Regional inequalities in the EU

17-05-2019

The issue of inequality has gained increasing importance in the public and political agenda in the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis, and in the context of political movements representing the 'places left behind'. Inequality may relate to income and wealth, but also to a variety of aspects such as access to basic services, education and infrastructure. In the context of regional disparities, it may also refer to differing levels of socio-economic development. Common inequality measures have revealed that, while regional disparities have been decreasing when considering the EU as a whole, they have been increasing within some countries. A number of persistently low-growth regions exist in southern Europe, as do many low-income regions in eastern Europe. Every Member State has a number of 'inner peripheries', which are habitually located in post-industrial or rural areas and often characterised by high levels of unemployment, poor infrastructure, lack of skilled workforce and hampered accessibility. Strengthening social, economic and territorial cohesion, and reducing regional disparities is the main goal of EU cohesion policy. As a major EU tool to address regional inequalities, this policy provides a wide range of support for businesses and activities in areas such as research, environment, transport, employment, social inclusion, education and institutional capacity-building. Such support is crucial for addressing the underlying problems of many lagging regions, helping them create better living conditions, retain and attract talent, encourage investment, improve productivity and develop regional innovation systems. Together with economic governance frameworks and EU support for structural reform, EU cohesion policy can play an important role in reducing inequality, in a comprehensive and multidimensional way. While traditionally, GDP per capita has been used to assess regional convergence, a variety of new indicators tracking progress on issues correlated with inequality are available for this purpose today. Moreover, the proposals for the EU's post-2020 policy framework include new additional funding allocation criteria such as youth unemployment, education levels, climate change, and the reception and integration of migrants. These changes possibly indicate a shift towards a more comprehensive view of territorial convergence in the EU.

The issue of inequality has gained increasing importance in the public and political agenda in the aftermath of the financial and economic crisis, and in the context of political movements representing the 'places left behind'. Inequality may relate to income and wealth, but also to a variety of aspects such as access to basic services, education and infrastructure. In the context of regional disparities, it may also refer to differing levels of socio-economic development. Common inequality measures have revealed that, while regional disparities have been decreasing when considering the EU as a whole, they have been increasing within some countries. A number of persistently low-growth regions exist in southern Europe, as do many low-income regions in eastern Europe. Every Member State has a number of 'inner peripheries', which are habitually located in post-industrial or rural areas and often characterised by high levels of unemployment, poor infrastructure, lack of skilled workforce and hampered accessibility. Strengthening social, economic and territorial cohesion, and reducing regional disparities is the main goal of EU cohesion policy. As a major EU tool to address regional inequalities, this policy provides a wide range of support for businesses and activities in areas such as research, environment, transport, employment, social inclusion, education and institutional capacity-building. Such support is crucial for addressing the underlying problems of many lagging regions, helping them create better living conditions, retain and attract talent, encourage investment, improve productivity and develop regional innovation systems. Together with economic governance frameworks and EU support for structural reform, EU cohesion policy can play an important role in reducing inequality, in a comprehensive and multidimensional way. While traditionally, GDP per capita has been used to assess regional convergence, a variety of new indicators tracking progress on issues correlated with inequality are available for this purpose today. Moreover, the proposals for the EU's post-2020 policy framework include new additional funding allocation criteria such as youth unemployment, education levels, climate change, and the reception and integration of migrants. These changes possibly indicate a shift towards a more comprehensive view of territorial convergence in the EU.