Statistics Explained

Regional yearbook introduction

Data extracted in March 2021.

Planned article update: 7 October 2022.


Regional statistics offer subnational comparisons of data: information for the smallest EU Member States (such as Luxembourg or Malta) can be compared with regions in larger Member States.

EU cohesion policy for the period 2021-2027 will focus on five principal objectives: a smarter Europe; a greener, carbon-free Europe; a more connected Europe; a more social Europe; and a Europe that is closer to its citizens.

Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (EU), collects, compiles and publishes statistics for the EU and euro area, as well as national, regional and other subnational data, primarily for the Member States of the EU, but also for the EFTA and candidate countries.

The Eurostat regional yearbook aims to provide a taste of the wide selection of European statistics that are collected at a regional level across a broad range of subjects.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the EU and the wider world profoundly and is likely to have a lasting impact on a range of social, economic and environmental issues in years to come. Although vaccine programmes provide hope that countries across the globe will emerge from the crisis, considerable challenges remain. The impact of the pandemic and its associated measures within the EU is already visible in this 2021 edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook. Initial results for 2020 for some indicators illustrate the impact — at a regional level — for topics such as mortality, education, the labour market and use of the internet.

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European statistics

Subnational statistics

EU Member States are often compared with each other in statistical presentations, but in reality it can be difficult to compare a small country, such as Malta, which had 514 000 inhabitants on 1 January 2020, or Luxembourg, which had 626 000 inhabitants, with larger Member States such as Germany, the most populous EU Member State, where there were 83 million inhabitants. Furthermore, there are considerable differences between Member States as regards their territorial composition. For example, Ireland, Sweden and Finland are generally rural and sparsely-populated, whereas the Benelux Member States and Malta are characterised by much higher levels of population density. Equally, within individual Member States there can be great diversity: for example, the densely-populated, urbanised areas of Nordrhein-Westfalen in the west of Germany may be contrasted with the sparsely-populated, largely rural, north-eastern region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Therefore, analysing data at a subnational or regional level is often more meaningful as such an analysis may highlight disparities within EU Member States, for example an east-west divide in Germany or a north-south divide in Italy. Furthermore, these analyses may reveal differences in patterns of economic development. Germany and Poland have polycentric patterns of (economic) development with several, relatively large cities spread across their territory, whereas France and Romania are examples of a more monocentric pattern of development, with their activity more concentrated in and around their respective capitals.

Over the past few years, Eurostat has expanded the range of statistics that it provides beyond national and regional information to cover other territorial typologies, addressing the growing needs of policymakers, particularly within the context of cohesion and territorial developments. These changes are based on harmonising and integrating various typologies under two broad headings: those linked to regional statistics and those linked to statistics for local administrative units (LAU or municipalities). With this in mind, a process of legislative consolidation was accomplished by Regulation (EU) 2017/2391 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2017 as regards the territorial typologies (Tercet). This regulation establishes a common statistical classification of territorial units to enable the collection, compilation and dissemination of European statistics at different territorial levels.

Statistics on regions — the NUTS classification

At the heart of regional statistics is NUTS — the EU’s classification of territorial units for statistics. This regional classification for EU Member States is based on a hierarchy of regions and subdivides each Member State into regions that are classified according to three different levels, covering NUTS levels 1, 2 and 3 from larger to smaller areas. Some EU Member States have a relatively small population and/or area and may therefore not be subdivided at some (or even all) of the different levels of the NUTS classification. For example, Estonia, Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg and Malta are each composed of a single NUTS level 2 region according to the 2016 version of the NUTS classification.

For non-member countries covered in this publication — EFTA and candidate countries — the concept of ‘statistical regions’ is used instead of NUTS. This applies the same principles as those used in the establishment of the NUTS classification, but is based on gentlemen’s agreements between the countries concerned and Eurostat (rather than having any legislative basis).

Table 1 provides an overview of the number of regions for each of the EU Member States and non-member countries that are covered in the Eurostat regional yearbook.

