10th Gaidar Forum: important discussion of the present and future of Russia and the world
On January 15–17, 2019, the 2019 Gaidar Forum was held at the Presidential Academy for the tenth time – one of the largest political and economic events in Russia, which traditionally brings together leading Russian and foreign experts, politicians, business leaders, political analysts, economists, and representatives of public services and educational institutions. RANEPA Rector Vladimir Mau said in an interview with the TASS news agency: “A very important part of the forum was the obvious commitment of all levels and branches of government to actively interact with each other and with the expert community. In my opinion, never before has such an interaction been achieved at any forum.”
President of Russia Vladimir Putin sent greetings to the participants and organizers of the forum. The head of state expressed confidence that “the ideas and recommendations of the meeting’s participants will help effectively address the strategic long-term tasks facing Russia, and enhance its role in integration processes and in international economic, technological and investment cooperation.”
The key event of the recent forum was the plenary session, National Development Goals and Global Trends, attended by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The Prime Minister’s remarks were largely devoted to humanitarian issues. It was the first time the head of the Russian Government actually spoke about the need for a humanitarian appraisal of economic legislation – from the podium of the Gaidar Forum.
The Russian Prime Minister cited a high level of uncertainty in nearly all sectors of society, the speed and scope of digital transformation, sweeping changes in conventional markets and the appearance of new markets as the main challenges affecting the global agenda and Russia’s priorities in the medium term.
The forum participants focused on how to streamline the industries responsible for human capital development – mainly education and healthcare. These sectors should not be “flooded” with money – the same is true for other branches of the national economy. Therefore, it was important to discuss the principles of their functioning, which is why discussions at the forum to a large extent focused on the non-economic agenda.
The remarks by First Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov and Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova were the highlights of the forum’s economic agenda. They shared their views on Russia’s fiscal policy problems and its effectiveness, and actually voiced many ideas that are often discussed behind the scenes. Golikova, for example, proposed the consolidation of social payments and the formation of a single social fund.
The participants paid special attention to social issues, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive approach to increasing the natural growth of the population as part of the implementation of national programs – not just by supporting the birth rate, but also by reducing mortality, increasing life expectancy, raising labor productivity and reducing poverty. “Poverty reduction and the growth of people’s incomes are directly related to Russia’s potential entry into the world’s top five leading economies, achieving economic growth rates that are higher than the global ones and inflation below 4%,” Golikova noted.
While on the subject of social issues, Minister of Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin noted the danger of the high social differentiation, which can lead to certain groups’ limited access to quality education and health services. “Therefore, without finding a global remedy for this problem – for this trend that has developed over the past 20–30 years – we will see even stronger negative effects on the global economic dynamics not only in the near future, but also in the long term,” the minister stressed.
The forum participants discussed the implementation of national projects at the federal and regional levels – very thoroughly and from various perspectives. They considered which problems need to be solved to achieve the greatest effect. First Deputy Prime Minister Anton Siluanov said the financial standing of Russian regions has stabilized. “It is now much more stable than it was three or four years ago. This means we can start implementing important state projects that are planned with the regions this year,” he added.
While the first Gaidar Forums were dominated by economic topics, this year’s concept suggests that social, political, humanitarian, cultural, and geopolitical factors are even more important for economic growth. This concerns the relevant institutions – political, legal, educational, and cultural. A major role at the 10th Gaidar Forum was devoted to education and the prospects for its development. The participants paid particular attention to the implementation of the Education national project. They noted that effective education is a factor of national security and the most important resource for the development of civilization. Many experts agreed that the main problem in education is underfunding, and that education reforms should be based on the transition to continuous, life-long, multi-level education. Minister of Higher Education and Science Mikhail Kotyukov, Minister of Education Olga Vasilyeva, and head of the Rosobrnadzor regulator, Sergei Kravtsov, took part in discussions on this matter.
As usual, healthcare issues were discussed at a high level at the forum. Healthcare Minister Veronika Skvortsova noted at a panel discussion that human health is more than 60% determined by controllable behavioral risk factors. The paradigm of today's healthcare is to move from a passive lifestyle to a proactive society. Although a lot has been done for the development of digital medicine, the main work for the government and businesses is still ahead.
