Statistics on European cities

From Statistics Explained

Data from March 2014. Most recent data: Further Eurostat information, Main tables and Database. Planned article update: June 2015

This article is part of a set of statistical articles based on the Eurostat Regional Yearbook publication. It presents indicators relating to the demographics of EU cities: it provides an analysis of age structures, citizenship, and perceptions of foreigners. The second half looks at the issue of housing and presents information on: the average size of households; the distribution of one person households; perceptions in relation to the ease of finding good housing at a reasonable price. These indicators are just a few examples of the wide range of data that is available within the Urban Audit.

Main statistical findings

The Urban Audit provides information and comparable measurement on a range of socioeconomic aspects that relate to the quality of urban life in European cities. The data cover more than 900 cities across the EU Member States, EFTA and candidate countries (cities from Norway, Switzerland and Turkey are currently included). Note that there may be considerable differences in relation to the latest reference period available for each city.

Towns and cities across the European Union (EU) provide a home to more than 70 % of the EU-28’s population. In today’s globalised economy, the quality of life offered in the EU’s cities is crucial for attracting and retaining a skilled labour force, businesses, students and tourists. However, the social and economic concentration of resources in urban areas can result in undesirable side-effects: for example, congestion or crime. Cities are therefore seen as both the source of and solution to economic, environmental and social challenges and, as such, they are central to achieving the Europe 2020 goals of ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive growth’.

Resident populations living in Europe’s cities

Map 1: Total resident population in the Urban Audit core cities, 1 January 2012 (1)
(inhabitants) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpop1)

Based on a typology related to the degree of urbanisation, some 71.7 % of the EU-28’s population lived in a densely-populated or an intermediate urbanised area in 2012; around 200 million persons were living in densely-populated areas and almost 160 million in intermediate urbanised areas.

There is a diverging pattern as concerns the increasing share of the European population that is living in urban areas. On one hand, some of Europe’s largest cities continue to attract both internal and external migrants, and these cities continue to expand — often this implies urban sprawl, as previously rural areas in the neighbourhood of expanding metropolitan areas are developed to cater for the growing population. On the other, those cities associated with former industrial heartlands have seen their population size contract, as output from major industries has declined or even ceased to exist, thereby leading to a shortage of jobs, urban decay and people leaving to search for work elsewhere.

Many cities in England, the Netherlands and Belgium were within close proximity of each other

Map 1 presents the resident population of Urban Audit core cities as of 1 January 2012: each circle represents a city and the size of the circle reflects its number of inhabitants. One of the most striking aspects of the distribution is the close proximity of cities to each other in much of England (the United Kingdom), the Netherlands and Belgium. By contrast, the Nordic Member States, France and interior Spain and Portugal were characterised by their relatively low density of cities.

These differences in spatial structure can be classified according to levels of centralisation and clustering. On one hand, there are countries like France which appear to have a relatively monocentric structure based on Paris. This may be contrasted with the polycentric structure observed in western Germany, where there is no dominant city and several of the main urban centres are of a similar size.

More than eight million inhabitants in London and Istanbul

Across the whole of Europe, the most populous cities were London (data are for 2011) and Istanbul (data are for 2000), they both recorded resident populations of more than 8.0 million persons. In 2012, the next largest cities across the EU included Paris (6.5 million) and Berlin (3.5 million), while Madrid, Barcelona, Milano and Napoli each reported 3.2 or 3.1 million inhabitants; this was also the case for Ankara in Turkey (data are for 2000).

The seven EU cities with a population of more than 3.0 million residents were followed by 23 cities which had a population of between 1.0 and 3.0 million inhabitants; 14 of these were capital cities, while the remaining nine cities were divided equally between Germany, France and the United Kingdom.

There were 41 cities across the EU in the next tier with between 0.5 and 1.0 million residents, followed by 101 cities with 250–500 thousand residents, and 383 cities with 100–250 thousand inhabitants. The Urban Audit also provides results from a further 306 smaller cities in the EU, which had fewer than 100 thousand residents.

