Eurostat issued its first analysis of the 'Europe 2020' strategy, which underpins the EU's evaluation of national budgets – giving the latest statistical trends in a range of areas such as the employment rate, R&D spending, CO2 emissions and renewable energies as well as education, poverty and social exclusion.
The statistics, released on Monday (1 October), present the latest data for each of the headline indicators of the strategy and how they have been implemented at national level.
The figures show a marked decline in the bloc's employment rate, the strategy's main indicator, since the financial and economic crisis hit the continent in 2008
In 2011, the employment rate fell at 68.11% on average, down from a peak of 70.3% in 2008. The figures still show an improvement compared to 2005, when the employment rate stood at 68% across the European Union.
National variations are huge however, with Greece reporting the lowest employment rate, at 59.9% in 2011, while Sweden scores the highest, at 80% that year. Austria, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden all reported employment rates above the EU target of 75%.
Germany narrowly missed its national target of a 77% employment rate, by 0.7 percentage points. This slight underperformance still compares favourably with Hungary and Spain, which both missed their national targets by the biggest margin (14.3 and 12.4 percentage points respectively).
Too early for 2020 judgment
Officials at Eurostat insisted that the figures did not constitute an assessment of the 'Europe 2020' strategy, which was agreed by EU heads of states after heated discussions at a summit in June 2010.
"This is not an appraisal of the Europe 2020 strategy because it is much too early. This is to show how indicators have evolved in the past," said an official at the Luxembourg-based office of Eurostat.
"Since 'Europe 2020' was launched in 2010, it is very difficult to say already now whether we're on our way to reach the targets. What we show here is what has happened in the past until 2010," the official told EURACTIV.
The EU-wide targets agreed in 2010 were subsequently broken down into national targets, representing member states' contribution to the European effort (see full table with targets broken down per country).
Post-crisis poverty on the rise
A deterioration can also be observed on poverty indicators, fuelled by the economic and sovereign debt crisis in the euro area.
The number of people at risk of poverty and social exclusion decreased steadily to 113.8 million in 2009. But the following year, it soared to 115.7 million people.
This figure is still lower than 2005, when 123.9 million people were considered at risk of poverty and social exclusion.
The relative improvement can be seen in the decreasing number of severely materially deprived people, which dropped by 11.6 million people across the EU between 2005 and 2010.
Social security systems do not seem to act as a safeguard against poverty, however. On the contrary, there was a 1.7 million increase in the number of people at risk of poverty after social transfers, Eurostat notes.
In addition, the reliability of figures provided by national statistical offices is sometimes questionable, Eurostat said, noting that the European Commission has launched an investigation into how each country defines its national target.
A more educated workforce
With the crisis taking its toll on employment and poverty, other indicators monitored under the strategy appeared to show some more positive trends.
Overall, Europeans are more and more educated, with the share of people completing tertiary education increasing steadily from 22.4% in 2000 to 34.6% in 2011 across the bloc. Under the strategy's objective, at least 40% of 30-34 years old should have completed a tertiary or equivalent education by 2020.
Women have now clearly overtaken men in completing tertiary education. While the proportion was similar in 2000, the increase for women was about double the increase for men (15.8 percentage points for women compared to 8.6 percentage points for men).
In general, students appear to be persevering through the crisis. Since 2000, the share of early school-leavers has fallen steadily from 17.6% to 13.5% in 2011 across the EU, Eurostat said, with a consistently larger proportion of men leaving education and training at an early age (between 18 and 24 years).
Malta is the country with the highest share of school dropouts, at 33.5% in 2011. Close behind are Spain (26.5%), Portugal (23.2%) and Italy (18.2%). The share of early school-leavers decreased significantly in Spain and Italy, where it peaked in 2008 at 31.9% and 19.7% respectively.
Renewable energy boom
One indicator which showed a marked improvement was renewable energy.
The share of wind, solar and other renewables in the primary energy mix grew steadily across the EU – from 8.1% in 2004 to 12.5% in 2010, according to Eurostat. This is still some way off the 2020 target for 20% of renewables in the total energy mix.
Between 2005 and 2010, all EU countries increased their share of renewable energy, with Romania, Estonia and Sweden having already almost reached their national target for 2020.
But the national disparities are still huge, ranging from a 0.4 % share for renewables in Malta to 47.9 % in Sweden for the year 2010.
Primary energy consumption has also tended to decrease, Eurostat notes. But it adds that "much of the decrease for the period from 2008 to 2010 may be attributed to the lower level of economic activity as a result of the financial and economic crisis, rather than to a structural shift in the pattern of energy consumption."