The latest figures (January 2014) from the European Central Bank (ECB) statistics pocket book have just been issued, providing comparisons between European Union (EU) countries, both in the Eurozone and outside it, on a range of measures. And some of these comparisons are not quite what I expected to see.

For instance, perhaps surprisingly in view of the current hysteria in the UK about economic migrants from Bulgaria and Romania, we find that unemployment was lower in Romania (7.3%) than it is in the UK (7.4%) for the latest month (September 2013) for which data on both was available (it’s the UK’s that is missing for October and November for reasons unknown).

I have graphed a selection of the data below, Euro countries are to the left:

ECB country data labelled

First to note, which may also surprise some, is that private sector debt in the UK is not particularly big in EU terms: Denmark and Sweden both have considerably higher private sector debt as a percentage of GDP than the UK, as do 7 countries in the Eurozone with Ireland and Luxembourg heading the list.

Government expenditure as a percentage of GDP is the most evenly distributed of all the measures. I have graphed the 2012 data, as the Q2 2013 data omitted France and Germany. The range across all countries is between 36.1% (Lithuania) and 59.5% (Denmark), with the UK’s 47.9% only a little below the Eurozone average of 49.9%. This suggests to me, for all of the political rhetoric we hear, that it is not the total spend which tends to alter much but the distribution of it. Certainly in the UK, there appears to have been a focus on a relatively small section of the welfare budget to make the savings from.

Government debt is much higher as a proportion of GDP in the Eurozone than in the rest of the EU, with no one outside the Eurozone reaching the Eurozone average of 93.4% (although the UK comes closest at 89.8%). There are 5 countries in the Eurozone with debt above 100%: Belgium (perhaps surprisingly), Ireland, Greece, Italy and Portugal. Spain’s debt is actually below the Eurozone average at 92.3%.

Unemployment statistics are unsurprisingly dominated by Greece and Spain, whose unemployment rates are around 50% higher than the next country. Unemployment rates average 12.1% in the Eurozone and 10.9% for the EU as a whole, perhaps demonstrating the advantage of keeping control of your exchange rate during an economic downturn.

The population statistics remind me what an unusual decision it was for the UK to stay out of the Euro. All the other big countries (by which I mean those with populations over 45 million) are in the Eurozone, with the next biggest EU country outside the Euro being Poland at 38.5 million (with the prospect of their joining the Euro receding somewhat last year). Most of the richer countries are too, illustrated by a much higher proportion of GDP (see below) held in Eurozone countries than their relative populations would lead you to expect.

Finally we come to GDP. This looks very differently distributed according to whether you look at amounts in Euros, or per capita, or by capita adjusted for the purchasing power in each country. The first of these is dominated as expected by the big countries of Germany, Spain, France, Italy and the UK. However, the outstanding performer when looking at GDP per capita with or without the purchasing power adjustment is Luxembourg. Eurozone countries have a higher GDP per capita than those outside (€28,500 compared to €25,500, with the gap narrowing slightly when adjusted for purchasing power).

A final thing strikes me about these statistics. As has been pointed out elsewhere, Francois Hollande is having a hell of a time considering that France’s economic performance is not that bad. In fact it is incredibly average: its Government debt sits at 93.5% compared to the Eurozone average of 93.4% and its GDP per capita when adjusted for purchasing power is bang on the Eurozone average of €28,500. France are much more representative Euro members than Germany (remarkable when you consider that the Euro was once referred to as the Deutsche Mark with a few disreputable friends) and, if Hollande’s approval ratings are any indication, the French people seem to hate that.

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