At the other end of the range, the smallest capital city was Luxembourg, which had just less than 90 thousand inhabitants in 2009; as such, London was about 90 times the size of Luxembourg.

Age structure of the resident population

Figure 1: Age structure of the population, selected capital cities from the Urban Audit, 2012 (1)
(% of total population) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopstr)

Figure 1 shows an example of how the age structure of the population varies across European cities. It provides a comparison of the age structure for six EU Member States and compares this with similar information for each of their capital cities.

When looking at the relative weight of younger persons (those aged 0–19 years) in the total population, each capital city shown in Figure 1 reported a lower share than the national average; despite the relative size of the working-age population (and therefore the child-bearing population) being above the national average in Madrid, Budapest, Dublin and especially Berlin. There are several possible reasons for this, including: people living in capital cities were having fewer children that their compatriots living outside of the capital; people were leaving the capital city after starting families; people of working age without children were moving into capital cities.

Working-age persons generally drawn to capital cities

The cultural attractions of most capital cities, coupled with the educational and employment opportunities that they offer, might suggest that capital cities have a higher share of working-age persons (aged 20–54). This was often, but not always true, as the proportion of working-age persons living in Warszawa and Lisboa was lower than the respective national averages for Poland and Portugal.

It is also conceivable that older persons (aged 65 and over) might be tempted to move away from capital cities for their retirement to avoid some of the disadvantages often associated with big cities, such as congestion and crime. However, once again in Warszawa and Lisboa, as well as in Madrid and Roma, elderly persons accounted for a higher proportion of the population than the national average.

Old-age dependency ratios

Map 2: Old-age dependency ratio in the Urban Audit core cities, 2012 (1)
(%, persons aged ≥ 65 years / persons aged 20–64 years) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopstr)

Population ageing already prevalent in many Italian and German cities

The ratio between the number of older persons and those of working age is referred to as the old-age dependency ratio, and this is shown in Map 2 for 866 cities in the EU and 43 cities across Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. Those cities with an old-age dependency rate of 35.0 % or more in 2012 (as shown by the darkest shade in the map) were mainly located in Italy (52 cities) and Germany (47 cities). This was in keeping with national patterns, as Italy and Germany both have very low fertility rates and relatively high life expectancy rates — hence, it is likely that their populations will continue to age and shrink in the coming decades. Among the remaining cities with old-age dependency rates of at least 35.0 % there were 12 cities in France (data are for 2010), nine in the United Kingdom (data are for 2011), seven in Spain, three in Belgium, two in Portugal and one each in Greece (data are for 2009) and the Netherlands.

The largest cities (population of at least 500 thousand inhabitants) with an old-age dependency rate of at least 35.0 % included the Italian cities of Roma (one of only two capitals with an old-age dependency ratio of at least 35.0 %), Genova and Torino; Nice in the south-east of France (2010 data); the Ruhr city of Essen in Germany; and the Portuguese capital of Lisboa.

Less than two working-age persons for each older person in Fréjus, Sanremo and Savona

There were only three EU cities where the old-age dependency ratio exceeded 50.0 %, all on the Mediterranean coast. The highest old-age dependency ratio was recorded in the French resort of Fréjus (57.2 %, 2010 data), while the other two cities were located just over the border in the Italian towns of Sanremo and Savona. The French and Italian Riviera was not the only coastal region that seemingly attracted retirees, as relatively high old-age dependency ratios were recorded elsewhere on the coast of France (Perpignan, Bayonne and La Rochelle), for several coastal resorts in the United Kingdom (Great Yarmouth, Eastbourne and Torbay) and for the Belgian resort of Oostende.

