National accounts and GDP
From Statistics Explained
- Data from May 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: November 2014.
National accounts are the source for a multitude of well-known economic indicators which are presented in this article. Gross domestic product (GDP) is the most frequently used measure for the overall size of an economy, while derived indicators such as GDP per capita — for example, in euro or adjusted for differences in price levels — are widely used for a comparison of living standards, or to monitor the process of convergence across the European Union (EU).
Moreover, the development of specific GDP components and related indicators, such as those for economic output, imports and exports, domestic (private and public) consumption or investments, as well as data on the distribution of income and savings, can give valuable insights into the driving forces in an economy and thus be the basis for the design, monitoring and evaluation of specific EU policies.
- 1 Main statistical findings
- 2 Data sources and availability
- 3 Context
- 4 See also
- 5 Further Eurostat information
- 6 External links
Main statistical findings
Developments in GDP
Growth in the EU-28’s GDP slowed substantially in 2008 and GDP contracted considerably in 2009 as a result of the global financial and economic crisis. There was a recovery in the level of EU-28 GDP in 2010 and this development continued (albeit at a progressively slower pace) in 2011, 2012 and 2013, as GDP increased to EUR 13 075 000 million — its highest ever level in current price terms (see Figure 1).
The euro area (EA-18) accounted for 73.4 % of this total in 2013, while the sum of the five largest EU Member State economies (Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain) was 71.0 %. However, cross-country comparisons should be made with caution as notably exchange rate fluctuations may significantly influence the development of nominal GDP figures for those EU Member States which have not adopted the euro.
To evaluate standards of living, it is more appropriate to use GDP per capita in purchasing power standards (PPS), in other words adjusted for the size of an economy in terms of population and also for differences in price levels across countries. The average GDP per capita within the EU-28 in 2012 was PPS 25 500, slightly above the peak (PPS 25 000) reached in 2007 and 2008 prior to the effects of the financial and economic crisis being felt. The relative position of individual countries can be expressed through a comparison with this average, with the EU-27 value set to equal 100. The highest relative value among EU Member States was recorded for Luxembourg, where GDP per capita in PPS was more than 2.6 times the EU-27 average in 2012 (which is partly explained by the importance of cross-border workers from Belgium, France and Germany). On the other hand, GDP per capita in PPS was less than half the EU-27 average in Bulgaria in 2012.
Although PPS figures should, in principle, be used for cross-country comparisons in a single year rather than over time, the development of these figures during the past decade suggests that some convergence in living standards took place as Member States that joined the EU in 2004, 2007 or 2013 moved closer to the EU average despite some setbacks during the financial and economic crisis. Whereas Luxembourg, Germany, Sweden and Austria moved further ahead of the EU-27 average, comparing the situation in 2012 with that in 2002, several other EU-15 Member States, notably the United Kingdom, Italy, Ireland and France, moved closer to the EU-27 average (see Figure 2). From a position below the EU-27 average in 2002, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia, Slovakia, Estonia, Poland and Bulgaria made the greatest moves towards the EU-27 average by 2012, while Greece and Portugal fell back.
The global financial and economic crisis resulted in a severe recession in the EU, Japan and the United States in 2009 (see Figure 3), followed by a recovery in 2010; in Japan and the United States the effects of the crisis were already apparent in 2008 when there had been a relatively small reduction in real GDP. Real GDP fell by 4.5 % in the EU-28 in 2009, while there were contractions of 5.5 % in Japan and 2.8 % in the United States. The recovery in the EU-28 saw GDP in constant prices increase by 2.0 % in 2010 and this was followed by a further gain of 1.6 % in 2011; subsequently GDP contracted 0.4 % in 2012 and was relatively stable (up 0.1 %) in 2013. In the euro area (EA-18) the corresponding growth rates in 2010 and 2011 were similar to those in the EU-28, while the contraction in 2012 was stronger (-0.7 %) and was sustained into 2013 (-0.4 %). In Japan and to a lesser extent the United States, the recovery in 2010 was more marked than in the EU-28 and while this pattern continued for the United States in 2011, there was a modest contraction in the level of real GDP in Japan (-0.5 %) — reflecting, at least in part, the devastating impact of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. In 2012 and 2013, the economies of Japan and the United States both recorded growth.
