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Eastern Europe

Bulgaria, a former Communist country that entered the EU on 1 January 2007, averaged more than 6% growth from 2004 to 2008, driven by significant amounts of foreign direct investment and consumption. Successive governments have demonstrated a commitment to economic reforms and responsible fiscal planning, but the global downturn sharply reduced domestic demand, exports, capital inflows, and industrial production. GDP contracted by approximately 5% in 2009, and stagnated in 2010, despite a significant recovery in exports. The economy is expected to grow modestly in 2011, however. Corruption in the public administration, a weak judiciary, and the presence of organized crime remain significant challenges.

Romania, which joined the European Union on 1 January 2007, began the transition from Communism in 1989 with a largely obsolete industrial base and a pattern of output unsuited to the country's needs. The country emerged in 2000 from a punishing three-year recession thanks to strong demand in EU export markets. Domestic consumption and investment have fueled strong GDP growth in recent years, but have led to large current account imbalances. Romania's macroeconomic gains have only recently started to spur creation of a middle class and address Romania's widespread poverty. Corruption and red tape continue to handicap its business environment. Inflation rose in 2007-08, driven in part by strong consumer demand and high wage growth, rising energy costs, a nation-wide drought affecting food prices, and a relaxation of fiscal discipline. Romania's GDP contracted markedly in the last quarter of 2008 as the country began to feel the effects of a global downturn in financial markets and trade, and GDP fell more than 7% in 2009, prompting Bucharest to seek a $26 billion emergency assistance package from the IMF, the EU, and other international lenders. Drastic austerity measures, as part of Romania's IMF-led agreement led to a further 1.9% GDP contraction in 2010. The economy is expected to return to positive growth in 2011.

Poland has pursued a policy of economic liberalization since 1990 and today stands out as a success story among transition economies. Before 2009, GDP had grown about 5% annually, based on rising private consumption, a jump in corporate investment, and EU funds inflows. GDP per capita is still much below the EU average, but is similar to that of the three Baltic states. Since 2004, EU membership and access to EU structural funds have provided a major boost to the economy. Unemployment fell rapidly to 6.4% in October 2008, but climbed back to 11.8% for the year 2010, exceeding the EU average by more than 2%. In 2008 inflation reached 4.2%, more than the upper limit of the National Bank of Poland's target range, but fell to 2.4% in 2010 due to global economic slowdown. Poland's economic performance could improve over the longer term if the country addresses some of the remaining deficiencies in its road and rail infrastructure and its business environment. An inefficient commercial court system, a rigid labor code, bureaucratic red tape, burdensome tax system, and persistent low-level corruption keep the private sector from performing up to its full potential. Rising demands to fund health care, education, and the state pension system caused the public sector budget deficit to rise to 7.9% of GDP in 2010. The PO/PSL coalition government, which came to power in November 2007, plans to reduce the budget deficit in 2011 and has also announced its intention to enact business-friendly reforms, increase workforce participation, reduce public sector spending growth, lower taxes, and accelerate privatization. The government, however, has moved slowly on major reforms. The legislature passed a law significantly limiting early retirement benefits. A health-care bill also passed through the legislature, but the legislature failed to overturn a presidential veto.


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