Suburban areas often characterised as having a high proportion of persons of working-age

There were 103 cities in the EU that reported old-age dependency ratios of less than 20.0 % (as shown by the lightest shade). The lowest old-age dependency ratio in the EU was 9.2 % in Slatina (Romania), while two suburban areas close to Madrid — Fuenlabrada and Parla — had the second and third lowest rates (9.8 % and 10.6 %). This pattern of relatively low old-age dependency rates observed for suburban areas around the Spanish capital was repeated for the French capital, as Marne la Vallée, Saint Denis, Cergy-Pontoise, Saint-Quentin en Yvelines and Evry were the only French towns and cities to record old-age dependency ratios below 15.0 % and they are all situated within a radius of no more than 20 km from central Paris. Several reasons may underlie this pattern: young people may be unable to afford to buy or rent in the centre of big cities and instead choose to live in the surrounding suburbs, families may choose to move to the suburbs to have more space, older people may move out of the suburbs.

Figure 2: Regional disparities for the old-age dependency ratio in the Urban Audit core cities, 2012 (1)
(%, persons aged ≥ 65 years / persons aged 20–64 years) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopstr) and (demo_pjangroup)

Low old-age dependency rates in several north-western capitals as well as in the Cypriot capital

Among these 103 EU cities with the lowest old-age dependency rates there were five capital cities: Amsterdam (the Netherlands), Lefkosia (Cyprus), London (the United Kingdom), Dublin (Ireland) and København (Denmark). The only large city (more than 500 thousand inhabitants) in the EU with an old-age dependency ratio of less than 20.0 %, which was not a capital city, was Manchester in the United Kingdom. Old-age dependency rates were also low across all Turkish cities (data are for 2000).

Figure 2 provides an alternative analysis of the range of old-age dependency ratios across cities. It confirms that the elderly generally tended to avoid living in capital cities, as old-age dependency ratios in capital cities were below their respective national averages in the majority of EU Member States. There were some exceptions — as noted above these included Lisboa, Madrid, Roma and Warszawa — while the old-age dependency ratios for Ljubljana, Praha, Valletta and Bratislava were also above their respective national averages.

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Spotlight on the regions:

Lefkosia, Cyprus

University of Cyprus, Lefkosia
Lefkosia (Nicosia) is the capital of Cyprus with a population of almost 235 000 inhabitants. The old-age dependency ratio in Lefkosia was 18.4 %, one of the lowest among any of the cities covered by the Urban Audit, while the national average for the whole of Cyprus was 20.2 %.
Lefkosia was one of five capital cities to report an old-age dependency rate of less than 20.0 %; the others were all in north-western Europe (London, Dublin, Amsterdam and København).
© Photo: University of Cyprus

In Sweden, Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, Romania, Luxembourg and Cyprus, the national average for the old-age dependency ratio was above the range shown for all cities. In these cases, the relative weight of elderly persons living in rural areas or towns was higher; this was also the case in Norway. In Malta, the opposite pattern could be observed, as the old-age dependency ratio in the capital city of Valletta was higher than the national average for the remainder of this Mediterranean island.

The biggest ranges in old-age dependency ratios between cities of the same country were recorded for the most populous EU Member States, namely, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Population by place of birth

Map 3: Native-born populations in the Urban Audit core cities, 2012 (1)
(% of total population) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopcb)

Globalisation, the free movement of EU nationals within the Union, and political unrest in neighbouring countries are some of the many reasons why Europe’s population has become more mixed; most cities have seen their share of non-nationals grow over the last couple of decades. EU nationals from other Member States generally account for less than 10 % of the population in most cities and where their share is higher this is frequently associated with areas that are popular retirement destinations.

Map 3 analyses the population of cities distinguishing native-born populations, in other words, those persons who were born in the same country as for which the data are reported, irrespective of their citizenship; note that the there are no data available for several of the EU Member States (including Italy and the United Kingdom).

There were considerable differences across the EU, as 101 cities (out of the 535 for which data are available) reported at least 95.0 % of their population was native-born, while 61 cities reported that fewer than 75.0 % of their population was native-born.

Polish and Bulgarian cities were often populated almost entirely by native-born inhabitants

Within the former group, almost half of the cities with at least 95.0 % of their population being native-born were Polish (data are for 2011), while all of the Bulgarian cities were also included in this group. These 101 cities where at least 95.0 % of the population was native-born included some relatively large cities such as the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, or the Polish cities of Kraków, Gdansk and Poznan. The remainder were largely composed of cities from southern Spain (including Cádiz, Córdoba and Jaén), northern France (including the ports of Boulogne-sur-Mer, Calais and Cherbourg, and Lens - Liévin and Lorient), Lithuania (including the second largest city of Kaunus), Portugal and Finland.