Table 1: Number of NUTS 2016 regions and statistical regions by country
Source: Eurostat

Most of the regional statistics shown in the Eurostat regional yearbook are for NUTS level 2 regions. However, subject to data availability, some maps and figures are shown for either NUTS level 1 regions (more aggregated geographical information) or NUTS level 3 regions (the most detailed level of regional information). The more detailed statistics are only available for a limited selection of indicators that cover topics such as demography, economic accounts and environmental statistics.

There may also be specific cases (normally related to the limits of data availability) where particular regions are presented using a different NUTS level compared with the remainder of the regions in the same map or figure; these cases are documented in footnotes and are included to improve data coverage. Where little or no regional data exist for a particular EU Member State, use has been made of national data; these exceptions are again documented in footnotes.

The NUTS regulation and classification

The NUTS classification is defined in Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS), which has to be amended by a European Commission regulation each time the classification is updated (when a new version of the NUTS is needed). The NUTS regulation specifies that there should be a minimum period of three years stability during which time the classification should not be changed; exceptions are made when the accession (or departure) of an EU Member State occurs. Since 2003, the NUTS classification has been amended several times, partly due to regular amendments, partly due to changes in the membership of the EU and partly due to changes to the territorial boundaries of existing Member States (for example, the inclusion of data for the French region of Mayotte).

The fourth regular amendment of the NUTS classification (Commission Regulation (EU) No 2016/2066) was adopted in December 2016 and applies to any data transmitted to Eurostat from 1 January 2018 onwards; it is referred to as NUTS 2016. This version of NUTS is the basis for classifying regional statistics as used in the 2021 edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook. It should be noted that some older data presented in this publication may have been collected using a previous version of NUTS, although these statistics have been recoded to NUTS 2016. As a consequence, data are sometimes not available for a small number of regions where a simple recoding or aggregation of data from previous versions of NUTS was not possible (due to changes in boundaries). It is also important to note that while legislation relating to establishing the NUTS 2021 classification has already been adopted, this is only valid for data transmission to Eurostat from 1 January 2021 onwards; as such, it has not been used in this edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook, but may be adopted for the 2022 edition.

The main principles of the NUTS classification

Principle 1: the NUTS regulation defines minimum and maximum population thresholds for the size of individual NUTS regions (see Table 2) to ensure a basic degree of comparability. Deviations from these thresholds are only possible when particular geographical, socioeconomic, historical, cultural or environmental circumstances exist.

Principle 2: NUTS favours administrative divisions. If available, administrative structures are used for the different NUTS levels. In those EU Member States where there is no administrative layer corresponding to a particular level of NUTS, regions are created by aggregating smaller administrative regions.

Table 2: Population size constraints for NUTS 2016 regions
(number of inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat

Other territorial typologies

Previous editions of the Eurostat regional yearbook showed a range of other territorial typologies to extend subnational analyses to topics such as cities and commuting zones, or statistics compiled by degree of urbanisation. The latter is a classification based on three types of area, which are defined using a population grid of 1 km² cells in combination with population thresholds to identify cities (densely-populated areas), towns and suburbs (intermediate density areas) and rural areas (thinly-populated areas).

While statistics such as these remain highly relevant for policy debate in the EU and more generally at a global level, an editorial decision was taken when compiling this 2021 edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook to concentrate almost exclusively on regional statistics.

European policy background

European policymaking is inherently multidimensional: on the one hand, it has to encompass a broad framework providing objectives for the EU as a whole, while on the other it needs to acknowledge the often specific needs of national and subnational territories. Recent challenges such as the global financial and economic crisis, the impact of globalisation, security concerns from terror attacks, the refugee crisis, the departure of the United Kingdom from the EU (Brexit), or the COVID-19 pandemic provide just a few examples of the two-sided nature of delivering both EU-wide and local solutions in a coherent manner.

