Enlargement countries - indicators for Sustainable Development Goals

Data extracted in February 2019.

Planned article update: April 2020.


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This article is part of an online publication and presents a set of indicators in relation to sustainable development; it focuses on information for the seven European Union (EU) enlargement countries, in other words the candidate countries and potential candidates. Currently Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey have candidate status, while Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo [1] are potential candidates.

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General overview

In September 2015, the United Nations (UN) adopted an agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In order to keep track of progress for delivering this 2030 Agenda in a systematic and transparent way, Eurostat, together with other services of the European Commission (EC), seeks to highlight, through the release of a wide range of official statistics for the European Union (EU), the progress being made and the challenges being faced with respect to 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This article presents ad-hoc information for enlargement countries and is based on indicators that currently form part of Eurostat’s regular data collection exercise for enlargement countries, rather than a specific data collection exercise related to SDGs; the data can be found on Eurostat’s online database (Eurobase).

The information provided below follows a descriptive approach, presenting a statistical picture of the situation for a number of SDGs that have been selected primarily on the basis of data availability; as such, the article covers only 5 of the 17 SDGs. It provides a brief description of the targets developed by the UN for each of these five goals and presents specific indicators — among those selected by the UN — to measure progress being made towards achieving these goals.

SDG 1 — No poverty

SDG 1 calls for ‘ending poverty in all of its forms across the world’. One of the areas in which progress should be achieved concerns reducing by at least half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages who are living in poverty according to national definitions by 2030 (Target 1.2). To do so, the UN has defined Indicator 1.2.1 as the proportion of population living below the national poverty line, by sex and age.

The data presented in Figure 1 show the proportion of the population considered to be at-risk-of-poverty before social transfers; this share is calculated in relation to those living with an income that is less than 60 % of the national median equivalised income (a commonly used definition for the relative poverty line, otherwise known as a poverty threshold). Poverty rates measure the proportion of the population who are living below the poverty line. Poverty rates are a relative measure because they are calculated separately for each country; someone who is below the poverty line in one country might be above it in another country (given the same income).

Figure 1: At-risk-of-poverty rate before social transfers, 2012 and 2017
Source: Eurostat (ilc_li09)

The data shown in Figure 1 are presented before any redistribution of wealth, in other words before social transfers. In the EU-28 the share of the population that was living at risk of poverty in 2017 amounted to 43.8 % before transfers but only 16.9 % after social transfers were taken into account. Among the enlargement countries for which data are available, the risk of poverty before social transfers ranged from 40.5 % in Turkey (2016 data) down to 25.9 % in North Macedonia. As such, these relatively low figures before transfers could be an indication that the distribution of income before transfers was more equitable in the enlargement countries for which data are available than in the EU-28, but that depends on the redistribution systems in the enlargement countries. Note that the indicator shown relates only to monetary poverty or distribution of income; it takes no account of needs, living expenses, savings, properties or debt. The risk of poverty and social exclusion is a broader indicator, based upon two additional criteria, namely, material deprivation and low work intensity.

SDG 3 — Good health and well-being

SDG 3 seeks to ‘ensure healthy lives and promote well-being’. Within this context, One of the areas in which development is measured is child mortality, including ending preventable deaths of new-born children by 2030, with all countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality to 12 per 1 000 live births or fewer. It should be noted that this indicator is not included on the EU list of SDG indicators.

Traditionally, official statistics have measured the infant mortality rate based on the number of newly born children dying before their first birthday. Figure 2 shows that the infant mortality rate in the EU-28 was consistently lower than in any of the enlargement countries during most of the period under consideration (starting in 2006), but that in 2015 the rate in Montenegro fell below that in the EU-28 (as it more than halved, from 4.9 per 1 000 live births in 2014 to 2.2 per 1 000 live births in 2015) and in 2016 it remained below the EU-28 rate.

