where young girls grow up in an environment of exemplary gender equality is better at educating the female half of the population than a patriarchal society where women still do not inherit land, as remains the case in Kosovo? Is Finland’s prosperity the result of its good education system … or is it the reverse?

Behind such unresolvable chicken-and-egg questions stands a bigger one. Can one look at any other country – especially one whose language very few outsiders understand – and derive useful roadmaps for domestic reforms? On the other hand, has not all progress since time immemorial be based on emulation, imitating in order to equal or excel:

“If the tribe across the river has taken the step from the Stone age to the Bronze Age, your own tribe is faced with the choice of either sticking to its comparative advantage in the Stone age or trying to emulate the neighbouring tribe into the Bronze Age … a strategy of emulation was a mandatory passage point for all nations that are presently rich.” (Erik Reinert)

Take education. A lot has already been written on the “lessons from Finland” and its success in PISA tests. Finnish children famously attend school for fewer hours than children anywhere else: 5,500 hours between ages 7 and 14 (compared to more than 7,000 hours in many other OECD countries). Italian 15-year olds have attended at least 2 more years of school than have their Finnish peers between ages 7 and 15. They also start school two years earlier. Yet, Italy ranks only 32nd in maths and science and 27th in reading. Clearly success (as measured by PISA) is not a mechanical result of hours spent in school.

This raises many questions. What is one to emulate? What do Finnish pupils learn when they are not in school? One whole chapter in a recent book on Finnish education describes the non-school learning environment, the role of museums and libraries. In 2010 there were 796 main and branch libraries in Finland. There were 53 million library visits a year, and the average number of loans was 18 items per Finn annually. It would be interesting to have comparable statistics from Macedonia or Kosovo, starting with the number of public libraries and comparing reading habits. Pasi Sahlberg, an expert on education, also wrote:

“With school days running shorter in Finland than in many other countries, what do children do when their classes are over? In principle, pupils are free to go home in the afternoon unless there is something offered to them in school. Primary schools are encouraged to arrange after-school activities for youngest pupils and educational or recreational clubs for the older ones.”

He added that two thirds of 10 to 14 year olds belong “to at least one youth association.”

What are the policy lessons? Is it that children in countries where there is a lot of creative stimulation outside of school do not need to spend too many hours in class … but the reverse is true in countries without museums or public libraries? That even in the age of the internet, books and a network of public libraries matter when it comes to stimulating a love of reading? (Or is it perhaps even more important which kinds of books children find, in their own language, once they set foot in such a library?)

On the other hand, if everything matters, since “it takes a village to educate a child”, does studying any individual aspects of Finnish policy offer guidance to a Macedonian, Kosovo, Albanian or Bosnian (cantonal) minister of education?

In fact, the real lesson – the main point to underline and discuss from a Balkan perspective –may be altogether different and more basic. It is not this or that aspect of Finnish education, public administration or social policy that matters most. It is the general attitude towards progress and development, the sense of what issues matter most, which shapes how to allocate one’s most precious resource … time and attention.

The real and significant difference between Macedonia and Finland are the issues people – decision makers, parents, teachers – consider important enough to wrestle with until they find incremental improvements.

Sculpture in Helsinki overlooking the Baltic Sea
Title: Happiness

It is, for instance, well known that Finnish teachers are exceptionally well-educated. In Finland all primary school teachers require a master’s degree from university, and need to do real research into education issues as part of their education. They are expected to think seriously about the activity they will engage in. They are asked to think about primary education, to ask different and new questions about what constitutes success. In this way they take part in a wider national conversation.

Is this kind of reflection part of the education of teachers in the Western Balkans? Are teachers in Macedonia or Kosovo taught pedagogical thinking skills? Is education itself the main subject of their education?

And what about policy makers? Do debates on education policy in the Western Balkans always proceed on the basis of empirical research? Are reforms grounded in real assessments of the status quo? Are education policy issues discussed seriously in national parliaments?

I think most of you reading this will suspect what the answers to these questions are. But how might this state of affairs be changed?

Let us take a look at 2012 PISA rankings again and compare Macedonia and Finland:

PISA results – mathematics 2012

Shanghai (top country)


Netherlands (top EU15 country)


Estonia (top EU13 country)








Bulgaria (lowest EU country)






Bosnia and Herzegovina


PISA results – reading 2012

Shanghai (top country)


Finland (top EU15 country)


Poland (top EU13 country)








Bulgaria (lowest EU country)






Bosnia and Herzegovina


PISA results – science 2012

Shanghai (top country)


Finland (top EU15 country)


Estonia (top EU13 country)








Cyprus (lowest EU country)






Bosnia and Herzegovina


At the time Finland did best in science and reading among EU members (For more background look at Pasi Sahlberg on Finnish education). Poland and Estonia also performed well. Serbia performed somewhat worse than Turkey. Albania did very badly.