Migrant populations attracted to some of the largest cities in the EU …

At the other end of the range, the cities with relatively low shares of their populations being native-born were principally located across Germany, the Benelux Member States and Spain. The attraction of big cities to migrants was apparent insofar as the 61 cities where the native-born population accounted for no more than three-quarters of all inhabitants included big cities such as München, Nürnberg or Frankfurt am Main in Germany, Amsterdam and 's-Gravenhage (the Hague) in the Netherlands, or Bruxelles / Brussel and Antwerpen in Belgium.

Map 4: National population in the Urban Audit core cities, 2012 (1)
(% of total population) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopcb)

… while those cities in Spain with a low proportion of native-born inhabitants were often characterised as retirement / holiday destinations

The Spanish cities that recorded a low proportion of inhabitants being native-born were principally tourist / retirement destinations (attracting not just foreign retirees but also foreign workers) either on the Costa del Sol (Marbella and Torremolinos) or the Costa Blanca (Benidorm, Gandia and Torrevieja). Torrevieja, which is located to the south of Alicante, was the only city to report that its native-born population accounted for less than half of the total number of inhabitants.

The analysis continues in Map 4 with a presentation of the division between national and foreign populations; in other words, based on citizenship. The difference between Map 3 and Map 4 is the inclination or possibility for the non-native population to take the citizenship of the country they are living in; note that there may be differences between EU Member States with respect to how they choose to encourage / dissuade specific non-native populations to take their citizenship. Generally, the results shown in Maps 3 and 4 are quite alike, suggesting that a relatively low proportion of foreigners take the citizenship of the country that they move to. Note that there are again a relatively high number of EU Member States for which no data are available (including the United Kingdom).

Nationals accounted for just over one third of the population of Luxembourg city …

There were 248 EU cities (among those for which data are available) that reported at least 95.0 % of their population was composed of nationals in 2012. The highest shares were often recorded in Polish, Bulgarian, Hungarian and Lithuanian cities. At the other end of the range, there were three cities where the share of nationals in the total number of inhabitants was less than half: these included Torrevieja, Narva (the third largest city in Estonia on the border with Russia) and Luxembourg (data are for 2009). In the city of Luxembourg, the national population accounted for just over one third of the population, which was the lowest share among any of the cities for which data are available.

… but for 95.0 % or more in Sofia, Vilnius, Bratislava, Valletta and Budapest

Figure 3: Breakdown of population by nationality, selected Urban Audit core cities, 2012
(% of total population) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopcb)
Figure 3 provides a more detailed analysis of the breakdown of populations in capital cities (subject to availability). It confirms that more than 95 % of the population was composed of nationals in Sofia, Vilnius, Bratislava, Valletta and Budapest, while nationals accounted for 80–85 % of the population in Wien, Dublin, Madrid and Paris. There were only three capital cities where the share of nationals was lower than this, namely, Rīga (nationals accounted for 71.3 % of the population), Bruxelles / Brussel (66.2 %) and Luxembourg (36.8 %).

Higher proportion of the non-national population coming from outside of the EU in Berlin, Paris, Madrid and Wien

The information presented in Figure 3 also provides a breakdown of the non-national population between those inhabitants that are from other EU Member States and those who come from non-member countries. Among those capital cities for which data are available, there were five which reported that at least 10.0 % of their population was composed of non-EU nationals; they were Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Wien and Bruxelles / Brussel (which had the highest share at 13.5 %). A majority of the population in Luxembourg was composed of EU nationals; Bruxelles / Brussel (20.3 %) and Luxembourg (54.4 %) were the only capital cities to report that at least 10.0 % of their population was composed of nationals from other EU Member States (which may, at least in part, be explained by both of these cities being home to various EU institutions).