Figure 2: Infant mortality rate, 2006-2016
(per 1 000 live births)
Source: Eurostat (demo_minfind)

The pace at which the infant mortality rate fell between 2006 and 2016 was consistently faster among the enlargement countries than it was for the EU-28 (where infant mortality rates had already been quite low in 2006). The most rapid reduction was recorded in Turkey where infant mortality rates fell from 24.5 per 1 000 live births in 2006 to 10.0 per 1 000 live births by 2016. Nevertheless, Turkey recorded the highest infant mortality rate among the enlargement countries throughout the period 2006-2016, other than in 2011 when a higher rate was recorded in Kosovo.

Some of the indicators used to monitor the SDGs have been developed outside the scope of official statistics or taking account of potential future developments for official statistics. While the standard definition that tends to be applied for the infant mortality rate refers to infant deaths up to the age of one year, the UN has agreed upon the use of Indicator 3.2.2 to focus on deaths of new-borns during the first 28 days of life — the neonatal mortality rate; as with the infant mortality rate the results for the neonatal mortality rate are expressed per 1 000 live births.

There is no information available for neonatal mortality rates — as presented in Figure 3 —for the EU-28 as a whole and so data are shown for six individual EU Member States, with the highest and lowest rates. In keeping with the data for infant mortality rates, three of the five enlargement countries for which data are presented for both years in Figure 3 reported a fall in their neonatal mortality rates between 2012 and 2017; the two exceptions, were Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of the enlargement countries (mainly 2017 data) and EU Member States (2016 data) had neonatal mortality rates that were below 12 per 1 000 live births as defined by UN target 3.2.2.

Figure 3: Neonatal mortality rate, 2012 and 2017
(per 1 000 live births)
Source: Eurostat (demo_minfind)

SDG 7 — affordable and clean energy

SDG 7 seeks to ‘ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’. One area of progress that should be achieved concerns doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030 (Target 7.3). In order to measure progress in this domain, the UN has agreed upon the use of Indicator 7.3.1 as a measure of energy intensity. Energy intensity is used as a proxy for energy efficiency: it can be affected by a number of factors, such as climate or the structure of an economy. This indicator is defined as the gross inland consumption of energy in relation to constant price (or volume) gross domestic product (GDP), in other words, the energy supplied to the economy per unit of economic output; if the ratio declines over time this indicates that less energy is required, thereby confirming that the economy concerned has made progress in relation to energy efficiency gains.

Figure 4 shows that energy intensity in the EU-28 fell gradually over the period 2007-2017, suggesting that the EU-28 economy was becoming more energy efficient. Among the enlargement countries (for which data are available), there were also gains in energy efficiency, sometimes considerable ones; this was particularly notable in North Macedonia where there was an overall reduction of 29.5 % between 2007 and 2017 in the amount of energy required to produce a unit of GDP and in Montenegro where the reduction was 25.9 %. Despite these efficiency gains, the amount of energy required to produce a unit of GDP remained considerably higher in the enlargement economies, as energy intensity ratios in 2017 were generally 2.4-3.9 times as high as for the EU-28, except in Albania and Turkey where energy intensity was 1.9 and 1.4 times as high as in the EU-28.

Figure 4: Energy intensity, 2007-2017
(kg of oil equivalent per 1 000 EUR)
Source: Eurostat (nrg_bal_s) and (nama_10_gdp)

SDG 8 — decent work and economic growth

SDG 8 aims to ‘promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’. As part of this, one target is to sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances and, in particular, at least 7 % growth per annum in the least developed countries (Target 8.1). To measure progress towards this target, the UN has agreed upon Indicator 8.1.1. This indicator is retained in the EU list of SDG indicators and it is defined as the annual growth rate of real GDP per capita; it is often used as a proxy for living standards or to measure the health of an economy. Although frequently used as a key economic indicator, GDP is often criticised in discussions concerning sustainable development insofar as one of its main limitations is that it fails to capture social and environmental costs of production.

