Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the best known measure of macro-economic activity. It is a standard benchmark used by policymakers worldwide and in public debates. However, it fails to capture those goods and services to which the statistical authorities cannot asign a value, or which have not been assigned a value. Examples include (unpaid) household production or watching wild birds and animals.

GDP alone cannot distinguish between economic activities that boost overall well-being and those that undermine it. In fact, war and recovery from disasters actually increase GDP. The various international initiatives under way to improve data and indicators that complement GDP also reflect major social and political priorities, such as environmental sustainability and social inclusion.

The main EU-level initiatives in recent years are as follows:

  • 2007 - the European Commission - with the European Parliament, the Club of Rome, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the OECD - held a conference entitled 'Beyond GDP'. which sought to provide more comprehensive information in support of policy decisions. It revealed that policy-makers, economic, social and environmental experts and civil society strongly favoured developing indicators to complement GDP.
  • 2009 - the European Commission published the communication  'GDP and beyond – Measuring progress in a changing world' [COM(2009) 433]. Its goal was to reflect policy and societal concerns better by improving, adjusting and complementing GDP with indicators reflecting social and environmental progress.
  • 2009 - the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress published the Stiglitz/Sen/Fitoussi (SSF) Commission report. This set out 12 recommendations on how to better measure economic performance, societal wellbeing and sustainability.
  • 2009 - the Environmental Council acknowledged the growing consensus that top-level indicators other than GDP were also needed to capture social, economic and environmental progress more accurately. It called on the Commission to work on this.
  • 2009 - the ECOFIN Council advocated stronger efforts to improve interlinkages between economic, social and environmental statistics. It welcomed the contribution made by the Commission Communication and the Stiglitz report.
  • 2010 - 2011 - reports, motions or opinions on the 'GDP and beyond' initiative were issued by:
    - the  European Parliament (2010/2088(INI))
    - the European Economic and Social Committee (2011/C 18/11)
    - the  Committee of the Regions (2011/C 15/04).

To translate the recommendations of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission Report and the European Commission's communication on ‘GDP and beyond' into practical action, the European Statistical System Committee launched a Sponsorship Group (SpG) on 'Measuring Progress, Well-being and Sustainable Development'. This group, comprising high level representatives from ESS Member States drew up a report adopted by the Committee in 2011. This proposed about 50 measures, to be implemented by 2020.

In 2015 the European Statistical System Committee agreed on Eurostat's report summarising the 'GDP and beyond' measures taken by 2015 and proposing more for 2015-2017 (2020) All of these are now integrated into the yearly Commission Statistical Work Programmes and the 2013-2017 (2020) European Statistical Programme, agreed by the European Parliament and the Council.