Perceptions concerning foreigners

Figure 4: Perception regarding the presence of foreigners and whether it is good for the city, selected EU cities, 2012 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurobarometer, Perception survey in 79 European cities

Figure 4 is based on results from a perception survey that was conducted in 79 European cities, providing a snapshot of how Europeans feel about the cities they live in. The survey was conducted in December 2012 and results are available for cities across all of the EU Member States, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, Croatia and Turkey. One of the questions asked of respondents was whether foreigners are good for their city, with answers classified as agreeing or disagreeing and a distinction drawn between those holding stronger or weaker opinions.

In 49 of the 79 cities surveyed at least 70 % of respondents agreed that the presence of foreigners was a good thing

Positive views (strongly agree or somewhat agree) that foreigners were good for the city peaked at 91 % in Cluj-Napoca (Romania), while in 49 of the 79 cities surveyed at least 70 % of respondents agreed that the presence of foreigners was a good thing. Among the 10 cities where the perception of foreigners was at its most positive, there were three Nordic capital cities — København (Denmark), Stockholm (Sweden) and Helsinki (Finland) — and two other capitals, namely, Luxembourg and Ljubljana (Slovenia). The top 10 also included Groningen (the Netherlands) and three other cities from eastern Europe — aside from Cluj-Napoca — namely, Kraków (Poland), Burgas (Bulgaria) and Piatra Neamt (also Romania). The high positive perception regarding the presence of foreigners in Luxembourg is not surprising given that almost two thirds of the population is foreign. This could be contrasted with the situation in one of the other 10 cities that viewed the presence of foreigners most positively, as nationals accounted for 99.5 % of the population in Burgas (data are for 2010).

Two thirds of the population in Athina disagreed that the presence of foreigners was a good thing

At the other end of the ranking, just over one quarter (27 %) of the population in the Greek capital of Athina agreed that foreigners were good for their city; this was the lowest value across the 79 cities that were surveyed and may, at least in part, reflect the hardship felt by the local population in relation to the financial and economic crisis. The 10 cities with the lowest proportion of respondents viewing the presence of foreigners positively included one other Greek city (Irakleio), four cities across Italy (including the capital of Roma), the French city of Marseille, the capitals of Cyprus and Malta, as well as the Belgian city of Liège. Four of these cities — Irakleio, Liège, Lefkosia and Athina — reported that less than half their population had a positive view concerning the presence of foreigners in their city.


The EU does not have any specific responsibilities with respect to housing; rather, national governments develop their own housing policies. Nevertheless, many of the EU Member States face similar challenges: for example, how to renew housing stocks, how to plan and combat urban sprawl, how to promote sustainable development, how to help young and disadvantaged groups get into the housing market, or how to promote energy efficiency among homeowners.

Size of households

Figure 5: Average size of households in the Urban Audit core cities, 2012 (1)
(persons) - Source: Eurostat (urb_cpopstr)

Differences in household structure may reflect a range of different issues including: societies’ culture and norms; the availability of different types of housing stock; the cost of housing; tax and benefit regimes; and social policy. Household structure also has implications for a number of outcomes: the risk of poverty, for example, is closely linked to household structure, while this is also likely to affect children’s outcomes (educational achievement, future earnings), and older people’s health status may also be linked to household composition.

Low average household size in German and Nordic cities

Across the EU Member States for which data are available in Figure 5, the average number of persons per household ranged from a low of 2.0 in Germany up to 2.9 in Malta. Generally, the highest average number of persons was recorded in the southern EU Member States, as well as Poland, Ireland and Bulgaria, while the smallest average households were in north-western Europe and the Nordic Member States.

Figure 5 also shows that in some EU Member States the national average for the number of persons per household was higher than in any of the cities for which information exists in the Urban Audit. This pattern suggests that the average number of persons per household was often at its highest in rural areas and that the lowest ratios were frequently recorded in some of Europe’s biggest cities. Indeed, the average number of persons per household was sometimes at its lowest in the capital city — for example, in Poland, Portugal, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Hungary, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France and Austria, as well as in Norway.