The information shown in Figure 5 relates to year-on-year (annual) changes in GDP per capita in constant price (or volume) terms (therefore taking account of inflation). GDP per capita fell by 0.6 % in the EU-28 in 2012 while an increase of 2.2 % was recorded in 2017. In 2012, there were also small decreases in two of the three enlargement countries for which data are available, while in Albania a positive rate of change was observed. In 2017, all three enlargement countries reported increases in GDP per capita that were larger than that observed for the EU-28, ranging from 2.6 % in Serbia to 3.9 % in North Macedonia (2016 data).

Figure 5: Real rate of change in GDP per capita, 2012 and 2017
(annual rate of change, %)
Source: Eurostat (nama_10_pc)

Another issue covered in Goal 8 concerns ‘achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value by 2030’. EU-28 unemployment rates stood at 7.4 % for men and 7.9 % for women in 2017 (see Figure 6). Among the enlargement countries there was quite a wide range in unemployment rates, with the highest rates for both men and women in 2017 recorded in Kosovo and the lowest rates for both sexes in Turkey: the unemployment rate for men stood at 28.5 % in Kosovo, while the corresponding rate for women was 7.9 percentage points higher at 36.4 %; the unemployment rate for men in Turkey was 9.4 %, while the rate for women was 4.5 percentage points higher at 13.9 %.

Figure 6: Unemployment rate by sex, 2017
(% of persons aged 15-74)
Source: Eurostat (une_rt_a)

Across most of the enlargement countries, the unemployment rate for men was lower than the rate for women: the only exceptions were in Albania and North Macedonia where the reverse situation was observed.

An analysis of the unemployment rate by age is also considered essential in this context as policymakers tend to focus their attention on both ends of working life, analysing employment opportunities for the young and the retention of older members of the workforce up to and beyond the official retirement age (if one exists).

Unemployment accounted for just under one fifth (16.8 %) of all young people (those aged 15-24 years) who were economically active (either employed or unemployed) in the EU-28 in 2017; this marked a reduction of 7.0 percentage points in comparison with the relative peak of 23.8 % recorded in 2013 (see Figure 7). Turkey was the only enlargement country to report a youth unemployment rate that was close to the EU-28 average, its rate of 20.5 % in 2017 was 3.7 percentage points higher than the EU-28 average. In Montenegro, Serbia and Albania, youth unemployment accounted for 32 % of economically active young people, this share rising to 45.8 % in Bosnia and Herzegovina and 46.7 % in North Macedonia and exceeding half (52.7 %) in Kosovo.

Figure 7: Youth unemployment rate, 2007-2017
(% of persons aged 15-24)
Source: Eurostat (une_rt_a)

The final indicator presented for SDG 8 is to ‘substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training by 2020’. To measure progress for this target, the EU monitors the share of young persons (aged 15-24 years) who are neither in employment nor in education and training, otherwise referred to as the NEET rate (Indicator 8.6.1). Note that this ratio is calculated as a share of all young persons, excluding only those for whom it is unknown whether they remain within the educational system or not.

In 2017, the NEET rate was higher in all of the enlargement countries than in the EU-28, where it stood at 10.9 % (see Figure 8). The highest NEET rates among the enlargement countries were recorded in Kosovo (27.4 %) and Albania (25.9 %), where more than one quarter of young persons were without work and not in education or training in 2017; , while the NEET rate was just below one quarter in North Macedonia, Turkey and Bosnia and Herzegovina (24.2-24.3 %). The lowest NEET rates among enlargement countries were recorded in Serbia (17.2 %) and Montenegro (16.7 %).