And Macedonia? It did not even take the test! This is all the more puzzling given the dramatic results when Macedonia took the test, once and for the last time, in 2000. As the OECD found then:

“At the lower end of the scale, 18 per cent of students among OECD countries and well over 50 per cent of the student population in Albania, Brazil, Indonesia, FYR Macedonia and Peru perform at Level 1 or below. These students, at best, can handle only the most basic reading tasks. Students at this level are not a random group.”

The share of students with serious difficulties in reading (PISA 2000) was as follows:

Level 1 and below!














Or, in even more shocking detail:

Below Level 1 Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4 Level 5

















































Level 1 “represents those students who have serious difficulties in using reading as a tool to advance and extend their knowledge and skills in other areas.”

Level 5 “indicates those students who are able to manage information that is presented in unfamiliar texts, show detailed understanding of complex texts and infer which information is relevant to the task, and critically evaluate and build hypotheses with the capacity to draw on specialised knowledge and concepts that may be contrary to expectations.”

(Macedonia has just now, after 14 years, taken the test for the second time. May this be the start of a different debate?)

All leaders have a limited budget of attention. What are the issues foremost on the mind of prime ministers and ministers when they go to bed or wake up in the morning? What questions do they ask foreign visitors? It was the father of modern management studies, Peter Drucker, who wrote once:

“We rightly consider keeping many balls in the air a circus stunt. Yet even the juggler does it only for ten minutes or so. If he were to try doing it longer, he would soon drop all the balls.”

After all, the one totally inflexible resource of every individual – parent or prime minister – is time. This is also true for the political class. What activities do they allocate it to? What is being studied and debated in parliament, local governments, parent-teacher associations, in detail? What issues are being studied seriously and empirically?

If education is not one of those issues then it is not surprising that Macedonia has not been catching up with the rest of Europe. One might also then assume that the current generation of pupils emerging from its schools will not be able to compete, as they should, with their peers elsewhere in Europe.

But how does a society even begin to obsess as much about human capital, education and fostering creativity as this small Nordic nation?

To be continued HERE  … mousetraps-and-romantic-nationalism


The Baltic Sea near Helsinki

Filed under: Education Policy,Finland,Macedonia — Gerald @ 5:23 pm
1 April 2013

One decade has been lost. What about the next one?

Op-ed by Gerald Knaus (for Koha Ditore)


In Athens, spring 2003


One decade ago, in spring 2003, the New York Times published an appeal by four Balkan leaders, the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia and the prime ministers of Albania and Serbia. Its title: “The EU and South-East Europe need each other.”[1] The occasion was a special Balkan meeting of the World Economic Forum in Athens where all these leaders also came together.

I was there too at the time, and I remember both the appeal and the atmosphere in Athens well. In fact, together with my friend Misha Glenny, I drafted it. There was a sense of urgency in the air, and of anticipation. Zoran Djindic, the prime minister of Serbia who had delivered Slobodan Milosevic to the Hague tribunal, had been assassinated by ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian security forces. Croatia had handed in its application to join the EU, the first Western Balkan state to do so. The host of the meeting, Greece, then the EU’s rotating president, pushed hard to get a European commitment to continued Balkan enlargement.

Shortly before the Athens gathering Boris Trajkovski, the president of Macedonia, invited me to draft an appeal that he planned to ask other leaders to co-sign. He knew that the region would receive a better hearing if it spoke with one voice. He was concerned. His own country had recently been on the verge of civil war. Serbia was on the edge, its ultranationalists growing in confidence. The future of Montenegro and Kosovo was not yet settled. Would the EU, following its 2004 enlargement to Central Europe – then just about to happen – get tired of further expansion? The Balkan leaders’ appeal warned: “Until the whole Southeastern Europe is safely integrated into the European Union, the job will not be complete. And until it is, Europe cannot feel secure about itself.”

One decade later, where do we stand? Today, when EU leaders talk about crises in South-East Europe they think of Athens not Skopje, of Nikosia, not Belgrade. Europe does not feel “secure about itself” but it is not the Western Balkans or the threat of renewed conflict that keeps EU leaders awake, literally, at one crisis summit after another.