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Spotlight on the regions:

Guimarães, Portugal

Castle, Guimarães
Guimarães is the birthplace of Portugal; it is located in the far north of the country and is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The average size of households was relatively high (2.9 persons per household), in keeping with several other cities in northern Portugal and a more general pattern of larger households in the southern Member States.
By means of comparison, the average household in the core (centre) of Lisboa was composed of 2.2 persons and the corresponding average for the centre of Porto was 2.3 persons.
© Photo: António Amen

Average size of households tended to be higher in suburban areas (populated by younger generations)

The average number of persons per household was close to 3.0 persons across several cities in Spain, Portugal and France. There was also a relatively large dispersion in average household sizes between the different cities of these three countries, which was also the case for Italy. In Spain and in France, the largest households were most frequently recorded in suburban areas: for example, each of Pozuelo de Alarcón, Majadahonda, Coslada and Fuenlabrada (around Madrid) and CA Val de France (around Paris) recorded an average of at least 3.0 persons per household. By contrast, the lowest averages in France were often recorded in the centre of some of the biggest cities, for example, Paris (1.9 persons).

In Italy and Portugal, the differences in the composition of households reflected more a geographical split, with the average size of households higher in the south of Italy (Napoli, Matera (Basilicata) or Barletta (Puglia)) and in the north of Portugal (Paredes, Póvoa de Varzim and Guimarães).

In those EU Member States where the average number of persons per household was relatively low (for example, Germany), the range between different cities was quite small, suggesting that the ageing population and low fertility rates were present across most types of city and most of the territory.

One person households

With the average number of persons living in each household falling across most of the EU Member States, it is perhaps not surprising to find that the proportion of single or one adult households increased.

Figure 6: One person households in the Urban Audit core cities, 2012 (1)
(% of all households) - Source: Eurostat (urb_csocsta)

4 out of every 10 households in Finland and Germany have a single resident

The trend for more people living alone has resulted from rapid changes in the way that people live and has been compounded by, among others: women generally outliving their partners; growing divorce and separation rates; people being able to afford to live alone out of choice; and the gradual shift of populations to urban centres. As such, the single person household covers the full spectrum of ages and a wide variation in personal situations, including young students and the newly employed that choose to live alone, divorcees, or senior citizens who outlive their spouses.

The phenomenon of the one person household is most pronounced in the Nordic Member States and north-western Europe, for example, one person households accounted for at least 4 out of every 10 persons living in Finland and Germany. At the other end of the range, less than one in five (18.3 %) of the population in Romania lived alone.

One person households were conspicuous in capital cities

Figure 6 shows that the proportion of people living in a one person household tended to be relatively high in capital cities and that national averages were often at the bottom end of the range, suggesting that a lower proportion of the rural population was living alone when compared with the results in Urban Audit cities.

The highest number of one person households was recorded in Göttingen in central Germany (a university town), where just over two thirds (67.7 %) of all households were composed of people living alone in 2012. The only other city, for which data are available, to record a share in excess of 60.0 % was the northern Dutch city of Groningen (which also has a high proportion of students in the city).

By contrast, aside from a few outliers (including capital cities) the proportion of single person households was generally much lower in southern and eastern Europe. A majority of the cities in Spain reported that less than 10.0 % of their households were composed of people living alone.

Ease of finding good housing

Figure 7: Satisfaction regarding the ease of finding good housing at a reasonable price, selected EU cities, 2012 (1)
(%) - Source: Eurobarometer, Perception survey in 79 European cities

In the perception survey of 79 European cities conducted at the end of 2012, there was a question in relation to the ease with which city dwellers thought it possible to find good housing at a reasonable price within their city. Figure 7 presents the results and shows the general difficulties experienced by many Europeans with respect to this challenge. Indeed, more than half of the respondents to the survey considered that it was a challenge to find good housing at a reasonable price; this was particularly true in capital cities (where prices tend to be higher than in the rest of the country).

