Key Findings

Variation in social progress* does not divide neatly between new and old member states

This divergence is not a simple divide between old members states (EU-15) and new member states (EU-13). Aggregate social progress in regions of new member states from Central Europe, such as Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, is on a par with that of regions of old member states in Southern Europe, such as Portugal, Italy and Greece. Romania and Bulgaria do, however, lag significantly.

  • The degree of cohesion varies greatly across different aspects of social progress.
  • Most regions are doing well on ‘Basic Human Needs’ (including housing, water and sanitation, and safety), with the exception of Romania and Bulgaria.
  • Performance on ‘Foundations of Wellbeing’ (including basic education, access to information and environmental quality) is lower overall within the regions of EU-13 nations but shows much less divergence between EU-15 and EU-13. On this aspect of social progress some EU-13 regions outperform regions in France, Germany, Belgium and the UK, as well as Spain, Portugal and Italy. In general, EU-13 countries outperform their EU-15 peers on education indicators.
  • ‘Opportunity’ (including personal rights and tolerance and inclusion) is the worst performing aspect of social progress for the EU as a whole. Scores are weak for most regions outside Northern Europe, with Italian regions notably performing worse than many regions in Central Europe. The EU-13 appear to face particular challenges with tolerance and inclusion.

Wealth is no guarantee of social progress

  • Divergences in performance are not explained by wealth, in terms of GDP per capita, alone.
  • The study identifies regions with very similar levels of economic strength but vastly different social outcomes. The highest performing region, Upper Norrland, is not among the richest. It has the same GDP per capita as Bucharest, Romania but scores more than 30 points higher on social progress.
  • The lowest performing region, South East Bulgaria, is one of the poorest regions of the EU but Podlaskie, Poland scores 20 points better with a similar GDP per capita.
  • Equally, there are regions with very similar levels of social progress but wildly differing GDP per capita. Brussels, the capital of Europe, is among the richest regions of Europe (GDP per capita of €55,600), yet this economically privileged region does not score spectacularly well on social progress. Eastern Slovenia has a level of GDP per capita less than a third of that of Brussels but achieves a near identical Social Progress Index score. When it comes to quality of life across the EU, GDP is not the sole determinant.
  • Some of the best performing regions relative to GDP per capita are among the poorer regions: West Wales and the Valleys (UK), Cornwall and the Scilly Isles (UK), and Estonia.

Capital cities – a complex relationship with social progress

  • A total of 14 capital cities perform better on average than the country’s regions, and eight perform worse.
  • Inner London, Europe’s richest region, is “distinctly average” in its social progress outcomes according to Michael Green. Home to Europe’s financial centre and some of the world’s most expensive properties, Inner London ranks just 81 /272 regions measured, behind North Eastern Scotland, Devon and Northern Ireland. A total of 21 UK regions are more socially progressive than Inner London.
  • Several other significant capital regions are major under-performers, including: Brussels (Belgium), Ile de France (Paris, France), Lazio (Rome, Italy), Athens (Greece), Mazovia (Warsaw, Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Bratislava (Slovakia).

Other findings

  • Top and bottom 10: All of the regions in the top 10 are in Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. The lowest performing regions are in either Romania or Bulgaria.
  • Over and underperformers: The Index measures each region against a group of 15 regions most similar in GDP per capita (PPP) based on a three-year average: among the regions most over-performing on this basis are ‘West Wales and the Valleys’ (UK) and ‘Etela-Suomi’ (Finland) whereas București – Ilfov (Romania) and Notio Aigaio (Greece) are the biggest under-performers.

*The Social Progress Imperative defines ‘social progress’ as the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential. Read more in our FAQs.