Among the EU Member States, real GDP growth varied considerably — both over time and across countries. After a contraction in all of the EU Member States except Poland in 2009, economic growth resumed in 22 Member States in 2010, a pattern that was continued in 2011 when real GDP growth was registered in 25 of the EU Member States. However, in 2012 this development reversed, as only half of the EU-28 Member States reported economic expansion, while in 2013 this number rose to 17. The highest growth rates in 2013 were recorded in Latvia (4.1 %), Romania (3.5 %) and Lithuania (3.3 %). The Cypriot economy contracted more strongly in 2013 (-5.4 %) than it had in 2012 (-2.4 %), while the reverse was true for Greece, where the 3.9 % contraction in 2013 was milder than the contractions in the two previous years (both around -7 %).
The effects of the financial and economic crisis lowered the overall performance of the EU Member State economies when analysed over the whole of the last decade. The average annual growth rates of the EU-28 and the euro area (EA-18) between 2003 and 2013 were 1.1 % and 0.8 % respectively. The highest growth, by this measure, was recorded for Slovakia and Lithuania (both 4.2 % per annum), followed by Poland (4.0 %), Latvia (3.7 %), Estonia (3.6 %), Romania (3.5 %) and Bulgaria (3.3 %). By contrast, the overall development of real GDP during the period from 2003 to 2013 in Greece, Italy and Portugal was negative.
Main GDP aggregates
Looking at GDP from the output side, Table 3 gives an overview of the relative importance of 10 activities in terms of their contribution to gross value added. Between 2003 and 2013, industry’s share of value added within the EU-28 fell 1.2 percentage points to 19.1 %, remaining just ahead of distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services (19.0 %) which also recorded a fall in its share, down 0.7 percentage points during these 10 years. By contrast, public administration, education and health saw its share increase by 1.0 percentage points to reach 19.4 % in 2013, thereby moving from third position to become the largest activity (at this level of detail) in value added terms. The next largest activities in 2013 were real estate activities (11.2 %), followed by professional, scientific, technical, administrative and support services (hereafter, business services) (10.4 %), construction (5.7 %), financial and insurance services (5.4 %) and information and communication services (4.5 %). The smallest contributions came from entertainment and other services (3.6 %) and agriculture, forestry and fishing (1.7 %).
Services contributed 73.5 % of the EU-28’s total gross value added in 2013 compared with 71.5 % in 2003. The relative importance of services was particularly high in Luxembourg, Cyprus, Malta, Greece, France (2012 data), the United Kingdom, Belgium and Denmark where they accounted for more than three quarters of total value added.
Structural change is, at least in part, a result of phenomena such as technological change, developments in relative prices, outsourcing and globalisation, often resulting in manufacturing activities being moved to lower labour-cost regions, both within and outside the EU.
Several activities were particularly affected by the financial and economic crisis and its aftermath. Industry experienced the sharpest contraction between 2007 and 2009, value added in the EU-28 falling overall by 13.8 % (in volume terms); industrial output fell by a further 1.5 % between 2011 and 2013. Construction experienced the deepest and longest contraction, with its output falling by 18.9 % between 2007 and 2013, with output falling every year during this period. Business services as well as distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services experienced just one year of falling value added between 2008 and 2009, but the declines were substantial, -8.0 % and -5.5 % respectively. Distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services recorded a further, smaller contraction in output in 2012. After peaking in 2009, output from agriculture, forestry and fishing fell in 2010by 3.8 % and again in 2012 by 5.5 %. Smaller reductions in value added were experienced for other activities during the crisis, most notably in 2009, 2010 and 2012 for financial and insurance services and 2009 for arts, entertainment, recreation and other services (see Figure 4).
An analysis of labour productivity per person employed over the 10-year period from 2003 to 2013 shows increases (in current prices) for all activities, ranging from 17.4 % for distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services to 35.9 % for industry, with information and communication services (4.4 %) and business services (8.0 %) lying below this range (see Figure 5). To eliminate the effects of inflation, labour productivity per person can also be calculated using constant price output figures. More detailed data on the development of productivity measured either per person employed or per hour worked shows that labour productivity in those Member States that joined the EU in 2004, 2007 or 2013 converged towards the EU-27 average during the last decade (see Table 4), with the exception of Malta. Notably, labour productivity per person employed in Lithuania increased from 49 % to 74 % of the EU-27 average between 2002 and 2012; Latvia, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia and Poland also recorded substantial movements towards the EU-27 average. On the other hand, the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium and Greece recorded considerable declines in their labour productivity per person in relation to the EU-27 average.