One of the EU’s main challenges is to ensure that policy developments are scrutinised to ensure that they take account of the considerable geographical diversity within the EU. The territorial dimension of EU policy is increasingly recognised, as job creation and the transition towards a green and digital economy depend on making the best use of all assets, while ensuring that common resources are used in a coordinated and sustainable way. This section provides an overview of some of the main EU policy developments that have a territorial impact.

Cohesion policy

What is cohesion policy?

EU cohesion policy is designed to promote harmonious development within the EU by strengthening economic, social and territorial cohesion. In doing so it promotes job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth and sustainable development, thereby improving the overall quality of life experienced by people in the EU.

During the period 2021-2027, a new framework for regional development and cohesion policy in the EU focuses on providing funds to the least developed regions of the EU for five key investment priorities:

  • smarter Europe, through innovation, digitalisation, economic transformation and support to small and medium-sized businesses;
  • a greener, carbon-free Europe, implementing the Paris Agreement and investing in energy transition, renewables and the fight against climate change;
  • a more connected Europe, with strategic transport and digital networks;
  • a more social Europe, delivering on the European Pillar of Social Rights and supporting quality employment, education, skills, social inclusion and equal access to healthcare;
  • a Europe closer to citizens, by supporting locally-led development strategies and sustainable urban development across the EU.

Cohesion policy is delivered through a number of specific funds:

  • The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) aims to strengthen economic, territorial and social cohesion in the EU by correcting development imbalances between its regions. It focuses on providing funding for key policy areas such as: innovation and research; the digital agenda; support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); and the low-carbon economy.
  • The Cohesion Fund aims to reduce economic and social disparities and to promote sustainable development. Funding is directed specifically at infrastructure projects to support the development of transport, energy and digital infrastructure within trans-European networks and at energy and transport projects that display clear environmental benefits in terms of energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, developing rail transport, supporting inter-modality, or strengthening public transport.
  • The European Social Fund Plus (ESF+) provides support for people, with a focus on improving employment and education opportunities across the EU, as well as the situation of the most vulnerable people (those at risk of poverty).
  • The Just Transition Fund is a new financial instrument within cohesion policy. It aims to provide support to territories facing serious socioeconomic challenges arising from the transition towards climate neutrality and is designed to facilitate the implementation of a European Green Deal (which aims to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050).

Cohesion policy: how is the budget decided?

Over time there has been a fragmentation of the rules and financing governing various EU cohesion funds. This resulted in an increased burden on local authorities managing programmes and may also have deterred businesses from applying for EU funding.

For the period 2021-2027 there have been a number of changes in how cohesion policy is organised and managed. The Common Provisions Regulation (CPR) — Regulation (EU) No 1303/2013 of 17 December 2013 provides a policy framework so that shared management funds, including EU cohesion funds, continue to fulfil the objectives of promoting convergence and supporting the least developed parts of the EU. As the main legal basis for cohesion policy, the CPR makes it possible to address emerging economic and social challenges through greater flexibility in terms of transferring resources and extended capacity. Furthermore, through the revised CPR, all cohesion funds — the ERDF, the Cohesion Fund and the ESF+ — are subject to the same rules of programming, management and monitoring.

The total budget for cohesion policy and the rules associated with its allocation are jointly decided by the Council and the European Parliament. Political agreement on the legislative package for cohesion policy for 2021-2027 was reached at the end of 2020.

Some EUR 337.7 billion (in 2018 prices) have been budgeted for the EU’s cohesion policy within the multiannual financial framework 2021-2027. While discussions around a political agreement on cohesion policy were ongoing, the COVID-19 crisis rapidly changed the socioeconomic landscape. As a result, the REACT-EU (Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe) package was agreed [1]. It provided an additional EUR 57.5 billion of funding for 2021 and 2022 as part of the European Recovery Instrument (also known as Next Generation EU). As such, the total cohesion budget for the period between 2021 and 2027 — covering the ERDF, Cohesion Fund, ESF+, the Just Transition Fund and REACT-EU — totals EUR 395.2 billion (in 2018 prices).