The 10 cities where there was the highest level of agreement that it was easy to find good housing at a reasonable price were spread across nine different EU Member States. The proportion of respondents in Oviedo (north-west Spain) who agreed rose to almost two out of every three persons (65 %), while the same ratio was recorded in Oulu (northern Finland), Braga (northern Portugal) and Piatra Neamt (eastern Romania). As such, each of these cities was a relatively large distance away from their capital and often close to relatively remote parts of the country. The list of the 10 cities where there was the highest level of agreement that it was easy to find good housing at a reasonable price also included Aalborg (Denmark), Leipzig (Germany), Miskolc (north-eastern Hungary) and Bialystok (eastern Poland), as well as the port cities of Malaga (Spain) and Belfast (the United Kingdom).

Those living in the largest German cities were particularly unsatisfied with the housing situation

At the other end of the ranking, at least three quarters of the population was unsatisfied with the housing situation in the 12 cities for which information is presented in the bottom half of Figure 7. These 12 cities were dominated by capital cities, of which there were nine; the three others were all relatively large cities, namely, Bologna (Italy) and Hamburg and München (both Germany). In München, some 94 % of the population stated their dissatisfaction with housing in the city — the highest proportion across any of the 79 cities surveyed. The difficulties experienced in several of Germany’s largest cities may be linked to a rapid increase in property prices that is most apparent in the largest urban centres, such as München, Hamburg, Berlin or Frankfurt.

Data sources and availability

Urban Audit

The Urban Audit is a data collection exercise that is undertaken by the national statistical institutes, the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy (DG REGIO) and Eurostat. It provides comparative information on cities in the EU Member States, as well as the EFTA and candidate countries of Norway, Switzerland and Turkey.

The Urban Audit presents a range of indicators that cover most aspects relating to the quality of life in cities, including: demography, housing, health, crime, the labour market, income disparities, local administration, educational qualifications, the environment, climate, travel patterns, the information society and cultural infrastructure; data availability differs from domain to domain. The supply of information concerning urban statistics is currently based on a voluntary agreement, as there is no Community legislation yet relating to the collection of statistics for this topic.

The Urban Audit perception survey is a complement to the regular Urban Audit data collection exercise. The most recent perception survey took place at the end of 2012 and included 79 cities in the EU, EFTA and candidate countries. The results of the survey are presented in a Flash Eurobarometer (No 366), titled ‘Quality of life in European cities'.. The survey included all capital cities (except for Switzerland), together with between one and six more cities in the larger countries. In each city, around 500 citizens were interviewed.

Indicator definitions

Population statistics in the Urban Audit refer to the population at its usual residence, in other words, the place where a person normally lives, regardless of temporary absences; this is generally their place of legal or registered residence. To qualify as a resident the respondent should have lived in their place of usual residence for a continuous period of at least 12 months before the reference date, or if they have recently moved then they should have the intention of staying in their new residence for at least one year. Population numbers are a reference for measuring the general size of an urban entity and are used as a denominator for many derived indicators.

A foreigner is a person who does not have the citizenship of the country of usual residence, regardless of the place of birth. EU foreigners are persons living in the reporting country who have the nationality of another EU Member State than the reporting country. Non-EU foreigners are persons living in the reporting country with the nationality of a non-member country, in other words, someone who does not have the nationality of any of the EU Member States. Native-born means a person who was born in the country of usual residence regardless of that person’s citizenship. Foreign-born means a person who was born outside of the country of usual residence regardless of that person’s citizenship.

In the Urban Audit, the household-dwelling concept is the preferred household unit. It considers all persons living in a housing unit to be members of the same household, such that there is one household per occupied housing unit.


European cities face a variety of challenges: ranging from ageing populations, through migration and urban sprawl, to counteracting climate change. By contrast, Europe’s dynamic cities attract investment, people and services, thereby stimulating creativity and innovation. There is often a paradox insofar as: some of the most thriving cities in the EU have some of the highest levels of social exclusion and income disparities; living and working in the same city is less polluting, while city dwellers are generally exposed to more pollution; some cities offer the greatest concentration of employment opportunities, while others have some of the highest levels of unemployment.

