Structural business statistics overview

Data extracted in April 2017 except for data on foreign-controlled enterprises which were extracted in July 2017. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: May 2018.

This article presents structural business statistics (SBS); these data describe the structure, main characteristics and performance of economic activities across the European Union (EU). While the statistics presented in this article are generally analysed at the level of NACE sections readers should note that structural business statistics are available at a much more detailed level (several hundred sectors).

Structural business statistics can provide answers to questions on the wealth creation (value added), investment and labour input of different economic activities. The data can be used to analyse structural shifts, for example between industry and services, country specialisations in particular activities, sectoral productivity and profitability, as well as a range of other topics. Because they are available broken down by enterprise size class, structural business statistics also permit a detailed analysis of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which is of particular use to EU policymakers and analysts wishing to focus on entrepreneurship and the role of SMEs. Furthermore, structural business statistics provide useful background information on which to base an interpretation of short-term statistics and the business cycle.

Figure 1: Breakdown of number of enterprises within the non-financial business economy, EU-28, 2014
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_ind_r2), (sbs_na_con_r2), (sbs_na_dt_r2) and (sbs_na_1a_se_r2)
Table 1: Value added, 2014
(billion EUR)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_sca_r2)
Table 2: Number of persons employed, 2014
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_sca_r2)
Figure 2: Analysis of non-financial business economy value added and employment, EU-28, 2014
(% of non-financial business economy value added and employment)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_sca_r2)
Table 3: Average personnel costs, 2014
(thousand EUR per employee)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_sca_r2)
Figure 3: Wage adjusted labour productivity within the non-financial business economy, EU-28, 2014
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_sca_r2)
Figure 4: Gross operating rate within the non-financial business economy, EU-28, 2014
Source: Eurostat (sbs_na_sca_r2)
Figure 5: Enterprise size class analysis of value added, EU-28, 2014
(% of sectoral total)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_sc_ind_r2), (sbs_sc_con_r2), (sbs_sc_dt_r2) and (sbs_sc_1b_se_r2)
Figure 6: Enterprise size class analysis of employment, EU-28, 2014
(% of sectoral total)
Source: Eurostat (sbs_sc_ind_r2), (sbs_sc_con_r2), (sbs_sc_dt_r2) and (sbs_sc_1b_se_r2)
Figure 7: Share of value added and employment accounted for by foreign-controlled enterprises, non-financial business economy, 2014
Source: Eurostat (fats_g1a_08)
Table 4: Enterprise demography, business economy, 2014
Source: Eurostat (bd_9b_sz_cl_r2)

Main statistical findings

Sectoral analysis

Services activities accounted for the two largest shares of the enterprise population within the EU-28’s non-financial business economy (industry, construction, distributive trades and non-financial services) when analysed at the NACE Rev. 2 section level for 2014: slightly fewer than 3 in every 10 (28.4 %) of the 22.1 million enterprises in the EU’s non-financial business economy were classified to distributive trades (motor trades, wholesale trade and retail trade), while just over one in six (17.2 %) were in professional, scientific or technical activities — see Figure 1. Many business services have benefitted from the outsourcing phenomenon, which may explain, in part, the structural shift towards services.

In 2014, a total of EUR 6 581 billion of gross value added at factor cost was generated in the EU-28’s non-financial business economy. The non-financial business economy workforce reached 136 million persons employed, approaching two thirds (64.0 %) of the total number of persons employed across all activities within the EU-28.

Among the NACE Rev. 2 sections in the non-financial business economy, manufacturing was the largest in terms of value added: 2.1 million manufacturing enterprises in the EU-28 generated EUR 1 710 billion of value added in 2014, while providing employment to 29.9 million persons. Distributive trades enterprises had the largest share of employment: these enterprises provided employment to 32.7 million persons and generated EUR 1 243 billion of value added. Professional, scientific and technical activities had the third highest value added but only the fifth largest workforce, behind administrative and support services as well as construction.

Figure 2 contrasts the value added and employment contributions of the various sectors to the non-financial business economy totals. The industrial activities of mining and quarrying; manufacturing; electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply; water supply, waste and remediation contributed more in terms of value added than employment to the overall non-financial business economy, indicating an above average apparent labour productivity. This was also the case in some of the service activities, namely information and communication services, real estate activities, as well as professional, scientific and technical activities. By contrast, the construction sector and a number of services — notably administrative and support services (which includes cleaning and security services, as well as employment services such as the provision of temporary personnel); accommodation and food services; and distributive trades — reported relatively low levels of apparent labour productivity. It should be noted that the employment data presented are in terms of head counts and not, for example, full-time equivalents, and there may be a significant proportion of persons working part-time in some of these service activities (which may explain, at least to some degree, their relatively low levels of apparent labour productivity).

