Why regional data?
The EU Member States are often compared with each other, but in reality it is very difficult to compare a small Member State like Malta, which has around 420 000 inhabitants, or Luxembourg, which has around 540 000 inhabitants, with Germany, the most populous EU Member State at close to 81 million inhabitants. Comparing regional data that are as detailed as possible is often more meaningful and this also highlights the disparities — or similarities — within EU Member States themselves.
The importance of regional data for cohesion policy purposes
The European Union places considerable emphasis on cohesion policy, with the objective of bringing Europe's regions and cities closer together in economic, social and environmental spheres. Cohesion policy is established on the basis of seven-year programming periods; the programming period that is currently in force covers 2014–20. Cohesion policy funding for the period 2014–20 is foreseen to be almost EUR 352 billion — equivalent to almost one third (32.5 %) of the EU's total budget during this period.
What is the NUTS classification?
At the heart of regional statistics is the NUTS classification — the classification of territorial units for statistics. This is a regional classification for the EU Member States providing a harmonised hierarchy of regions: the NUTS classification subdivides each Member State into regions at three different levels, covering NUTS 1, 2 and 3 from larger to smaller areas. Regions have also been defined and agreed with the EFTA and candidate countries on a bilateral basis; these are called statistical regions and follow exactly the same rules as the NUTS regions in the EU, although they have no legal basis.
The NUTS classification – an objective basis for the allocation of funds
Regional statistics are employed when allocating funds. The NUTS classification is used to define regional boundaries and determine geographic eligibility for structural and investment funds. Regional eligibility for the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) during the programming period 2014–20 was calculated on the basis of regional GDP per inhabitant (in PPS and averaged over the period 2007–09). NUTS 2 regions were ranked and split into three groups:
- less developed regions (where GDP per inhabitant was less than 75 % of the EU-27 average);
- transition regions (where GDP per inhabitant was between 75 % and 90 % of the EU-27 average); and
- more developed regions (where GDP per inhabitant was more than 90 % of the EU-27 average).