Regional yearbook introduction

Data extracted in March 2019.

Planned article update: September 2020.


Regional statistics offer subnational comparisons of data: they allow information for the smallest Member States (such as Malta) to be compared with regions of larger Member States.

Germany and Poland have polycentric patterns of development with several relatively large cities spread across their territory, whereas France and the United Kingdom are more monocentric.

Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (EU), collects, compiles and publishes statistics for the EU and euro area aggregates, 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 on regions and other subnational classifications across a broad range of subjects.

Full article

Subnational statistics

EU Member States are often compared with each other, but in reality it can be difficult to compare a small country like Malta, which had 476 000 inhabitants on 1 January 2018, or Luxembourg, which had 602 000 inhabitants, with larger Member States, such as Germany, the most populous EU Member State, where there were 83 million inhabitants. Comparing data at a regional or subnational level is often more meaningful and such an analysis may also highlight disparities within countries, such as an east-west divide in Germany or a north-south divide in Italy. Alternatively, such analyses may reveal differences in patterns of economic development, for example, Germany and Poland have polycentric patterns of development with several relatively large cities spread across their territory, whereas France is an example of a more monocentric pattern of development, as its economic activity is more concentrated in and around the capital city of Paris.

Over the past few years, Eurostat has expanded the range of statistics that it provides beyond regional information to cover other territorial typologies, addressing the growing needs of policymakers within the context of cohesion and territorial development policies. These changes are based on harmonising and integrating the various typologies under two broad headings, those linked to regional statistics and those linked to statistics for local administrative units (LAU or municipalities), with legislative consolidation provided by an amending Regulation ((EU) 2017/2391) as regards the territorial typologies (Tercet). Some of the regional typologies developed include urban-rural regions, metropolitan regions, border regions, coastal regions, island regions, mountain regions and outermost regions. Some of the typologies that are based on statistics at a local level include data by degree of urbanisation or data for functional urban areas (FUAs).

Table 1: Territorial typologies — an overview
Source: Eurostat, Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003

For more information:

Methodological manual on territorial typologies, Eurostat (2018)

Statistics on regions

At the heart of regional statistics is the NUTS classification — a classification of territorial units for statistics. Note that since the last edition of the publication the 2016 version of the NUTS classification has been introduced. The NUTS 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 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. Among non-member countries covered by this publication, a similar situation exists in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Montenegro and North Macedonia, which are each composed of a single level 2 region. Table 2 provides an overview of the number of NUTS and statistical regions for each of the EU Member States and non-member countries that are covered by the Eurostat regional yearbook.

Table 2: 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, tables 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 include agriculture, demography, economic accounts, business demography and transport.

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, table 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 the 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, 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 for the inclusion of additional regions when the accession of a new EU Member State occurs. Since 2003, the NUTS classification has been amended several times, partly due to regular amendments, partly due to the accession of new Member States or 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 data collected for reference periods 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 2019 edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook. It should be noted that for time series, the data presented in this publication could often have been collected using a previous version of NUTS and that 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).

As noted above, the NUTS classification was also amended by the Regulation (EU) 2017/2391 as regards the territorial typologies (Tercet), establishing a common statistical classification of territorial units, to enable the collection, compilation and dissemination of European statistics at different territorial levels for the EU.

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 3). 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 3: Population size constraints for NUTS 2016 regions
(number of inhabitants)
Source: Eurostat

In a similar vein to the NUTS classification, 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.

Statistics by degree of urbanisation

The degree of urbanisation is a classification originally introduced in 1991. Initially it distinguished between densely, intermediate and thinly populated areas, using information on numbers of inhabitants, population density and the contiguity of local administrative units (LAU or municipalities).

In 2014, a new degree of urbanisation classification was introduced. This is based on three types of area, which are defined using a criterion of geographical contiguity based on a population grid of 1 km² in combination with a minimum population threshold (see Table 4 for a summary of the spatial concepts employed). The revised classification identified cities (densely populated areas), towns and suburbs (intermediate density areas) and rural areas (thinly populated areas); Map 1 shows the distribution for each of these across the EU. Within this edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook, statistics by degree of urbanisation are used in the chapters on health, education and training, the labour market, the digital economy and society, tourism, and cities.

Map 1: Degree of urbanisation for local administrative units (LAU)
Source: Eurostat, JRC and European Commission Directorate-General for Regional Policy

The revision of the degree of urbanisation classification also provided the opportunity to streamline and harmonise a number of similar but not identical spatial concepts, for example, the use of urban centres to identify European cities with at least 50 000 inhabitants, or the aggregation of data for cities and for towns and suburbs which are covered by the common heading of urban areas.