The bulk of the budget for the EU’s cohesion policy is provided to regions whose development lags behind the EU average, in particular, less developed regions predominantly located in the south or the east of the EU, the Baltic Member States and several outermost regions. Funding is concentrated on these less developed regions, with the goal of reducing economic, social and territorial disparities.

For the 2021-2027 period, the allocation of funds uses a method that remains largely based on regional gross domestic product (GDP) per inhabitant. However, a set of new criteria has been added — youth unemployment, low education levels, climate change, and the reception and integration of migrants — to better reflect the challenges faced by each region.

A specific allocation method will be used to distribute the REACT-EU funds between EU Member States. This is different from the normal cohesion policy allocation method and will take into account levels of prosperity, the magnitude of economic contraction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact of the crisis on unemployment (including among young people).

The NUTS classification — an objective basis for the allocation of cohesion policy funding

Statistics from regional accounts are used in the allocation of cohesion policy funds, with the NUTS classification providing the basis for regional boundaries and geographic eligibility.

During the period 2021-2027, eligibility for cohesion funds will be based on regional GDP per inhabitant (in purchasing power standards (PPS)). NUTS level 2 regions were ranked and split into three groups:

  • less developed regions, where GDP per inhabitant was less than 75 % of the EU average;
  • transition regions, where GDP per inhabitant was 75 %-100 % of the EU average; and
  • more developed regions, where GDP per inhabitant was more than 100 % of the EU average.

Cohesion policy: implementation

European structural and investment funds are attributed through a process which involves EU, national, regional and local authorities, as well as social partners and organisations from civil society (representative and community groups that are independent of government or business). Each EU Member State produces a draft partnership agreement and draft operational programme, which provides information for their regional strategy and a list of proposals for programmes. Having negotiated the contents of these with the European Commission, national/regional managing authorities in each of the Member States then select, monitor and evaluate projects.

The rules for cohesion policy funding during the period 2021-2027 have been simplified and harmonised so that the same rules are applied to all of the different funds. Procedures have been adapted so that they are based upon a results-orientated approach with more transparent controls, less bureaucracy, the introduction of specific preconditions before funds can be released, and the introduction of measurable targets for better accountability. The aim is that these simplified rules and coordinated structures will allow for a greater empowerment of subnational authorities in the management of EU funds.

Cohesion policy: integrated into broader policy goals

Regional policy and funding help deliver many of the EU’s overall policy objectives. Cohesion policy programming is embedded within overall economic policy coordination, in particular the European Semester, the digital transition, A European Green Deal and the promotion of the European Pillar of Social Rights. These links between cohesion policy and broader reforms have been strengthened such that the European Commission may suspend regional funding to any EU Member State which does not comply with the EU’s economic rules.

Other policy areas that impact on subnational areas

While the EU’s regional policy can play an important role in delivering broader policy goals in a range of socioeconomic fields such as education, the labour market, energy, research and development or the environment, other EU policy areas can, in a similar way, have an impact on regions across the EU.

Urban development policy in the EU

The various dimensions of urban life — economic, social, cultural and environmental — are closely inter-related. Successful urban developments are often based on coordinated/integrated approaches that seek to balance these dimensions through a range of policy measures such as urban renewal, increasing education opportunities, preventing crime, encouraging social inclusion or environmental protection.

At the end of May 2016, a meeting of ministers responsible for urban matters was held in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It reached an agreement on an Urban Agenda for the EU, as established by the Pact of Amsterdam. This agreement foresees the development of 12 priority areas for partnerships between EU institutions, Member States, cities and other stakeholders. The themes include: the inclusion of migrants and refugees; air quality; urban poverty; housing; the circular economy; jobs and skills in the local economy; climate adaptation; energy transition; sustainable land use; urban mobility; digital transition; public procurement.