Consumption and investment
Turning to an analysis of the development of GDP components from the expenditure side it can be noted that final consumption expenditure across the EU-28 rose by 9.7 % in volume terms between 2003 and 2013 (see Figure 6), despite slight falls in 2009 and 2012. Final consumption expenditure of general government rose at a somewhat faster pace, up 13.5 % between 2003 and 2013. During the same period, gross capital formation decreased by 2.9 %, due, in large part, to sharp falls in 2009, 2012 and 2013 while the growth in exports significantly exceeded the growth in imports in recent years.
After its fall in 2009, consumption expenditure by households and non-profit institutions serving households recovered in 2010 (up 1.1 % in volume terms) and increased further in 2011 (0.3 %), before falling once more in 2012 (-0.7 %) and then stabilising in 2013. From 2009, the pace of growth for EU-28 general government expenditure slowed in volume terms and this rate of change turned negative (-0.2 %) in 2011 and stayed negative in 2012 (also -0.2 %) before returning to slight growth (0.3 %) in 2013. Despite a modest increase in 2011 (1.6), EU-28 gross fixed capital formation failed to fully recover from its sharp fall in 2009 (-13.4 %) and returned to a negative rate of change in 2012 and 2013.
In current price terms, consumption expenditure by households and non-profit institutions serving households contributed 58.3 % of the EU-28’s GDP in 2013, while the share of general government expenditure was 21.5 % and that of gross capital formation was 17.3 % (see Figure 8).
Among the EU Member States there was a wide variation in the overall investment intensity and this may, in part, reflect the different stages of economic development as well as growth dynamics over recent years (see Figure 9). In 2013, gross fixed capital formation as a share of GDP was 17.3 % in the EU-28 and 17.7 % in the euro area (EA-18). It was highest in Estonia (25.3 %), Romania (23.6 %), the Czech Republic (22.1 %), Latvia, Austria (both 21.1 %) and Bulgaria (20.7 %) and lowest in Ireland (10.7 %, 2012 data), Cyprus (11.6 %) and Greece (12.1 %).
The vast majority of investment was made by the private sector, as can be seen from Table 5: in 2012, investment by businesses and households accounted for 16.0 % of the EU-28’s GDP, whereas the equivalent figure for public sector investment was 2.3 %. In relative terms, public investment was highest in Estonia (5.4 % of GDP), investment by the business sector was highest in Bulgaria (16.5 %) and Latvia (16.1 %), while investment by households was highest in Finland (6.9 %), Italy (6.5 %), Germany (6.3 %), France (6.2 %) and Belgium (6.0 %)..
An analysis of GDP within the EU-28 from the income side shows that the distribution between the production factors of income resulting from the production process was dominated by the compensation of employees, which accounted for 49.4 % of GDP in 2013. The share of gross operating surplus and mixed income was 38.6 % of GDP, while that for taxes on production and imports less subsidies was 12.1 % (see Figure 10). Figure 11 shows that the respective income aggregates had, by 2011 or 2012, recovered from their losses experienced during the financial and economic crisis. In 2009, compensation of employees fell by 3.0 %, but by 2013 was 5.5 % higher than its corresponding level recorded in 2008. For the gross operating surplus and mixed income, there was already stagnation in 2008, followed by a fall of 8.6 % in 2009; by 2012 this income aggregate had returned to a level above its pre-crisis peak (in 2007) and by 2013 was 1.2 % above that peak level. The fall in taxes on production and imports less subsidies had already started in 2008 (-2.7 %) and accelerated in 2009 (-8.5 %); by 2011 these losses had been recovered and in 2013 this income aggregate stood 6.1 % above its previous peak (also 2007).
The consumption expenditure of households accounted for at least half of GDP in the majority of EU Member States in 2012. Among the EU Member States this share was highest in Greece (76.7 %, 2011 data), Cyprus (73.9 %), Bulgaria (70.1 %) and Malta (69.1 %). By contrast, it was lowest in Luxembourg (38.1 %) which had, nevertheless, by far the highest average household consumption expenditure per capita (EUR 30 800) — see Table 6.
More detailed data on the structure of total household consumption expenditure in the EU-28 in 2012 show that nearly a quarter (24.1 %) was devoted to housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (see Figure 12). Transport expenditure (13.0 %) and expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages (also 13.0 %) were the next most important expenditure categories. Together, the remaining consumption expenditure categories in Figure 12 accounted for almost half (49.8 %) of total household consumption expenditure.
Data sources and availability
The European system of national and regional accounts (ESA) provides the methodology for national accounts in the EU. The current version, ESA95, was fully consistent with worldwide guidelines for national accounts, the 1993 SNA. Following international agreement on an updated version of the SNA in 2008, a respective update of the ESA — ESA 2010 — was adopted in May 2013 and will be implemented from September 2014..