Montenegro and Kosovo are independent states; the fear of armed conflict in the region has never appeared more distant. And yet, despite these important breakthroughs, it is hard not to regard the years since 2003 as a lost decade for the Balkans. Boris Trajkovski tragically died in an airplane crash in the Bosnian mountains, on his way to submit Macedonia’s own application for EU membership. His country has been stalled for years now by a Greek veto (a threat which did not appear real in 2003 in Athens). Serbia, ten years after the death of Djindic, has still not even opened EU accession talks. Albania is not an EU candidate yet. The Greek foreign minister in spring 2003, George Papandreou, became prime minister, only to be swept away by the Greek economic melt-down. 2003 was perhaps the last success of Greek diplomacy. At the European Union summit on the Balkans in Thessaloniki in summer EU leaders stated their “unequivocal support to the European perspective of the Western Balkan countries. The future of the Balkans is within the European Union.”[2] Croatia used the past decade, opened accession talks, closed them, and is today on the verge of accession. And yet, it is likely that ten years from now in 2023 Croatia will still be the only Balkan country inside the EU.

Rereading the Trajkovski appeal today highlights a further disappointment. It contained a specific proposal: to make EU regional and cohesion funding available to the region, so as to help it catch up economically, rather than fall further behind. The appeal warned that “the long-term stability of Southeastern Europe depends on the region’s economic health, but this does not mean the usual plea for more money … We are committed to opening our markets to our neighbors and to the EU. We have made huge progress in curbing inflation. And we are now greatly encouraged by the proposal by Greece … that the Thessaloniki summit meeting focus on the possibility of applying cohesion and development policies in our region.”

This was a hope that has not come true. The Western Balkans remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. In Serbia today less than half of the working-age population is actually employed. Unemployment levels in Macedonia and Bosnia are disastrously high. Foreign direct investment in the region, which had transformed the economic structures of Central European countries, has fallen to very low levels. And yet, if a focus on underdevelopment in the Balkans has never been more urgent, the EU’s confidence in its ability to bring about convergence and growth in its own periphery has rarely been lower. The 2003 Trajkovski appeal stated that “The EU has a remarkable record of triggering economic success by helping poorer regions — Ireland, Greece, Spain and Portugal have experienced veritable revolutions in social and economic development in the last 20 years.” It is hard to imagine anybody writing like this today, in the wake of bail-outs, bank failures and rapidly rising unemployment in Spain or Greece.

EU leaders no longer worry about war in the Balkans. They are no longer confident in their ability to bring about economic convergence. They fear the weakness of democratic institutions in Romania or Greece. They worry about inadequate regulation in Cyprus or Spain. Given this state of affairs: what arguments can sway them to open their institutions to accept even poorer states, with even weaker institutions, and even worse images among the public and political elites in Berlin, Paris or The Hague?

Perhaps Greece will prepare for its EU presidency in 2014 by changing its policies on Skopje and Pristina.  Perhaps Serbia and Kosovo will soon reach an agreement that allows both countries to move beyond their confrontation. Perhaps Albania will manage to hold free and fair elections this summer. Perhaps Bosnia’s leaders will soon be able to put together a credible application for EU accession. Perhaps Macedonia’s leaders will be capable of renewing the national consensus to focus on EU integration that existed in 2003. Perhaps politicians throughout the region will wake up late at night worrying about youth unemployment and the inadequacy of vocational training, about export opportunities and the best way to use scarce public resources for growth, rather than about building  statutes or wasting public money on prestige infrastructure of little proven economic benefit. And then, perhaps, a successor of Boris Trajkovski will invite all his regional counterparts to an informal meeting to seriously discuss what they might do together to correct the image of their region, driven by the recognition that the whole region has dropped out of the focus of the rest of Europe.

If Boris Trajkovski would be around today, and would propose drafting a new appeal for Balkan leaders to sign and publish, what could it say? Appeals are expected to end with proposals, a sense of hope, recommendations. But sometimes it is better to resist this temptation. To acknowledge just how steep the wall is that one has to climb. To recognise that before any new appeals to the EU a whole series of steps have to be taken by the region itself. To recognise that time matters; and that April 2013 is another crucial moment which Balkan leaders miss at their peril. I believe Trajkovski would have realised this. Will his successors?

Perhaps this is not a time for appeals at all, but for a blunt and honest recognition: a decade has been lost. The next might be as well. And it is not by formulating words on paper that this can be prevented.

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