Varying rates of part-time work also help explain, in part, the considerable differences in average personnel costs within the non-financial business economy of the EU-28, as shown in Table 3. Average personnel costs in the EU-28 peaked in the electricity, gas steam and air conditioning supply sector at EUR 55 900 per employee in 2014 and were only slightly lower for the information and communication sector (EUR 53 100 per employee). Average personnel costs for the electricity, gas steam and air conditioning supply sector were more than three times those recorded for accommodation and food services and more than twice that for administrative and support services and distributive trades. The variation in average personnel costs was even more marked between EU Member States. For example, within the manufacturing sector average personnel costs ranged (among those EU Member States for which data are available) by a factor of 12, from a high of EUR 63 900 per employee in Sweden to a low of EUR 5 200 per employee in Bulgaria.

The influence of part-time employment is largely removed in the wage adjusted labour productivity ratio, which shows the relation between average value added per person employed and average personnel costs per employee (see Figure 3). This ratio was particularly high (318 %) for the EU-28 for electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply; it was also high for the capital-intensive sectors of real estate activities (289 %) and mining and quarrying (258 %). The wage adjusted labour productivity ratio fell below 100 % in the small activity of the repair of computers, personal and household goods, indicating that average personnel costs per employee were higher than average value added per person employed.

The gross operating rate shown in Figure 4 relates the gross operating surplus (value added less personnel costs) to the level of turnover and in this way indicates the extent to which sales are converted into gross operating profit (operating profit before accounting for depreciation or taxes). Due at least in part to the very high level of sales inherent in wholesaling and retailing, the EU-28 distributive trades sector displayed one of the lowest gross operating rates (4.8 % in 2014). Capital-intensive activities (such as real estate activities; 44.0 % in 2014) tended to have high gross operating rates as the gross operating surplus by definition does not take account of financial or extraordinary costs related to capital expenditure.

Size class analysis

Structural business statistics can be analysed by enterprise size class (defined in terms of the number of persons employed). The overwhelming majority (99.8 %) of enterprises active within the EU-28’s non-financial business economy in 2014 were micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) — some 23.3 million — together they contributed 57.4 % of the value added generated within the EU’s non-financial business economy. More than 9 out of 10 (93.0 %) enterprises in the EU-28 were micro enterprises (employing less than 10 persons) and their share of value added within the non-financial business economy was considerably lower, around one fifth (20.9 %).

Perhaps the most striking phenomenon of SMEs is their contribution to employment. No less than two thirds (66.8 %) of the EU’s non-financial business economy workforce was active in an SME in 2014. Some 22.9 million persons worked in SMEs in the distributive trades sector, 17.4 million in manufacturing and 10.9 million in construction; together, these three activities provided work to 58.4 % of the non-financial business economy workforce in SMEs. Micro enterprises employed more people than any other enterprise size class in all service sectors (at the section level of detail), with the exception of transport and storage and administrative and support service activities. This pattern was particularly pronounced for real estate activities and the repair of computers, personal and household goods where an absolute majority of the workforce worked in micro enterprises. By contrast, in mining and quarrying as well as electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply large enterprises employed more than half of the workforce, as they also did in administrative and support service activities.

The contribution of SMEs to total value added within the EU-28’s non-financial business economy was lower than their contribution to total employment, resulting in a lower level of apparent labour productivity. This pattern was particularly prevalent in 2014 among activities such as manufacturing or information and communication services. However, it was also observed across most other activities, the exceptions were: administrative and support service activities; and electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning. As a result, large enterprises tended to record higher apparent labour productivity ratios than SMEs.

Foreign-controlled enterprises

In general, foreign-controlled enterprises are few in number, but have a significant economic impact due to their larger than average size. Foreign-controlled enterprises generated substantial shares of value added in the non-financial business economy in many EU Member States — see Figure 7. The highest percentage contributions of foreign-controlled enterprises to non-financial business economy value added in 2014 were registered in Ireland and Hungary (in excess of 50 %), while shares in excess of 40 % were also recorded for Estonia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Luxembourg. Employment shares of foreign-controlled enterprises were generally lower than their value added shares, but nevertheless exceeded one quarter in Ireland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania and Poland, reaching almost two fifths in Estonia (38.4 %) and Luxembourg (39.4 %).

