The State of the European Union

The European Union is an economic and political partnership between 27 European countries that together cover a large part of the European continent. As the EU website explains: “It was created in the aftermath of the Second World War. The first steps were to foster economic cooperation: the idea being that countries who trade with one another become economically interdependent and so more likely to avoid conflict. The result was the European Economic Community (EEC), created in 1958, and initially increasing economic cooperation between six countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. Since then, a huge single market has been created and continues to develop towards its full potential. But what began as a purely economic union has also evolved into an organisation spanning all policy areas, from development aid to environment. A name change from the EEC to the European Union (the EU) in 1993 reflected this change.
The Nobel Prize Committee recognised the achievements of the European Union by awarding the 2012 Peace Price to the projectfor over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe“. But in the shadow of the European debt crisis Europe appears less the united with Euroscepticism gaining momentum in some countries. A 2009 study by the European Commission “Portugal and Hungary (both 50%) and Latvia (51%) contain the fewest people who feel optimistic about the EU’s future. The UK (53%), Greece (54%) and France (57%) also record noticeably low figures” (see page 212 in the accompanying report). “Euroscepticism in the United Kingdom has been a significant element in British politics since the inception of the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor to the EU”, concludes a Wikipedia contribution, which reflects the emotional and often – in either way – dogmatic nature of the debate in the most skeptic members of the Union. The EU appears to have become a welcome recession scapegoat.
But what is the European Union anyway. Rather than an alien construct imposed on the member states, it still is the agreed structure set up by its member states (for the good or bad, that is). The following series of maps gives a brief introduction into some of the key figures that shape the countries that are part of the EU and who are about the meet for negotiations on how to fund the European Union for the rest of the decade – having crucial implications on the role and purpose of the project. All maps shown here are cartograms based on national-level statistics. The first map is a population cartogram of the member states showing where how many people live (a more detailed perspective gives this gridded population cartogram of the EU):

Cartogram / Map of the population of the European Union
(click for larger version)

Comparing this to a cartogram of the economic output as expressed in GDP shows that there is a strong imbalance between the east and the west of the Union where the western economies (most noticeably the north-west) have a much stronger economic base than the eastern member states (see this time-series of GDP-figures on how this imbalance started to shift over the last decade, a process which came to a halt since the beginning of the global financial crisis):

Cartogram / Map of the GDP of the European Union
(click for larger version)

Combining these two key indicators – population and GDP – explains the choice of colours that has been made in these maps. Using both figures one can make a rank order of wealth of each member state expressed in GDP per head. Using this order the colours were applied to a rainbow scheme going from red for the lowest GDP per head via yellow, green and blue to purple/pink for the countries with the largest GDP per head figures. The result are the colours as shown in the following conventional map showing the wealth spectrum of the EU on a conventional map projection:

Cartogram / Map of the Wealth Spectrum of the European Union
(click for larger version)

These two key figures explain some of the financial framework that has been set up for the contributions of the individual member states. It aims to also address the imbalance between the poorer and wealthier member states, so that the following chart showing the net benefits from the EU budget as share of the national GDP (as of the current Financial framework 2007-2013) can be better understood: The poorest member states in the left part of the chart receive more than they pay in, while most of the wealthier countries pay in as a net contribution (although it often is not mentioned that no member country pays more than 0.5% of its annual GDP as a net contribution):
Some of the countries in the supposedly wealthier part of the EU benefit in relation to their national GDP. Most noticeably these are Belgium and Luxembourg, which both have a relatively low GDP (and equally low population), but receive in comparison to that GDP a lot of funding due to their central role in EU administration. Also a net gainer in the most recent figures is Ireland which has been one of the first EU member states to be hit by the financial crisis and thus received more funding according to the last figures that have been released (we may therefore expect quite some chances in this pattern as a result of the current economic turmoil). The total figures were also part of a feature in Wiley’s Political Insight that visualises the net funding in a series of two cartograms (using the same colour scheme):

Cartogram / Map of the Net Payments paind into and received from the Budget of the European Union
(click for larger version)

The same data is also shown in the following chart that adds up the contributions paid into the current EU budget and the payments a country receives from the EU budget:
This chart demonstrates one other often less discussed aspect of the EU: While some of the wealthier countries pay in quite some large sums into the EU budget (depending on their GDP – as stated in our Wiley feature the EU’s overall budget represents approximately 1% of the gross national income (GNI) of all member states). The largest contributors such as France and Germany and also the United Kingdom are also those in receipt of the largest payments from the EU budget.

A more detailed look at the individual fields of spending by the European Union will follow in a map feature on this website published next week.

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