European policymakers recognise the important role that may be played by the urban dimension of regional policy, in particular measures designed to assist the fight against poverty and social exclusion. In doing so, the urban dimension of cohesion policy will be strengthened during the period 2021 to 2027, with 6 % of the ERDF dedicated to sustainable urban development strategies, alongside a new European Urban Initiative-post 2020 to support cities to innovate, access knowledge and understand policy. This initiative is designed to strengthen integrated and participatory approaches to sustainable urban development and aims to do so by facilitating and supporting cooperation and capacity building among urban actors, innovative actions, knowledge, policy development and communication.

Rural development policy in the EU

The EU is seeking to develop a long-term vision for rural areas, designed to help rural areas meet a wide range of economic, social and environmental challenges. This initiative — which seeks to develop a common European vision for vibrant, connected, and sustainable rural areas by 2040 — is being coordinated by the European Commission. They will gather the views of rural communities and businesses through public consultations and events for stakeholders, and use this to develop a comprehensive action plan designed to help rural communities and businesses reach their full potential.

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) is intended to help develop farming and rural areas by providing a competitive and innovative stimulus at the same time as seeking to protect biodiversity and the natural environment. There are six priority areas, namely to promote: knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture and forestry; the viability and competitiveness of all types of agriculture and support sustainable forest management; the organisation of the food production chain, animal welfare and risk management in farming; the restoration, preservation and enhancement of agricultural and forest ecosystems; the efficient use of natural resources and support the transition to a low-carbon economy; social inclusion, poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas.

In June 2018, the European Commission presented a set of legislative proposals for the future of the CAP beyond 2020. These proposals aim to make the common agricultural policy (CAP) more responsive to future challenges, such as climate change and generational renewal, while continuing to support EU farmers for a sustainable and competitive agricultural sector.

Following the allocation of the EU’s long-term budget — the multiannual financial framework (2021-2027) — a transitional regulation ensuring continued support for agriculture, forestry and rural areas was agreed concerning funding during 2021 and 2022. This extends most of the rules that were in place during the 2014-2020 period, while also including new elements to encompass stronger green ambitions. The EAFRD remains part of the framework for European structural investment funds (ESIFs) in 2021 and 2022, but will move to be treated under the framework of the new CAP which is now expected to start in 2023.

European Committee of the Regions

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) — which is the EU’s assembly for regional and local representatives — provides a voice for regions and cities across the EU. It was created in 1994 and is composed of 329 members who are regional presidents, mayors or elected representatives from the 27 Member States of the EU; successive treaties have broadened its role.

During the period 2020-2025, the CoR aims to bring the EU closer to its people through three main priorities:

  • bringing the EU closer to people — democracy and the future of the EU (with the goal of reinforcing democracy at all levels of government, improving the way the EU works, ensuring its policies and programmes meet the real needs of citizens);
  • managing fundamental societal transformations — building resilient regional and local communities (using the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to identify solutions that ensure the EU sufficiently supports local and regional authorities in responding to future emergencies and addressing the societal transformations taking place in their communities from challenges such as global pandemics as well as climate, digital and demographic transitions);
  • promoting cohesion as a fundamental value — place-based EU policies (ensuring that economic, social and territorial cohesion is fostered and respected in all EU policies that affect people and their places of living).
Cohesion alliance RYB21.png

The #CohesionAlliance 2.0 is a coalition of people who believe that the role of EU cohesion policy should be strengthened post-2020. The alliance was created through cooperation between leading European associations of cities and regions and the European Committee of the Regions. In May 2020, a proposal was put forward for a renewed declaration in view of the upcoming decisions on the EU’s multi-annual financial framework and the EU’s recovery plan. A final version of the declaration was agreed and adopted on 14 July 2020.