Particular attention at the forum discussions was paid to Russia’s development prospects. President of the Kurchatov Institute National Research Center Mikhail Kovalchuk and President of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander Sergeyev in their presentations stressed the immense importance of science as one of the driving forces of the economy.
Chairman of Sberbank Herman Gref noted the problem of the government’s involvement in the digital integration market regulation. Gref sees one of the primary dangers in the emergence of the so-called expert barriers that are typical for high-tech market segments. Igor Shuvalov, Chairman of the VEB.RF State Development Corporation, noted that “thanks to federal projects, a minimum standard will be developed – the lower limit – while a high standard would mean willingness to join the race for the quality of life.”
Pressing topics were raised when analyzing the socio-economic policy. An interesting trend was noted: according to surveys, Russians are more worried about the situation in the country as a whole while the situation in the regions where they live causes lower fears.
Many of the stories and issues raised at the 10th Gaidar Forum became the subject of a broad national debate, which even went beyond Russia’s borders. First of all, these include the sharp reduction in the state’s controlling and supervisory functions noted by Dmitry Medvedev. The head of the Russian government described this measure as absolutely necessary for the economy to move forward with the pace required for national development.
Chairman of the Accounts Chamber Alexei Kudrin pointed out that digitalization is a must, unquestionably, but the government’s attention to it must correspond to its concern for the real economy, especially the non-commodity industries.
Chairman of the Board of Rusnano Anatoly Chubais proposed using a differentiated approach to setting electricity prices, stressing that the rich should pay more than the low-income consumers. At the same time, he supported the opinion on the low energy ratio in the Russian economy and the need for an investment breakthrough to be achieved through raising electricity prices.
Rector of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration Vladimir Mau said Russia’s macroeconomics are quite good, which means good opportunities for the implementation of national priority projects and, ultimately, for improving the quality of life in Russia.
Prominent foreign experts took part in the 2019 Gaidar Forum. The speakers at the plenary session included Finnish Parliament Speaker Paula Risikko, Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policy Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Italian Minister of Economy and Finance Giovanni Tria, French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation Frédérique Vidal, and Honorary Governor of the Bank of Greece, Prime Minister of Greece in 2011-2012 Lucas Papademos.
Other participants in the forum were heads of ministries and government agencies, state corporations and enterprises, educational and cultural institutions, and businesses from Russia and other countries. Interestingly, this year’s forum was attended by a record number of heads of Russian regions – 36. Moreover, they made presentations and reports and actively joined the debates in most of the key sessions, such as the plenary session, the discussions of the social triad, digitization of agriculture and modernization of healthcare, education and development of the country's research potential.
An important thing about the Gaidar Forum is that it is not financially supported by the state. This high-profile and long-lasting event has been held for the past decade exclusively with the money of the 19 sponsor companies, which is their way of appreciating the significance of the event, the high level of its discussions, and the exclusive array of its participants and guests.
The following statistics confirm the broad interest elicited by the forum. This year’s event was attended by over 13,000 participants, which means that on average, more than 130 guests took part in each of the more than 100 sessions, discussions, roundtables and presentations, and many of them were not just passive listeners, but joined the debate on the agenda, asked questions, and made remarks. More than 700 panel speakers and roundtable participants spoke during the forum.
Despite the sanctions against Russia, the forum was visited by a large number of foreign participants. More than 150 foreign experts representing 56 countries spoke during the event. Foreign embassies in Moscow also showed keen attention to the work of the Gaidar Forum – 178 representatives of diplomatic missions attended its sessions. Interestingly, while the number of participants and guests from the United States dwindled, the representation of European and Asian countries increased compared to previous years.
All three days the Gaidar Forum was in the focus of attention of the Russian and foreign media. This year, 34 major media outlets have applied to become its information partners.
Overall, more than 900 representatives of the media, 80 of them foreign, worked at the forum sites. The forum elicited over 16,000 mentions in various mass media sources. After the forum, the VTsIOM pollster reported that 42% of Russians knew about the event. The majority of respondents, 44%, believe this event is beneficial. The survey also showed potential for improvement, as 35% of respondents had the opposite opinion.
As any other significant event, the Gaidar Forum leaves a tangible trace, which is more than a memory – rather a sense of social and political demand for the ideas and plans that were discussed. More than 20 reports were presented at the forum with recommendations for various areas of economic policy, social policy, forex control, Russia’s international positioning, and so on. The organizers have a firm confidence that all the interesting topics and ideas raised in the reports and critical comments at the 10th Gaidar Forum will be implemented sooner or later, as was the case following the previous nine events. This is exactly the way it happened before.
