Government finance statistics

From Statistics Explained

Data from 23 April 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: end of October 2014.
Figure 1: Public balance, 2012 and 2013 (1)
(net borrowing or lending of consolidated general government sector, % of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (tec00127)
Table 1: Public balance and general government debt, 2010–13 (1)
(% of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (tec00127) and (tsdde410)
Figure 2: General government debt, 2012 and 2013 (1)
(general government consolidated gross debt, % of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (tsdde410)
Figure 3: Development of total expenditure and total revenue, 2003–13 (1)
(% of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 4: Development of total expenditure and total revenue, 2003–13 (1)
(1 000 million EUR) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 5: Government revenue and expenditure, 2013 (1)
(% of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 6: Composition of total revenue, 2013 (1)
(% of total revenue) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 7: Main components of government revenue, 2013 (1)
(% of total revenue) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 8: Composition of total expenditure, 2013 (1)
(% of total expenditure) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 9: Main components of government expenditure, 2013 (1)
(% of total expenditure) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 10: General government expenditure by COFOG function, 2012 (1)
(% of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_exp)
Figure 11: Main categories of taxes and social contributions, EU-27, 2003–13 (1)
(% of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)
Figure 12: Main categories of taxes and social contributions, 2013 (1)
(% of GDP) - Source: Eurostat (gov_a_main)

This article examines how key government finance indicators have evolved in the European Union (EU) and the euro area (EA-18). Specifically, it considers public (general government) deficits, general government gross debt, revenue and expenditure of general government, as well as taxes and social contributions, which are the main sources of government revenue.

These statistics are crucial indicators for determining the health of a Member State’s economy and under the terms of the EU’s stability and growth pact (SGP), Member States pledged to keep their deficits and debt below certain limits: a Member State’s government deficit may not exceed -3 % of its gross domestic product (GDP), while its debt may not exceed 60 % of GDP. If a Member State does not respect these limits, the so-called excessive deficit procedure is triggered. This entails several steps — including the possibility of sanctions — to encourage the Member State concerned to take appropriate measures to rectify the situation. The same deficit and debt limits are also criteria for economic and monetary union (EMU) and hence for joining the euro. Furthermore, the latest revision of the integrated economic and employment guidelines (revised as part of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth) includes a guideline to ensure the quality and the sustainability of public finances.

Main statistical findings

In 2013, the government deficit (net borrowing of the consolidated general government sector, as a share of GDP) of both the EU-28 and the euro area (EA-18) decreased compared with 2012, while general government debt increased.

Government deficit

In the EU-28 the government deficit-to-GDP ratio decreased from -3.9 % in 2012 to -3.3 % in 2013 and in the euro area (EA-18) it decreased from -3.7 % to -3.0 %. Luxembourg registered a small government surplus in 2013, while Germany was close to a balanced position. Furthermore, there were 16 EU Member States, namely Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Malta, the Netherlands, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Finland and Sweden, which recorded deficits in 2013 that were not greater than -3.0 % of GDP (see Figure 1).

Deficit ratios were greater than -3.0 % of GDP in 10 EU Member States in 2013: the largest government deficits (as a percentage of GDP) were recorded by Slovenia (-14.7 %), Greece (-12.7 %), Ireland (-7.2 %) and Spain (-7.1 %). All 10 of the Member States with deficit ratios exceeding -3.0 % of GDP had also reported deficits exceeding -3.0 % for each of the three previous years, therefore for the whole reporting period shown in Table 1.

Government deficit (in relation to GDP) decreased in 2013 compared with 2012 in 17 Member States. Two Member States — Estonia and Italy — recorded the same deficit in 2013 and in 2012. Luxembourg moved from a balanced position to a small surplus. Germany moved from a small surplus in 2012 to a balanced position in 2013, while the remaining seven EU Member States recorded larger deficits in 2013 than in 2012.

Government debt

In the EU-28 the government debt-to-GDP ratio increased from 85.2 % at the end of 2012 to 87.1 % at the end of 2013, and in the euro area (EA-18) from 90.7 % to 92.6 %. A total of 16 EU Member States reported a debt ratio above 60 % of GDP in 2013. At the end of 2013, the lowest ratios of government debt-to-GDP were recorded in Estonia (10.0 %), Bulgaria (18.9 %) and Luxembourg (23.1 %) — see Figure 2.

In 2013, government debt-to-GDP ratios increased for 22 EU Member States when compared with 2012, while this ratio decreased for six Member States: the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania and Hungary. The highest increases of debt ratios from 2012 to 2013 were observed in Slovenia (17.3 percentage points), Greece (17.9 points) and Cyprus (25.1 points).