European week of regions and cities RYB21.jpg

The European Week of Regions and Cities is an annual multi-day event which allows regions and cities to showcase their capacity to encourage growth and job creation, implement EU cohesion policy, and provide evidence of the importance of the local and regional level for good governance. Organised by the CoR and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy, it has become a networking platform for regional and local development — which is viewed as a key event for policy practitioners — and is the biggest EU event dedicated to regional policy. The 19th European Week of Regions and Cities will be held in mid-October 2021 under the slogan of ‘together for recovery’ and will concentrate on four principal themes (that are closely aligned with the European Commission’s priorities):

  • the green transition — for a sustainable and green recovery;
  • cohesion — from emergency to resilience;
  • the digital transition — for people; and
  • citizens’ engagement — for an inclusive, participative and fair recovery.

European Green Deal

To overcome the existential threat of climate change, the EU has enacted a new growth strategy designed to transform the EU into a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy, where:

  • there are no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050;
  • economic growth is decoupled from resource use; and
  • no person and no place is left behind.

The European Green Deal (COM(2019) 640 final) provides details of how the EU plans to develop into a sustainable economy by turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities, and making the transition fair and inclusive for all.

Reaching these targets will require action from all regions and all sectors of the EU economy, including: investing in environmentally-friendly technologies; supporting industry to innovate; rolling out cleaner, cheaper and healthier forms of private and public transport; decarbonising the energy sector; ensuring buildings are more energy efficient; and working with international partners to improve global environmental standards.

To do so, the EU will provide financial support and technical assistance through the Just Transition Fund to help those that are most affected by the move towards the green economy. For example, assistance may be provided to regions and sectors that depend on fossil fuels or carbon-intensive processes. It will draw on sources of funding from the EU budget as well as from the European Investment Bank.

A Europe fit for the digital age

Digital technology has and will continue to change people’s lives in a rapid manner. The EU’s digital strategy aims to make this transformation work for people and businesses. On 9 March 2021, the European Commission presented a vision for the EU’s digital transformation by 2030. This is based on four key points — government, skills, infrastructure and business — that are the cornerstones of the 2030 Digital Compass: the European way for the Digital Decade (COM(2021) 118 final). Some of the targets set for 2030 include:

  • having 20 million employed ICT specialists in the EU (with convergence between women and men);
  • having all households in the EU covered by a Gigabit network and all populated areas covered by 5G;
  • having the EU produce at least 20 % of the world’s output of cutting-edge and sustainable semiconductors;
  • having 75 % of EU enterprises making use of cloud computing services, big data and artificial intelligence;
  • having online provision for all key public services in the EU (those used by individuals and by enterprises);
  • to provide all Europeans with access to their medical records online;
  • to have 80 % of EU citizens using a digital ID solution.

The European Commission aims to strengthen the digital sovereignty of the EU and to set standards, rather than following those of others — with a focus on data, technology, and infrastructure. The goal is to achieve this through a robust joint governance structure (to identify successes and gaps) and through multi-country projects combining support from the EU’s budget, national governments and the private sector.

European Pillar of Social Rights

The European Pillar of Social Rights was jointly signed by the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission in November 2017. It aims to take account of changing realities in the world of work, to promote the renewal of economic convergence across the EU, and to deliver new and more effective rights for citizens. The pillar is built around three main headings:

  • Equal opportunities and access to the labour market — education, training and lifelong learning; gender equality; equal opportunities; active support for employment.
  • Fair working conditions — secure and adaptable employment; wages; information about employment conditions and protection in case of dismissals; social dialogue and involvement of workers; work-life balance; healthy, safe and well-adapted work environment and data protection.
  • Social protection and inclusion — childcare and support to children; adequate protection for workers; unemployment benefits; minimum income; old age income and pensions; healthcare; inclusion of people with disabilities; long-term care; housing and assistance for the homeless; access to essential services.

