At the onset of the mass protests in 2010–2011, many politicians and experts suggested that Arab countries could learn from the experiences of the post-communist transition of the early 1990s. However, the geopolitical, historical, and socio-economic context of the Arab transition was different in many respects from that of the former Soviet bloc countries 20 years earlier. These differences became even more obvious five years later, in early 2016, when most Arab transition attempts ended either in a new wave of authoritarianism, or protracted bloody conflicts. Nonetheless, there are some common lessons to be learnt from the history of both transitions. They concern interrelations between the political and economic transition, the role of institutional checks and balances and the rule of law, the speed of reforms, the dangers of ethnic and sectarian conflicts, and the role of external support.
The series of adverse shocks of both economic and political character that Europe has suffered since 2008, the last of them coming from the Brexit referendum, revealed numerous institutional gaps and asymmetries in the EU integration architecture. They originate from the voluntary nature of the EU project and the necessity to obtain unanimous approval of all member states to take new integration steps. To increase the resilience of the EU project against current and future shocks, its major institutional gaps and asymmetries should be addressed as quickly as possible. In this paper, we use the theory of fiscal federalism and subsidiarity principle to set the agenda of the EU reform. This includes the identification of areas such as completing the EMU and Schengen projects, foreign, security, and defence policies, environmental and climate change policies where further integration can offer substantial returns to scale and better provisions of global and pan-European public goods. On the other hand, there are also areas such as agriculture policy, products, services and labour standards, and fiscal surveillance rules, where deregulation in favour of market forces could ease business environment and make EU regulations less bureaucratic. Developing integration beyond the traditional economic sphere will also have an impact on the size of the EU budget, balance of power between the EU governing bodies (a bigger role of the European Parliament) and the democratic legitimacy of the EU project.
In the 1990s and early 2000s, comparison of transition strategies of China versus those in Central and Eastern Europe raised controversies in the economic and political science literature. However, differences between China and the countries of the former Soviet bloc in their transition strategies resulted not necessarily from a deliberate political choice but from different initial conditions. Low-income and largely rural China, after its first radical step (de-collectivisation of agriculture in 1978), could move more gradually due to its under-industrialisation and retaining administrative control over the economy. The over-industrialised Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) and former Soviet Union (FSU) countries where the previous command system of economic management spontaneously collapsed at the end of 1980s, did not have such an option. They had to conduct market-oriented reforms as quickly as they could, with all the associated economic and social pain. Regardless of speed and strategy of transition, almost all previously centrally-planned economies, including China, completed building basic foundations of a market system by the early 2000s although the quality of economic and political institutions and policies differ between the sub-regional groups and individual countries.
In the early and mid-2000s, the prospect of EU accession and the global boom facilitated rapid economic recovery and boosted economic and institutional reforms in the Western Balkan region. The global financial crisis of 2007–2009 and the European crisis of 2010–2013 slowed the pace of economic growth and amplified high unemployment in the region. In addition, various unresolved legacies from past conflicts slowed the pace of reform and progress towards EU accession.
The European Commission’s February 2018 communication sets an indicative deadline (2025) for the two most advanced candidates – Serbia’s and Montenegro’s admission to the EU. This could incentivise all Western Balkan countries, including those candidates that have not yet started membership negotiations (Macedonia and Albania) and those waiting for candidate status (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo), to remove domestic political obstacles to EU accession, solve conflicts with neighbours, speed up reforms and accelerate economic growth.