Common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS)  

The European Union has established a common classification of territorial units for statistics, known as ‘NUTS’, in order to facilitate the collection, development and publication of harmonised regional statistics in the EU. This hierarchical system also serves socioeconomic analyses of the regions and the framing of interventions in the context of EU cohesion policy.

Legal basis  

Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003, which has been amended on several occasions (in 2005, 2008 and 2013) upon accession of new Member States to the EU. The annexes have also been adapted several times through Commission Regulations; the latest update entered into force on 1 January 2016, and addresses mainly changes in the administrative territorial subdivision of Portugal.


Regional statistics are a cornerstone of the EU statistical system and form the basis for the definition of regional indicators. Their nature was established at the beginning of the 1970s on the basis of negotiations between the national statistical bodies of the Member States and Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Communities.

The users of statistics have expressed a growing need for Community-wide harmonisation to provide them with access to comparable data for the whole of the EU. In order to facilitate the collection, transmission and publication of harmonised regional statistics, the EU has established the NUTS classification system.

The single legal framework thus created by Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 ensures the stability of regional statistics over time. In addition, it establishes a common procedure for any future amendments.


The NUTS classification subdivides the economic territory of the Member States, which also includes their extra-regional territory. This is made up of the parts of the economic territory that cannot be considered part of a particular region: airspace, territorial waters and the continental plateau, territorial enclaves (embassies, consulates and military bases), and deposits of resources located in international waters and exploited by units within the territory.

In order for regional statistics to be comparable, geographical areas must also be of comparable size in terms of population. Their political, administrative and institutional situation also needs to be specified. If necessary, non-administrative units must also reflect economic, social, historical, cultural, geographical or environmental circumstances.

The NUTS classification is hierarchical in that it subdivides each Member State into three levels: NUTS 1, NUTS 2 and NUTS 3. The second and third levels are subdivisions of the first and second levels. A Member State may decide to add further levels to the hierarchy by subdividing NUTS level 3.


A. Definition

The definition of territorial units is based on the existing administrative units in the Member States. An administrative unit is a geographical area for which an administrative authority is empowered to take administrative or strategic decisions, in accordance with the judicial and institutional framework of the Member State concerned.

Some of the existing administrative units used for the requirements of the hierarchical NUTS classification are listed in Annex II to Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003, examples being:

1. NUTS 1: ‘Gewesten/Régions’ in Belgium; ‘Länder’ in Germany; ‘Continente’, ‘Região dos Açores’ and ‘Região da Madeira’ in Portugal; ‘Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland’ and ‘Government Office Regions of England’ in the United Kingdom.

2. NUTS 2: ‘Provincies/Provinces’ in Belgium; ‘Comunidades y ciudades autónomas’ in Spain; ‘Régions’ in France; ‘Länder’ in Austria.

3. NUTS 3: ‘Amtskommuner’ in Denmark; ‘départements’ in France; ‘län’ in Sweden; ‘megyék’ in Hungary; ‘kraje’ in the Czech Republic; ‘oblasti’ in Bulgaria.

B. Thresholds

The NUTS level for an administrative unit is determined on the basis of demographic thresholds:

Level Minimum Maximum
NUTS 1 3 million 7 million
NUTS 2 800 000 3 million
NUTS 3 150 000 800 000

If there is no administrative unit of a sufficient size in a Member State, the level is established by aggregating a sufficient number of smaller contiguous administrative units. These aggregated units are known as ‘non-administrative units’.

C. Amendments

Amendments to the NUTS classification may be adopted during the second half of the calendar year, not more frequently than every three years. Member States must inform the Commission of any change to administrative units or other changes that might affect the NUTS classification (for instance changes to the components that might have an impact on the limits for the NUTS 3 level).

Changes to small administrative units will alter the NUTS classification if they involve a population transfer of more than 1% for the NUTS 3 territorial units in question.

For the non-administrative units of a Member State, the NUTS classification may be amended where the change reduces the standard deviation of the size (in terms of population) of all EU territorial units.

Role of the European Parliament  

Further to its role in scrutinising the Commission’s proposed changes to the classification, Parliament has stressed on a number of occasions that certain aspects, such as the treatment of smaller administrative units, require particular attention. The establishment of a NUTS level for smaller administrative units will allow the actual situation to be taken more fully into account and avoid disparities, particularly since regional entities that are very different in terms of population are classified at the same NUTS level.

In its resolution of 21 October 2008 on governance and partnership at national and regional levels and a basis for projects in the sphere of regional policy[1], Parliament called on the Commission to examine which NUTS level is most pertinent in order to identify the area in which an integrated policy for territorial development might best be implemented, including population and labour catchment areas (towns, suburban areas and the adjacent rural areas) and territories which justify specific thematic approaches (such as mountain ranges, river basins, coastal areas, island regions and environmentally degraded areas).

[1]OJ C 15 E, 21.1.2010, p. 10.  

Diána Haase