Published on The Economist, Dec 17th 2009.
… A wishlist is easily drafted. A quick return to economic growth; a louder voice in the councils of international organisations such as the European Union (and better decisions by them); more attention from the American administration; a neighbourly Russia. But such a list belongs in the same category as childish scrawls in crayon, asking Father Christmas to bring a magic rabbit and an invisibility cloak.
In the real world, the best that the region can hope for is rather more limited. The top priority is to hope that western Europe — the main export market for the region — does not plunge into another, deeper recession. The financial tsunami of the past 12 months has receded, leaving the basic structure of economics and politics in the region covered in seaweed and shabby, but intact. No government has fallen to the temptations of economic autarky and political populism: those messages are preached on the sidelines by the likes of Hungary’s Jobbik, but the political mainstream remains untouched … //
… The virtuous circle of low labour costs, foreign investment and export-led growth is outdated too. The region has lost some of its competitiveness. And it should not aim to stay only as a low-cost provider of goods and services for the rich west.
The best way to be taken seriously is to have something new and interesting to say. The ex-communist countries need to show that their brainpower, creativity and innovation deserve a place at the top table. A big asset is that people in the region are used to radical change in a way that the old, tired countries of western Europe can hardly imagine.
Europe needs that dynamism, innovation and flexibility more than ever. Please Santa, bring sharp pencils for the Christmas thinkfest. (full text).