GDP and main components
The main aggregates of national accounts are compiled from institutional units, namely non-financial or financial corporations, general government, households, and non-profit institutions serving households (NPISH).
Data within the national accounts domain encompasses information on GDP components, employment, final consumption aggregates and savings. Many of these variables are calculated on an annual and on a quarterly basis.
GDP is the central measure of national accounts, which summarises the economic position of a country (or region). It can be calculated using different approaches: the output approach; the expenditure approach; and the income approach.
An analysis of GDP per capita removes the influence of the absolute size of the population, making comparisons between different countries easier. GDP per capita is a broad economic indicator of living standards. GDP data in national currencies can be converted into purchasing power standards (PPS) using purchasing power parities (PPPs) that reflect the purchasing power of each currency, rather than using market exchange rates; in this way differences in price levels between countries are eliminated. The volume index of GDP per capita in PPS is expressed in relation to the EU-27 average (set to equal 100). If the index of a country is higher/lower than 100, this country’s level of GDP per head is above/below the EU-27 average; this index is intended for cross-country comparisons rather than temporal comparisons.
The calculation of the annual growth rate of GDP at constant prices, in other words the change of GDP in volume terms, is intended to allow comparisons of the dynamics of economic development both over time and between economies of different sizes, irrespective of price levels.
Economic output can also be analysed by activity: at the most aggregated level of analysis 10 NACE Rev. 2 headings are identified: agriculture, hunting and fishing; industry; construction; distributive trades, transport, accommodation and food services; information and communication services; financial and insurance services; real estate activities; professional, scientific, technical, administrative and support services; public administration, defence, education, human health and social work; arts, entertainment, recreation, other services and activities of household and extra-territorial organisations and bodies. An analysis of output by activity over time can be facilitated by using a volume measure — in other words, by deflating the value of output to remove the impact of price changes; each activity is deflated individually to reflect the changes in the prices of its associated products.
A further set of national accounts data is used within the context of competitiveness analyses, namely indicators relating to the productivity of the workforce, such as labour productivity measures. Productivity measures expressed in PPS are particularly useful for cross-country comparisons. GDP in PPS per person employed is intended to give an overall impression of the productivity of national economies. It should be kept in mind, though, that this measure depends on the structure of total employment and may, for instance, be lowered by a shift from full-time to part-time work. GDP in PPS per hour worked gives a clearer picture of productivity as the incidence of part-time employment varies greatly between countries and activities. The data are presented in the form of an index in relation to the EU average: if the index rises above 100, then labour productivity is above the EU average.
Data on consumption expenditure may be broken down according to the classification of individual consumption according to purpose (COICOP), which identifies 12 different headings at its most aggregated level. Annual information on household expenditure is available from national accounts compiled through a macroeconomic approach. An alternative source for analysing household expenditure is the Household budget survey (HBS): this information is obtained by asking households to keep a diary of their purchases and is much more detailed in its coverage of goods and services as well as the types of socioeconomic analysis that are made available. HBS is only carried out and published every five years — the latest reference year currently available is 2005.
Household saving is the main domestic source of funds to finance capital investment. The system of accounts provides for both disposable income and saving to be shown on a gross basis, in other words, with both aggregates including the consumption of fixed capital.
European institutions, governments, central banks as well as other economic and social bodies in the public and private sectors need a set of comparable and reliable statistics on which to base their decisions. National accounts can be used for various types of analysis and evaluation. The use of internationally accepted concepts and definitions permits an analysis of different economies, such as the interdependencies between the economies of the EU Member States, or a comparison between the EU and non-member countries.
Business cycle and macroeconomic policy analysis
One of the main uses of national accounts data relates to the need to support European economic policy decisions and the achievement of economic and monetary union (EMU) objectives with high-quality short-term statistics that allow the monitoring of macroeconomic developments and the derivation of macroeconomic policy advice. For instance, one of the most basic and long-standing uses of national accounts is to quantify the rate of growth of an economy, in simple terms the growth of GDP. Core national accounts figures are notably used to develop and monitor macroeconomic policies, while detailed national accounts data can also be used to develop sectoral or industrial policies, particularly through an analysis of input-output tables.