Government revenue and expenditure

The importance of the general government sector in the economy may be measured in terms of total general government revenue and expenditure as a percentage of GDP. In the EU-28, total government revenue in 2013 amounted to 45.7 % of GDP (up from 45.4 % of GDP in 2012), and expenditure amounted to 49.0 % of GDP (down from 49.3 % in 2012). In the euro area (EA-18), total general government expenditure amounted to 49.7 % of GDP in 2012 and total revenue to 46.7 % of GDP — see Figure 3.

In absolute terms, total general government expenditure grew steadily over the period from 2003 to 2013 — both in the EU and in the euro area (see Figure 4). Only from 2010 to 2011 did total general government expenditure decrease slightly in absolute terms, both in the EU and in the euro area. Revenues also grew steadily through to 2008 in the EU and the euro area, decreased in 2009 and then increased again from 2010 onwards. By 2011, total revenue exceeded pre-crisis levels both in the EU and the euro area.

The level of general government expenditure and revenue varies considerably between the EU Member States (see Figure 5). In 2013, the countries with the highest levels of combined government expenditure and revenue as a proportion of GDP (in excess of 100 %) were Finland, Denmark, France, Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Slovenia and Austria among the EU Member States as well as Norway among the EFTA countries. For Greece and Slovenia, the particularly high levels of government expenditure were largely due to interventions to support financial institutions. Eight Member States reported relatively low combined ratios (less than 80 % of GDP); these were Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Ireland and Poland, while Switzerland reported the lowest ratio among the EFTA countries.

Across the EU-28, the main components of total general government revenue are taxes and social contributions (see Figure 6). In 2013, taxes made up 58.7 % of total revenue in the EU-28 and 55.7 % in the euro area (EA-18), while social contributions amounted to 30.7 % of total revenue in the EU-28 and 34.1 % in the euro area (EA-18). Looking at each EU Member State, the relative importance of the different revenue categories varies widely. For example, taxes made up less than 50 % of government revenue in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Greece and Lithuania in 2013, but 86.5 % of government revenue in Denmark (see Figure 7).

The largest proportion of EU-28 government expenditure in 2013 concerned the redistribution of income in the form of social transfers in cash or in kind (see Figures 8 and 9). Social transfers made up 44.4 % of total expenditure in the EU-28 and 47.7 % in the euro area (EA-18). Compensation of employees accounted for 21.6 % of government expenditure in the EU-28 and 21.0 % in the euro area (EA-18). Property income paid — of which by far the largest part is made up of interest payments — accounted for 5.7 % of government expenditure in the EU-28 and 5.8 % in the euro area (EA-18).

General government expenditure can be analysed in more detail using the Classification of the functions of government (COFOG) — see Figure 10. In 2012, social protection measures accounted for the highest proportion of government expenditure in all EU Member States (except that in Cyprus general public services were equally important), with an EU-28 average of 19.9 % of GDP. The share of the social protection function ranged from 25.2 % of GDP in Denmark, 24.8 % in Finland and 24.4 % in France, to 11.3 % in Latvia; in Iceland the share was 11.2 %. The next COFOG functions, in order of their relative importance within the EU-28, were health (7.3 % of GDP), general public services (6.7 %) and education (5.3 %). Spending on economic affairs in the EU-28 was 4.1 % of GDP in 2012, while less than 2 % of GDP was devoted to each of the following functions: defence, public order and safety, environmental protection, housing and community affairs, recreation, or religion and culture (all of these are grouped under the heading of ‘others’ in Figure 10).

The main types of government revenue are current taxes on income and wealth, etc., taxes on production and imports, and social contributions, with capital taxes making up just 0.3 % of GDP in the EU-28 in 2013. There was an increase in the relative importance of receipts from social contributions in the EU-28 during the period from 2007 to 2009, however, this pattern was reversed in 2010, with social contributions then remaining almost stable from 2010 to 2013 (at 14.0 % of GDP in 2012 and 2013 and 13.9 % of GDP in 2010 and 2011). The relative importance of current taxes on income and wealth, etc. decreased from 13.6 % in 2007 to 12.3 % in 2010, before increasing to 13.2 % of GDP in 2013. Taxes on production and imports increased from a low point of 12.7 % in 2009 to stand at 13.4 % of GDP in 2013 (see Figure 11).

There was considerable variation in the structure of tax revenues across the EU Member States in 2013 (see Figure 12). As may be expected, those countries that reported relatively high levels of expenditure tended to be those that also raised more taxes (as a proportion of GDP). For example, in 2013, the highest revenue to GDP ratio from the main categories of taxes and social contributions was 50.2 % recorded in Denmark, with France and Belgium recording the next highest shares (47.5 % and 47.3 % respectively), while the proportion of GDP accounted for by such revenue was below 30 % in four of the EU Member States: Lithuania, where the lowest share was recorded at 27.3 % of GDP, as well as Romania, Latvia and Bulgaria. Switzerland also recorded a share below 30 %.