Business demography

Business demography statistics are presented in Table 4, which shows enterprise birth and enterprise death rates as well as the average size of newly born enterprises in terms of their employment. There are significant changes in the stock of enterprises within the business economy from one year to the next, reflecting the level of competition, entrepreneurial spirit and the business environment. Among the countries providing data to Eurostat, enterprise birth rates in 2014 ranged among the EU Member States from 4.4 % in Belgium to 19.8 % in Slovakia and 24.5 % in Lithuania. Since most new enterprises are small, the share of newly born enterprises among the whole business enterprise population is much higher than the corresponding proportion of the workforce accounted for by these enterprises. The average employment size of newly born enterprises in 2014 ranged from 0.8 persons in the Netherlands to more than two persons in Croatia and Romania, peaking at an average of 2.4 persons in the United Kingdom. In 2013, enterprise death rates were particularly low in Belgium (3.5 %), ranging elsewhere between 5.0 % and 15.0 %, with Portugal (16.1 %) and Lithuania (18.1 %) above this range.

Data sources and availability

Eurostat’s structural business statistics describe the structure, conduct and performance of economic activities, down to the most detailed activity level (several hundred sectors). Without this structural information, short-term data on the economic cycle would lack context and would be more difficult to interpret.

Coverage, units and classifications

Structural business statistics cover the ‘business economy’, which includes industry, construction and many services (NACE Rev. 2 Sections B to N and Division 95); financial and insurance activities (NACE Rev. 2 Section K) are treated separately within structural business statistics because of their specific nature and the limited availability of most types of standard business statistics in this area. As such, the term ‘non-financial business economy’ is generally used in business statistics to refer to those economic activities covered by NACE Rev. 2 Sections B to J and L to N and Division 95 and the units that carry out these activities. Structural business statistics do not cover agriculture, forestry and fishing, nor public administration and (largely) non-market services, such as education or health.

Structural business statistics describe the business economy through the observation of units engaged in an economic activity; the unit in structural business statistics is generally the enterprise. An enterprise carries out one or more activities, at one or more locations, and it may comprise one or more legal units. Enterprises that are active in more than one economic activity (plus the value added and turnover they generate, the people they employ, and so on) are classified under the NACE heading corresponding to their principal activity; this is normally the one which generates the largest amount of value added.

NACE Rev. 2 was adopted at the end of 2006, and implemented in structural business statistics from the 2008 reference year. This allows a broader and more detailed collection of information to be compiled on services, while also updating the classification to identify better new areas of activity.

Structural business statistics are compiled under the legal basis provided by European Parliament and Council Regulation 295/2008 on structural business statistics, and in accordance with the definitions, breakdowns, deadlines for data delivery, and various quality aspects specified in the regulations implementing it.

Several factors, such as a wish to reduce respondent burden and respond to users’ needs for new data, have led to an amendment of the legal basis. Commission Regulation (EU) No 446/2014 of 2 May 2014 amended Regulation (EC) No 295/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council and also two implementing Commission Regulations ((EC) No 251/2009 and (EU) No 275/2010) which concern the series of data to be produced and the criteria for the evaluation of the quality of structural business statistics.

The structural business statistics data collection consists of a common module (Annex 1), including a set of basic statistics for all activities, as well as six sector-specific annexes covering a more extensive list of characteristics. The sector-specific annexes are: industry, distributive trades, construction, insurance services, credit institutions, and pension funds. There were two further annexes added in 2008 covering business services and business demography.

Size class and regional analysis

Structural business statistics are also available with an analysis by region or by enterprise size class. In structural business statistics, size classes are defined by the number of persons employed, except for specific data series within retail trade activities where turnover size classes are also used. A limited set of the standard structural business statistics variables (for example, the number of enterprises, turnover, value added and persons employed) is analysed by size class, mostly down to the three-digit (group) level of NACE. For statistical purposes, SMEs are generally defined as those enterprises employing fewer than 250 persons. The number of size classes available varies according to the activity under consideration. However, the main groups used in this article are:

  • small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): with less than 250 persons employed, further divided into;
    • micro enterprises: with less than 10 persons employed;
    • small enterprises: with 10 to 49 persons employed;
    • medium-sized enterprises: with 50 to 249 persons employed;
  • large enterprises: with 250 or more persons employed.

Structural business statistics contain a comprehensive set of basic variables describing business demographics and employment characteristics, as well as monetary variables (mainly concerning operating income and expenditure, or investment). In addition, a set of derived indicators has been compiled: for example, ratios of monetary characteristics or per head values.

Business demography

Statistics that relate to the birth, survival (followed up to five years after birth) and death of enterprises within the business population are referred to as business demography statistics. Within this context the following definitions apply.

  • An enterprise birth amounts to the creation of a combination of production factors, with the restriction that no other enterprises are involved in the event. Births do not include entries into the business population due to mergers, break-ups, split-offs or restructuring of a set of enterprises, nor do the statistics include entries into a sub-population that only result from a change of activity. The birth rate is the number of births relative to the stock of active enterprises.
  • An enterprise death amounts to the dissolution of a combination of production factors, with the restriction that no other enterprises are involved in the event. An enterprise is only included in the count of deaths if it is not reactivated within two years. Equally, a reactivation within two years is not counted as a birth.