Figure 8: Young people neither in employment nor in education and training
(NEETs), 2017
(% of persons aged 15-24 excluding those respondents for whom it is unknown whether they remain within the educational system or not)
Source: Eurostat (edat_lfse_20)

SDG 17 — partnerships for the goals

SDG 17 calls for the goal of ‘strengthening the means of implementation and revitalising the global partnership for sustainable development’. As part of this, it aims at ‘enhancing north-south, south-south and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge-sharing on mutually agreed terms, including through improved coordination among existing mechanisms, in particular at the United Nations level, and through a global technology facilitation mechanism’. In recent decades, the internet has become an increasingly important tool for providing access to information: it can help foster access to science, technology and innovation, and share knowledge. Some insight into progress within this area can be provided by measuring the number of fixed internet broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants.

The ratio of fixed broadband connections to the number of inhabitants rose in the EU-28 from 29 per 100 inhabitants in 2012 to 34 per 100 inhabitants in 2017. In Bosnia and Herzegovina (2014-2017) as well as Turkey the adoption of broadband was at a similar pace as across the EU-28, whereas in Montenegro this ratio rose by 8 per 100 inhabitants between 2012 and 2017. With 35 fixed broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants, Serbia reported a ratio that was slightly higher than that in the EU-28. Elsewhere, ratios for fixed broadband subscriptions in the enlargement countries were lower than in the EU-28, ranging from 15 in Turkey to 22 per 100 inhabitants in Montenegro, with Kosovo (0 per 100 inhabitants) below this range. Note that in some developing and emerging economies some generations of technological developments may be skipped; for example, there might be a low take-up of fixed broadband internet connections with business and consumers choosing to favour a direct move to mobile solutions.

Figure 9: Ratio of fixed broadband subscriptions relative to population size, 2012 and 2017
(number per 100 inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat (demo_gind) and the International Telecommunications Union

Data sources

The data presented in this article for enlargement countries are supplied by and under the responsibility of the national statistical authorities of each country. The data result from a range of data collection exercises established by Eurostat. These statistics are available free-of-charge on Eurostat’s website, together with a range of additional indicators for enlargement countries covering most socio-economic topics.

Note that in 2016, it was decided to stop collecting national accounts and most population and energy data from enlargement countries through the use of a broad questionnaire surveying many areas of official statistics, instead relying on information collected by Eurostat units responsible specifically for national accounts, population and migration, and energy. As such, the data presented in this article for these statistics are generally sourced from the same datasets as those providing information for the EU-28 aggregate.

While basic principles and institutional frameworks for producing statistics are already in place, the enlargement countries are expected to increase progressively the volume and quality of their data and to transmit these data to Eurostat in the context of the EU enlargement process. EU standards in the field of statistics require the existence of a statistical infrastructure based on principles such as professional independence, impartiality, relevance, confidentiality of individual data and easy access to official statistics; they cover methodology, classifications and standards for production.

Eurostat has the responsibility to ensure that statistical production of the enlargement countries complies with the EU acquis in the field of statistics. To do so, Eurostat supports the national statistical offices and other producers of official statistics through a range of initiatives, such as pilot surveys, training courses, traineeships, study visits, workshops and seminars, and participation in meetings within the European Statistical System (ESS). The ultimate goal is the provision of harmonised, high-quality data that conforms to European and international standards. Additional information on statistical cooperation with the enlargement countries is provided here.


Sustainable development is a global concern that is linked to a wide range of economic, social and environmental challenges present within the world. However, sustainable development also provides opportunities, such as the potential to eliminate extreme poverty or measures that are designed to stimulate a sustainable path to economic growth.

In 2000, the UN approved a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), with a special focus on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. During the next 15 years, this initiative contributed to more than one billion fewer people facing extreme poverty. As the timeframe for the MDGs came towards its end, the Rio+20 UN conference on sustainable development in June 2012 provided the way forward with a new agenda. In September 2015, an important milestone was reached, as the UN adopted a new agenda titled ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’. UN indicators for measuring sustainable development

The UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development is a long-term policy designed to bring about a systemic change in the way that economic growth, social cohesion and environmental protection go hand in hand. It addresses both poverty eradication and the economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, underpinned by good governance.