Since the beginning of the EMU in 1999, the European Central Bank (ECB) has been one of the main users of national accounts. The ECB’s strategy for assessing the risks to price stability is based on two analytical perspectives, referred to as the ‘two pillars’: economic analysis and monetary analysis. A large number of monetary and financial indicators are thus evaluated in relation to other relevant data that allow the combination of monetary, financial and economic analysis, for example, key national accounts aggregates. In this way monetary and financial indicators can be analysed within the context of the rest of the economy.
The Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs produces the European Commission’s macroeconomic forecasts twice a year, in the spring and autumn. These forecasts cover all EU Member States in order to derive forecasts for the euro area and the EU, but they also include outlooks for candidate countries, as well as some non-member countries.
The analysis of public finances through national accounts is another well-established use of these statistics. Within the EU a specific application was developed in relation to the convergence criteria for EMU, two of which refer directly to public finances. These criteria have been defined in terms of national accounts figures, namely, government deficit and government debt relative to GDP. See the article on government finance statistics for more information.
Regional, structural and sectoral policies
As well as business cycle and macroeconomic policy analysis, there are other policy-related uses of European national and regional accounts data, notably concerning regional, structural and sectoral issues.
The allocation of expenditure for the structural funds is partly based on regional accounts. Furthermore, regional statistics are used for ex-post assessment of the results of regional and cohesion policy.
Encouraging more growth and more jobs is a strategic priority for both the EU and the Member States, and is part of the Europe 2020 strategy. In support of these strategic priorities, common policies are implemented across all sectors of the EU economy while the Member States implement their own national structural reforms. To ensure that this is as beneficial as possible, and to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead, the European Commission analyses these policies.
The European Commission conducts economic analysis contributing to the development of the common agricultural policy (CAP) by analysing the efficiency of its various support mechanisms and developing a long-term perspective. This includes research, analysis and impact assessments on topics related to agriculture and the rural economy in the EU and non-member countries, in part using the economic accounts for agriculture.
Target setting, benchmarking and contributions
Policies within the EU are increasingly setting medium or long-term targets, whether binding or not. For some of these, the level of GDP is used as a benchmark denominator, for example, setting a target for expenditure on research and development at a level of 3 % of GDP.
National accounts are also used to determine EU resources, with the basic rules laid down in a Council Decision. The overall amount of own resources needed to finance the EU budget is determined by total expenditure less other revenue, and the maximum size of the own resources are linked to the gross national income of the EU.
As well as being used to determine budgetary contributions within the EU, national accounts data are also used to determine contributions to other international organisations, such as the United Nations (UN). Contributions to the UN budget are based on gross national income along with a variety of adjustments and limits.
Analysts and forecasters
National accounts are also widely used by analysts and researchers to examine the economic situation and developments. Social partners, such as representatives of businesses (for example, trade associations) or representatives of workers (for example, trade unions), also have an interest in national accounts for the purpose of analysing developments that affect industrial relations. Among other uses, researchers and analysts use national accounts for business cycle analysis and analysing long-term economic cycles and relating these to economic, political or technological developments.
- European sector accounts - backgrounds (background article)
- Main users of national accounts (background article)
- Sector accounts
- Update of the SNA 1993 and revision of ESA95 (background article)
Further Eurostat information
- Annual national accounts (t_nama)
- GDP and main components (t_nama_gdp)
- Income, saving and net lending/ borrowing (t_nama_inc)
- National Accounts detailed breakdowns (by industry, by product, by consumption purpose) (t_nama_brk)
- Auxiliary indicators to National Accounts - annual data (t_nama_aux)
- Regional economic accounts - ESA95 (t_nama_reg)
- Annual national accounts (nama)
- GDP and main components (nama_gdp)
- Exports and imports by Member States of the EU/third countries (nama_exi)
- Final consumption aggregates (nama_fcs)
- Income, saving and net lending/ borrowing (nama_inc)
- National Accounts detailed breakdowns (by industry, by product, by consumption purpose) (nama_brk)
- Auxiliary indicators to National Accounts - annual data (nama_aux)
- Regional economic accounts - ESA95 (nama_reg)
- Supply, use and Input-output tables (naio)
- Supply, use and Input-output tables - EU aggregates (naio_agg)
- Supply, use and Input-output tables (product*product) - national data (naio_ckp)
Methodology / Metadata
ESMS metadata files
- Annual national accounts (ESMS metadata file — nama_esms)
- Supply, use and Input-output tables (ESMS metadata file — naio_esms)
- European system of accounts ESA 1995
- Eurostat-OECD methodological manual on purchasing power parities
- Handbook on price and volume measures in national accounts
Other methodological information
Source data for tables and figures (MS Excel)