State-owned enterprises (SOEs) play an important role in Emerging Europe’s economies,
notably in the energy and transport sectors. Based on a new firm-level dataset, this paper
reviews the SOE landscape, assesses SOE performance across countries and vis-à-vis
private firms, and evaluates recent SOE governance reform experience in 11 Emerging
European countries, as well as Sweden as a benchmark. Profitability and efficiency of
resource allocation of SOEs lag those of private firms in most sectors, with substantial
cross-country variation. Poor SOE performance raises three main risks: large and risky
contingent liabilities could stretch public finances; sizeable state ownership of banks
coupled with poor governance could threaten financial stability; and negative productivity
spillovers could affect the economy at large. SOE governance frameworks are partly weak
and should be strengthened along three lines: fleshing out a consistent ownership policy;
giving teeth to financial oversight; and making SOE boards more professional.
This paper discusses the role of the state from a historical perspective. It outlines how that role has changed over the past hundred years and discusses the forces that have promoted the changes. In the period between 1913 and 1980, there was a large increase in public spending in industrial countries and a considerable expansion in the role of the government in the economy in all countries. The paper also outlines the intellectual developments that, starting in the 1970s, have brought about a reaction to the large role that the state has come to play in the economy.