Table 4: Spatial concepts used in the degree of urbanisation
Source: Eurostat, the European Commission Directorate-General for Regional Policy, OECD
Map 2: Population density based on the Geostat population grid, 2011
(number of inhabitants per km²)
Source: JRC, Eurostat, Geostat population grid 2011

For more information:

Methodological manual on territorial typologies, Eurostat (2018)

Statistics on cities

European cities face a variety of challenges, from poverty, crime and social exclusion, to urban sprawl, pollution and counteracting climate change. By contrast, cities also have considerable potential for attracting investment, people and services, encouraging research, creativity and innovation. Cities can therefore be seen as both the source of and solution to some of the most pressing economic, social and environmental challenges in the EU, which makes them central to the Europe 2020 strategy for ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’, designed to improve the EU’s competitiveness and productivity, while underpinning its sustainable social market economy.

Cities have become more prominent in the policy debate both at the European and global level. The urban agenda for the EU was approved in 2016 with three pillars: better regulation, better funding and better knowledge and data. Cohesion policy has a strong urban dimension with dedicated funding for urban development, urban innovative actions and policy exchanges between cities. The European Commission proposal for the next multiannual financial framework for the period 2021-2027 (COM(2018) 321 final) has requirements for ‘thematic concentration and urban earmarking’. One of five priority policy objectives is ‘a Europe closer to citizens by fostering the sustainable and integrated development of urban, rural and coastal areas and local initiatives’.

At the global level, UN-Habitat launched its New Urban Agenda in 2016. The UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11 is dedicated to cities and settlements.

In 2011 and 2012, work carried out by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO), Eurostat and the OECD resulted in a new harmonised definition of cities and their surrounding areas being introduced.

  • A city consists of one or more local administrative units (LAUs) where the majority of the population lives in an urban centre of at least 50 000 inhabitants.
  • A greater city is an approximation of the urban centre when this stretches beyond the administrative city boundaries.
  • A functional urban area consists of the city and its surrounding commuting zone.

The EU has a specific city data collection exercise undertaken by the national statistical authorities, DG REGIO and Eurostat. It provides statistics on a range of socioeconomic aspects relating to urban life in almost a thousand cities that are spread across the EU; in addition, data has also been collected for cities in Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. Note there may be a considerable difference between the latest reference periods for which data are available when comparing statistics for different cities.

City statistics based on LAUs provide a wide range of information to assess the quality of urban life and living standards, supplementing regional statistics. The data collection exercise includes several variables/indicators, with statistics for: demography, housing, health, crime, the labour market, income disparities, educational qualifications, the environment, the climate, travel patterns and cultural infrastructure. Alongside this regular, annual data collection exercise, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy requests, every three years, a perception survey concerning the quality of life in European cities.

In this edition of the Eurostat regional yearbook, statistics on European cities are presented in a special focus on European cities.

Figure 1: City and related typologies — an example for Milano
Source: Eurostat

For more information:

Methodological manual on city statistics, Eurostat (2017)

Methodological manual on territorial typologies, Eurostat (2018)

A short reading guide

Coverage and timeliness

The Eurostat regional yearbook contains statistics for the Member States of the EU and, where available, data are also shown for the EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) and the candidate countries (Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey). The designations employed and the presentation of material in maps, tables 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.

The geographical descriptions used to group EU Member States, for example, ‘northern’, ‘eastern’, ‘southern’ and ‘western’ are not intended as political categorisations. Rather, 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).

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 different chapters as each aims to show the latest information. In general, 2018 data are available from the labour force survey (used in the chapters on education and training or the labour market) and from the information society survey (used in the chapter on the digital economy and society). Otherwise, the most common reference period is 2017, which is generally the latest date for which information is available in most of the other chapters, for example, population (with some data for 1 January 2018), the economy, tourism, transport (some data are for 2016) or agriculture. 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).

Regional data sets on Eurostat’s website generally include national data alongside regional information. As such, both national and regional statistics may be accessed through a single online data code. The online data code(s) below each map, table and figure helps 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 have been converted into footnotes which appear under each map or figure, while in tables these flags are indicated though the use of an italic font.

Data presentation

In order to improve readability, only the most significant information has been included as footnotes under the maps, tables and figures. In addition to footnotes, the following formatting and symbols are used in tables, where necessary:

  • Italic font data value is estimated, provisional or forecasted (and is hence likely to change);
  • ':' not available, confidential or unreliable value;
  • '–' not applicable.

Breaks in series are indicated, as appropriate, in the footnotes provided under each map, table or figure. Throughout the Eurostat regional yearbook a billion is used to mean a thousand million and a trillion to mean a thousand billion.

Source data for tables and maps

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