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The ESPON 2013 Operational Programme
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GDP per capita, 2009

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  • The largest economic disparities in Europe are between West and East, including a large number of regions in Eastern Europe with less than two thirds of the EU GDP
  • Capital cities, large cities and metropolitan regions are also outstanding economic regions in the national context such as Romania, Bulgaria, or Czech Republic, but also Sweden, Finland or the UK in Western Europe
  • The largest national disparities are mainly found in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, France and the UK

Observations for policy

Disparities of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) per capita are significant at both European and national levels. In addition to the differences between Eastern and Western Europe there is a difference between urban-rural regions.

Capitals, large cities and metropolitan regions seem to be economic successful regions both at European and within their national contexts. Furthermore, regions being in a better situation in economic terms have often a regional economy specialised in scientific, technological, ICT and financial activities.

Challenged regions are mainly located in Eastern Europe, including EU candidate countries such as Turkey and Macedonia. To strengthen their economic development these regions require particular attention from the European Cohesion funds.

Policy context

Economic development and economic disparities are a key policy concern in the light of the economic crisis and the processes towards recovery. This is strongly expressed by the Europe 2020 strategy underlining the need for growth and job creation. Also the development of future ERDF and ESF programmes emphasize the ambitions to strengthen economic growth and reduce economic imbalances.

Map interpretation

GDP per capita is normally used as an indicator to measure regional economic imbalances and disparities. At European level, the largest economic disparities are between West and East, including EU candidate countries and Croatia. The fact that most of the Eastern countries are now members or candidate countries of the EU is widely understood as a development opportunity and a challenge in narrowing the economic disparities in Europe and between its regions.

In addition there are substantial imbalances within countries. Following the European trend, capital cities, large cities and metropolitan regions are also outstanding economic regions in the national context. This pattern clearly highlights some urban regions in Eastern countries such as Romania, Bulgaria or Czech Republic, but the same is applicable in Western countries, including Sweden, Finland, France, Portugal or the UK.

The largest economic disparities at the national level can be found mainly in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, France and the UK. However, Eastern Europe concentrates a large number of regions with less than two thirds of the EU GDP and display significant economic imbalances between capital city regions and other regions..

Concepts and methods

GDP in PPS (Purchasing Power Standards) represents pure volume of GDP after subtractions for price level differences between countries. For this map, regions have been ranked according to the EU average which is this case is expressed as 100.


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