These three headings cover a set of 20 key principles. To monitor the progress being made in strengthening the social dimension of the EU, the European Commission has established a social scoreboard. The information presented is also used for economic policy coordination as part of the European Semester. In her Political guidelines for the period 2019-2024, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, highlighted the need to reconcile ‘the social and the market in today’s modern economy’ and undertook to fully implement the European Pillar of Social Rights. In January 2021, she stated that ‘As we overcome the pandemic, as we prepare necessary reforms and as we speed up the twin green and digital transitions, I believe it is time to also adapt the social rulebook’.

On 4 March 2021, the European Commission adopted the European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan (COM(2021) 102 final) designed to turn the 20 key principles into specific actions, while also proposing three new headline targets for the EU to reach by 2030:

  • at least 78 % of the population aged 20 to 64 years should be in employment by 2030;
  • at least 60 % of all adults should be participating in training every year by 2030;
  • a reduction of at least 15 million in the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion should be achieved by 2030 (compared with the situation in 2019 when there were 91 million people at risk of poverty or social exclusion).

The action plan has been designed to address both long-term transformations of the EU’s labour markets and economies — as shaped by climate change, digitalisation, globalisation and demographic developments — alongside more immediate challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on jobs, education, the economy, welfare systems and social life.

Despite the European Pillar of Social Rights not making any specific reference to regional policy, policymakers have shown a growing interest in analysing information at a more detailed, subnational level. Many of the indicators in the social scoreboard may be provided by Eurostat for a range of territorial typologies — principally, by region (using the NUTS classification) or by degree of urbanisation.

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable development has long been part of the political agenda within the EU. However, this subject area was given fresh impetus with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly. At the core of the agenda, there is a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which provides a global policy framework for stimulating action until the year 2030 in areas of critical importance related to people, the planet, prosperity, peace and partnership.

On 22 November 2016, the European Commission adopted the Communication, Next steps for a sustainable European future — European action for sustainability (COM(2016) 739 final). It details the significance of the SDGs, identified EU policies that contribute to the implementation of SDGs, and announced plans for regular monitoring within an EU context. The EU has made a firm commitment towards delivering on the SDGs and on the Paris Agreement on climate change. Within this context, Eurostat has been called upon to regularly monitor progress towards the SDGs in an EU context. For this purpose it coordinates the development and release of an EU SDG indicator set and produces regular monitoring reports.

With a broad range of challenges ahead, the EU highlighted further actions required to help secure a sustainable future in a reflection paper released by the European Commission in January 2019, Towards a sustainable Europe by 2030. The paper highlighted that some of the most important global challenges to be faced in the coming years include issues around social equality, solidarity and environmental protection. In her Political guidelines for the period 2019-2024, the European Commission president underlined this commitment noting that ‘economic policy should go hand in hand with social rights, the EU’s climate neutrality objective and a competitive industry’. With this in mind, she suggested there was a need to ‘refocus the European Semester into an instrument that integrates the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals’.

A short reading guide


Each article in the Eurostat regional yearbook presents statistical information in the form of maps, figures and infographics, accompanied by a descriptive analysis highlighting the main findings. Regional indicators are presented for the following 13 subjects: population, health, education, the labour market, living conditions, the digital society, the economy, business, research and development, tourism, transport, the environment and agriculture.

The Eurostat regional yearbook contains regional statistics for the Member States of the EU, alongside data for a number of non-member countries — EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and candidate countries (Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey). The United Kingdom left the EU at the start of February 2020 and, at the time of writing, negotiations concerning statistical cooperation are on-going. In the meantime, Eurostat will generally not publish information from the United Kingdom.

The geographical descriptions used to group EU Member States, for example, ‘northern’, ‘eastern’, ‘southern’ and ‘western’ are not intended as political categorisations. Instead, these references are made in relation to the geographical location of one or more EU Member States, as listed within the geography domain of Eurovoc, the European Commission’s multilingual thesaurus. The northern Member States are often distinguished between the Baltic Member States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and the Nordic Member States (Denmark, Finland and Sweden).