Foreign-controlled enterprises

Statistics on foreign affiliates (FATS) provide information that can be used to assess the impact of foreign-controlled enterprises on the European business economy. The data may also be used to monitor the effectiveness of the internal market and the integration of economies within the context of globalisation. A foreign affiliate, as defined in inward FATS statistics, is an enterprise resident in a country which is under the control of an institutional unit not resident in the same country. Control is determined according to the concept of the ‘ultimate controlling institutional unit’ which is the institutional unit, proceeding up a foreign affiliate’s chain of control, which is not controlled by another institutional unit.


In October 2010, the European Commission presented a Communication on a renewed industrial policy. ‘An industrial policy for the globalisation era’ (COM(2010) 614 final) provided a blueprint that aimed to put industrial competitiveness and sustainability centre stage. It is a flagship initiative that forms part of the Europe 2020 strategy, and set out a strategy that aims to boost growth and jobs by maintaining and supporting a strong, diversified and competitive industrial base in Europe offering well-paid jobs while becoming less carbon intensive. The initiative put forward a strategic agenda and proposed some broad cross-sectoral measures, as well as tailor-made actions for specific industries, mainly targeting the so-called ‘green innovation’ performance of these sectors. In October 2012, the European Commission presented an update of this policy in the form of a Communication titled ‘A Stronger European Industry for Growth and Economic Recovery’ (COM(2012) 582 final). The underlying theme of this Communication was proposals to accelerate the reforms initiated already in previous industrial policy developments, in particular to increase investment in new technologies. In January 2014, the European Commission adopted a further Communication ‘For a European Industrial Renaissance’. This set out key priorities for industrial policy, provided an overview of actions already undertaken within the context of the existing policy and put forward some new actions to speed up the attainment of objectives.

The internal market remains one of the EU’s most important priorities. The central principles governing the internal market for services were set out in the EC Treaty. This guarantees EU enterprises the freedom to establish themselves in other EU Member States and the freedom to provide services on the territory of another Member State other than the one in which they are established. The objective of the Services Directive 2006/123/EC of 12 December 2006, on services in the internal market, is to eliminate obstacles to trade in services, thus allowing the development of cross-border operations. It is intended to improve competitiveness, not just of service enterprises but also of European industry as a whole. It is hoped that the Directive will help achieve potential economic growth and job creation. By providing for administrative simplification, it also supports the better regulation agenda.

In April 2011, leading up to the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the single market, the European Commission released a Communication titled ‘Single Market Act — twelve levers to boost growth and strengthen confidence’ (COM(2011) 206 final), aimed at improving the single market for businesses, workers and consumers — see the introductory article for industry, trade and services for more information. In October 2012, the European Commission proposed a second set of actions through the Communication ‘Single Market Act II — Together for new growth’ (COM(2012) 573 final) to further develop the single market and utilise its untapped potential as an engine for growth.

SMEs are often referred to as the backbone of the European economy, providing a potential source for both jobs and economic growth. In June 2008, the European Commission adopted a Communication on SMEs referred to as the ‘Small business act for Europe’ (SBA). This aims to improve the overall approach to entrepreneurship, to irreversibly anchor the ‘Think small first’ principle in policymaking from regulation to public service, and to promote SMEs’ growth by helping them tackle problems which hamper their development. The Communication sets out 10 principles which should guide the conception and implementation of policies both at EU and national level to create a level playing field for SMEs throughout the EU and improve the administrative and legal environment to allow these enterprises to release their full potential to create jobs and growth. It also put forward a specific and far reaching package of new measures including four legislative proposals which translate these principles into action both at EU and Member State level.

A review of the SBA was released in February 2011: it highlighted the progress made and set out a range of new actions to respond to challenges resulting from the financial and economic crisis. In doing so, it is hoped that the updated SBA will contribute towards delivering the key objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy — namely, smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. With this in mind, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the SBA to gather feedback and ideas on how the SBA could be revised in order to promote European policy support for SMEs and entrepreneurs during the period 2015–2020.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

SBS - main indicators (t_sbs_na)
SBS - services (t_serv)
Business demography statistics - all activities (t_bd)
Foreign controlled EU enterprises - inward FATS (t_fats)


SBS - main indicators (sbs_na)
SBS - industry and construction (sbs_ind_co)
SBS - trade (sbs_dt)
SBS - services (serv)
SBS - regional data - all activities (sbs_r)
Business demography (bd)
Foreign controlled EU enterprises - inward FATS (fats)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

ESMS metadata files


Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)