Data sources and availability

Under the terms of the excessive deficit procedure, EU Member States are required to provide the European Commission with their government deficit and debt statistics before 1 April and 1 October of each year. In addition, Eurostat collects more detailed data on government finances within the framework of the ESA transmission programme which results in the submission of national accounts data. The main aggregates collected for general government are provided to Eurostat twice a year, whereas statistics on the functions of government (COFOG) and detailed tax and social contribution receipts should be transmitted within one year after the end of the reference period and within nine months after the end of the reference period, respectively.

The data presented in this article correspond to the main revenue and expenditure items of the general government sector, which are compiled on a national accounts (ESA 95) basis. The difference between total revenue and total expenditure — including capital expenditure (in particular, gross fixed capital formation) — equals net lending/net borrowing of general government, which is also the balancing item of the government non-financial accounts.

Delineation of general government

The general government sector includes all institutional units whose output is intended for individual and collective consumption and mainly financed by compulsory payments made by units belonging to other sectors, and/or all institutional units principally engaged in the redistribution of national income and wealth. The general government sector is subdivided into four sub-sectors: central government, state government — where applicable, local government, and social security funds — where applicable.

Definition of main indicators

The public balance is defined as general government net borrowing/net lending reported for the excessive deficit procedure and is expressed in relation to GDP. According to the protocol on the excessive deficit procedure, government debt is the gross debt outstanding at the end of the year of the general government sector measured at nominal (face) value and consolidated.

The main revenue of general government consists of taxes, social contributions, sales and property income. It is defined in ESA95 by reference to a list of categories: market output, output for own final use, payments for the other non-market output, taxes on production and imports, other subsidies on production, receivable property income, current taxes on income, wealth, etc., social contributions, other current transfers and capital transfers.

The main expenditure items consist of the compensation of (government) employees, social benefits, interest on the public debt, subsidies, and gross fixed capital formation. Total general government expenditure is defined in ESA95 by reference to a list of categories: intermediate consumption, gross capital formation, compensation of employees, other taxes on production, subsidies, property income, payable, current taxes on income, wealth, etc., social benefits, some parts of social transfers in kind, other current transfers, some adjustments, capital transfers, and transactions on non-produced assets.

General government data reported for main aggregates of general government and for expenditure of general government by function in the ESA95 framework must be consolidated, meaning that specific transactions between institutional units within the general government sector — property income, other current transfers and capital transfers — are eliminated or cancelled out. Subsector data should be consolidated within each subsector but not between subsectors. Thus data at the sector level should equal the sum of the subsector data, except for the items covering property income, other current transfers and capital transfers, which are consolidated. For these latter items and consequently total revenue and total expenditure, the sum of the subsectors should exceed the value of the sector.

Taxes and social contributions correspond to revenues which are levied (in cash or in kind) by central, state and local governments, and social security funds. These levies (generally referred to as taxes) are organised into three main areas, covered by the following headings:

  • taxes on income and wealth, etc. including all compulsory payments levied periodically by general government on the income and wealth of enterprises and households;
  • taxes on production and imports, including all compulsory payments levied by general government with respect to the production and importation of goods and services, the employment of labour, the ownership or use of land, buildings or other assets used in production;
  • social contributions, including all employers’ and employees’ social contributions, as well as imputed social contributions that represent the counterpart to social benefits paid directly by employers.


The financial and economic crisis has resulted in serious challenges being posed to many European governments. The main concerns are linked to the ability of national administrations to be able to service their debt repayments, take the necessary action to ensure that their public spending is brought under control, while at the same time trying to promote economic growth.

The disciplines of the stability and growth pact (SGP) are intended to keep economic developments in the EU, and the euro area countries in particular, broadly synchronised. Furthermore, the SGP is intended to prevent EU Member States from taking policy measures which would unduly benefit their own economies at the expense of others. There are two key principles to the SGP: namely, that the deficit (planned or actual) must not exceed -3 % of GDP and that the debt-to-GDP ratio should not be more than (or should be falling towards) 60 %. The SGP was substantially reinforced in 2011, as was EU economic governance in general.

Each year, EU Member States provide the European Commission with detailed information on their economic policies and the state of their public finances. Euro area countries provide this information in the context of the stability programmes, while other Member States do so in the form of convergence programmes. The European Commission assesses whether the policies are in line with agreed economic, social and environmental objectives and may choose to issue a warning if it believes a deficit is becoming abnormally high. This action can lead to the Council finding the existence of an excessive deficit, which requires a deadline to be set for its correction.

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Annual government finance statistics (t_gov_a)
Government deficit and debt (t_gov_dd)
Quarterly government finance statistics (t_gov_q)


Annual government finance statistics (gov_a)
Government deficit and debt (gov_dd)
Quarterly government finance statistics (gov_q)

Dedicated section

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)

Other information

External links