The forum is not a government that makes policy decisions; it is not a parliament that votes. The effectiveness of the forum manifests itself over time. Most of the proposals discussed in the past years have been implemented. The tax maneuver, the budget maneuver, and the budget rule – all of that had been presented at the Gaidar Forum before implementation. Only, this effect does not show after a week – most likely, it will take a few years. However, in January 2017, it so happened that the forum discussed the idea of transferring the function of collecting pension contributions to the tax service; on the next day, the President issued an executive order doing just that. It is clear that the decision had been considered for a long time, but still this shows the degree of relevance of the Gaidar Forum discussions.
RANEPA Rector Vladimir Mau said, “There is not a single essential element of Russia’s economic policy that had not been discussed at this forum over the past 10 years ... All practical ideas at the forum platform are later followed-up.”
The participants confirm this in their feedback to the forum discussions. Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova wrote: “This is an excellent expert platform to discuss pressing issues in the socio-economic sphere with the public and with representatives of the academic community. It is also a good start of the year: this forum traditionally takes place in January, and gives us an impetus and determines the vector for the country’s socio-economic agenda.”
Viktor Zubkov, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gazprom, gave his assessment of the forum underlining that the program was packed with highly relevant current topics that are truly important for Russia and for international integration processes in the economy and in technology. “So, this year, for the first time, there was a discussion of the NGV fuel market development in Russia. This open discussion with a wide range of regulators, market participants and experts at the very beginning of the year gave us a chance to compare notes and roadmaps,” Zubkov said.
Economics Minister Maxim Oreshkin noted the international level of the discussions and their complex nature: “Due to a range of different experts taking part in the Forum, problems were examined from different angles. I am especially referring to our foreign colleagues, who, relying on their experience, can see new horizons in a particular area, can suggest ways to minimize risks and even learn something new themselves, and it’s great that the forum provides a platform for such exchanges.”
Minister of Higher Education and Science Mikhail Kotyukov also noted the importance of international contacts at the forum, while emphasizing the importance of bringing in young professionals, students and graduate students: “The Gaidar Forum’s aim is to involve respected and experienced speakers and young people alike. I would especially like to emphasize the significance of the bilateral Russian-French session Russia - France: New Educationa Technologies, an open dialogue with the French Minister of Higher Education, Research and Innovation.”
The outcome of the 10th Gaidar Forum, Russia and the World: National Development Goals and Global Trends, confirms its relevance for Russian and foreign experts in various areas of the economy, the social and humanitarian spheres. The forum continues to live and develop, playing its unique role as a major multi-format platform for discussing current and future tasks and ideas for global development.
Alan Kasaev, chief editor of RANEPA website
10th Gaidar Forum Organizers:
The Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA);
The Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy (Gaidar Institute);
The Association of Innovative Regions of Russia (AIRR).
The general partners of the Gaidar Forum are Gazprom and Gazprombank; strategic partners include Prosveshcheniye publishing house, Coca-Cola, Pharmstandard group, ACIG Group of Companies, the Russian Textbook Corporation, SANOFI, Novartis, Johnson & Johnson, Russian Railways, MSD, and Mastercard; EY, Cisco and Russian Direct Investment Fund are partners. This discussion’s partners are Philips, Cherkizovo and RVC.
The general information partners of the Gaidar Forum include the Rossiya 24 TV channel, Forbes global media company, RBC and TASS news agencies. The official information agency is Rossiya Segodnya. The general radio partner is Business FM. The strategic information partners are Kommersant Publishers, the RT TV channel, Interfax and Gazeta.RU. The main information partners are Profil weekly, FederalPress news agency, and Invest Foresight online magazine. The international information partners are Sputnik and Cision. Other media partners include PRIME news agency, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, RNS news agency, Radio Ekho Moskvy, News.Ru, Polit.ru, Parlamentskaya Gazeta, the PRO BUSINESS TV channel, Strategia magazine, AK&M, BRICS, Ekonomika i Zhizn weekly, National Banking Journal, Expert Tatarstan magazine, the Smart Country information platform, Financial One, Naans Media, and the Public Administration scientific political journal.