The designations employed and the presentation of material in maps and figures do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the EU concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries.

How to interpret the maps

A majority of the maps in the Eurostat regional yearbook are choropleth maps (that use different colour shades to show regional differences for a particular indicator). These maps have been made using a standardised approach.

  • Nearly all of these maps are composed of six colours, three blue shades (that show values that are progressively lower than the EU average) and three orange shades (that show values that are progressively higher than the EU average).
  • The class boundaries in each map are computed exclusively in relation to the distribution of regional values for EU Member States (even when maps also include data for regions in non-member countries). The boundaries for the lower classes are based on the 10th and the 25th percentiles, the middle classes on the EU average, and the upper classes on the 75th and the 90th percentiles. Each of these boundaries — other than that given by the EU average — was subsequently rounded up/down to make the class boundaries easier to read. As such, the darkest shade of blue/orange in each map portrays those EU regions with approximately the lowest/highest 10 % of values.

Proportional circles and pie charts have been used in maps when presenting data in absolute values (for example, the total number of people living in a region or the gross domestic product of a region). In each of these map types, the size of each circle represents the underlying level for the main indicator, while additional information may be presented by shading circles in different colours or dividing circles into pie segments.

Non-member countries that are excluded from the spatial coverage of the Eurostat regional yearbook are systematically denoted in all maps using a light shade of grey. For choropleth maps, if data are not available for any regions in the EU Member States, EFTA countries or candidate countries, these are denoted using a dark shade of grey. For maps using proportional circles or pie charts, if data are not available for any regions in the Member States, EFTA countries or candidate countries, these regions are left blank (white).


There is a wide range of surveys and data collection exercises whose data feed into the Eurostat regional yearbook. As a result, there may be differences concerning the latest available reference year between the articles as each aims to show the latest information. In general, 2020 data are available for demography (as used in the article on population), the labour force survey (as used in the articles on education and the labour market) and the information society survey (as used in the article on the digital society). Otherwise, the most common reference period is 2019, which is generally the latest year for which information is available in most of the other articles, for example, living conditions, the economy or tourism. Note that Eurostat’s website may have fresher data due to the continuous nature of data collection and processing (resulting in updates and new reference periods being added throughout the year). Online data codes below each of the maps and figures help users to locate the freshest data.


Eurostat’s data are published with accompanying metadata that provide background information on each source, as well as specific information (flags) for individual data cells. The flags provide information relating to the status of the data, for example, detailing whether the data are estimated, provisional or forecasted. These flags are generally not shown in this publication (in order to restrict the metadata shown under maps and figures to a minimum). Some cells may be flagged as confidential and these are simply shown as being ‘not available’; as such, they cannot be distinguished from other values where data have not been provided (for whatever reason).

When compiling the maps and figures for this edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook, cases where the latest data were missing were identified. Given the considerable impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions, two different methods were employed to try to fill these gaps for missing data.

  • Datasets where the most recent data available were for 2020: in these cases, because there could be considerable differences between 2019 and 2020 due to COVID-19 impacts, an attempt was made to fill missing NUTS levels for a particular EU Member State with higher aggregates of NUTS or with national data (both for 2020) before making use of older regional data.
  • Datasets where the most recent data available were for 2019 or an earlier year: in these cases, an effort was made to fill missing cells first with older regional data (at the same NUTS level) before making use of more aggregated NUTS levels or national data.

In both cases, these exceptions for different geographical levels or for different reference periods are documented in the footnotes provided. This is also the case for breaks in series and other major methodological differences.

Source data for tables and maps


  1. REACT-EU provides additional funding to extend the EU’s crisis response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while contributing towards a green, digital and resilient recovery. It is designed to support job maintenance, including through short-time work schemes and support for the self-employed; support job creation and youth employment measures; health care systems; and the provision of working capital and investment support for small and medium-sized enterprises.

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This article forms part of Eurostat’s annual flagship publication, the Eurostat regional yearbook.