The agenda covers a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — each designed to address a range of global challenges:

  1. no poverty;
  2. zero hunger;
  3. good health and well-being;
  4. quality education;
  5. gender equality;
  6. clean water and sanitation;
  7. affordable and clean energy;
  8. decent work and economic growth;
  9. industry, innovation and infrastructure;
  10. reduced inequalities;
  11. sustainable cities and communities;
  12. responsible consumption and production;
  13. climate action;
  14. life below water;
  15. life on land;
  16. peace, justice and strong institutions;
  17. partnerships for the goals.

In March 2016, the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC) agreed on a global list of 241 indicators as a practical starting point to monitor the 17 SDGs and 169 targets at a global level (of these, nine indicators are repeated for different targets). At the time of writing, data are not available for all of these indicators.

The monitoring of SDGs is based on different levels of analyses (referred to by the UN as ‘tiers’). Only indicators in the first of these three tiers have an agreed concept, an established methodology and the regular release of data; the other two tiers suffer either from a lack of regular data collection (tier 2 indicators) or from the lack of established concepts, definitions, methodologies or standards (tier 3 indicators). Indeed, the UN continues to work on defining the scope and coverage of Tier 3 indicators. Note also that there is the potential for the UN indicator list to be revised over time, with substantive changes and revisions foreseen in 2020 and 2025.

For more information on work being conducted in this area and the approach adopted by UN for the development of SDG indicators, please refer to UN’s website.

Sustainable development — what role for the European Union?

Sustainable development is a fundamental and overarching objective of the EU. Indeed, it is enshrined in Article 3 of the Treaty on European Union. The EU has committed to implementing the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development, both in its internal and external policies. In November 2016, the European Commission made a proposal for a new European consensus on development — our world, our dignity, our future (COM(2016) 740 final) which highlighted the possibilities available for developing a new framework for achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication. This proposal states that the 2030 agenda should be used to guide EU actions with neighbouring countries, including the enlargement countries. Furthermore, the Communication also proposes that the EU should seek to boost the statistical capacity of developing countries, including: strengthened capacity for the production and analysis of data (disaggregated where possible by income, gender, age and other factors); information on marginalised, vulnerable and hard-to-reach groups; inclusive governance; investment in stronger statistical institutions at national and regional level; the promotion and use of new technologies and data sources.

In November 2016, the European Commission also adopted a Communication titled Next steps for a sustainable European future — European action for sustainability (COM(2016) 739 final), identifying that the EU’s global strategy on foreign and security policy had clear links with the UN 2030 agenda for sustainable development, whereby links and benefits for the EU could be achieved by promoting security and prosperity in surrounding regions, including enlargement and European neighbourhood policy (ENP) countries. Furthermore, the Communication foresees the development of an SDG indicator framework, whereby the European Commission will ‘seek to carry out more detailed regular monitoring of the SDGs in an EU context’ which should draw on work already being carried out by the European Commission and its agencies, as well as the European External Action Service.

As the statistical office of the EU, Eurostat may consider that there are a number of UN indicators which lie outside the scope of official statistics, for example, indicators on governance. Furthermore, in developed economies, some of the indicators from the UN indicator list for monitoring SDGs may be considered as being of little or no relevance, as they refer to issues that are more pertinent for analysing developing countries (for example, indicators measuring the share of the population that is living within close proximity of a paved road, or the availability of modern methods for family planning).

With this in mind, and following the Communication on European action for sustainability, European Commission services have developed an EU-specific indicator list, designed to measure progress in relation to sustainable development issues. The EU’s monitoring framework for SDGs is based largely on data that is already available for the EU Member States (the acquis); this divergence in approach (to that adopted by the UN) reflects the considerable differences in economic, social and environmental developments across the different continents, regions and countries of the world and the (lack of) relevance for some UN indicators with respect to measuring progress on sustainable development issues in the EU.

For more information on work already conducted in this area and the approach adopted by Eurostat, please refer to Eurostat’s website.


  1. This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence
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