The EU promotes sustainable growth to drive the competitiveness of Europe’s cities, with the goal of safeguarding a high quality of life for those living in the EU both today and in the future. Over the last 20 years, the EU’s cohesion policy has supported a wide range of urban initiatives.

Europe 2020

Cities are seen as both the source and solution of economic, environmental and social challenges: they are home to an increasing share of the EU’s population, they account for the largest share of its energy use and they generate about 85 % of its GDP. Therefore, cities are central to achieve the Europe 2020 targets of smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

Urban development policy seeks to promote the social, economic and physical transformation of cities through integrated and sustainable solutions. The European Commission has stated that ‘it is crucial that all levels of governance be aware of the need to implement effectively the Europe 2020 strategy’. As such, regional policy and urban development play a central role in the Europe 2020 policy. Three flagship projects within the Europe 2020 strategy — the digital agenda, the innovation union and youth on the move — address specific urban challenges.

To assist regional authorities and cities, the Committee of the Regions — in close cooperation with the European Commission — released a handbook on the Europe 2020 strategy for cities and regions that provides explanations on how local and regional authorities can contribute to the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy through adopting best practices and agreements between different tiers of government to coordinate and focus actions / resources on the Europe 2020 strategy goals and targets.

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Urban development — cohesion policy funding

During the programming period 2007–13, total cohesion policy funding of EUR 21.1 billion was available for sustainable urban development initiatives, around 6.0 % of the total cohesion policy budget. The vast majority of this investment came from the cohesion fund and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Some of the main priorities for sustainable urban development initiatives included urban and rural regeneration programmes (EUR 9.8 billion), clean urban transport (EUR 7.0 billion), the rehabilitation of industrial sites and contaminated land areas (EUR 3.4 billion), and housing (EUR 917 million).

During the 2014–20 programming period, European cities are expected to benefit even more from the EU’s regional policy. Urban areas will be directly targeted by several of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) priorities, while each EU Member State will invest a minimum of 5 % of the ERDF in integrated sustainable urban development. An urban development network will review the deployment of European funds as well as support the exchange of experience between cities involved in integrated sustainable urban development and in urban innovative actions.

For more information: Cohesion policy and urban development

Sustainable investment

Suburbanisation, congestion and the risks of poverty, social exclusion and unemployment are challenges faced by many cities. Complex issues such as these require integrated solutions in terms of urban planning and regeneration, alongside the development of urban infrastructure, transport services, housing, heritage and cultural sites, brownfield sites and new commercial floor space. Funding for initiatives such as these is often dependent upon plans to decouple economic growth from the use of resources, supporting a shift towards a low carbon economy, promoting energy efficiency, increasing the use of renewable energy sources, and modernising transport systems.

The promotion of urban development and regeneration can play a valuable role in the implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy, through: enhancing access to information and communication technologies; enhancing the competiveness of SMEs; supporting the shift towards a low-carbon economy; promoting climate change adaptation and risk prevention; protecting the environment and promoting resource efficiency; promoting sustainable transport and removing bottlenecks in network infrastructures; promoting employment and supporting labour mobility; promoting social inclusion and combating poverty; investing in education, skills and lifelong learning; and enhancing institutional capacity and ensuring an efficient public administration.

Urban development issues have been integrated, to a large extent, into regional and national programmes supported by structural and cohesion funds. The Leipzig charter on sustainable European cities, agreed in 2007, demonstrated the EU’s commitment to making urban areas healthy, attractive and sustainable places to live and work. This work was further extended in 2010 with the Toledo declaration that resulted from a meeting of the ministers responsible for urban development in the EU Member States. The declaration sets out the EU’s commitment to defining and applying integrated urban regeneration as one of the key tools of the Europe 2020 strategy, in particular through the promotion of energy efficiency, the renovation of buildings and housing, along with improvements to existing public transport systems and policies designed to limit the development of outlying areas around cities.

The exchange of best practice and networking between urban planners and other local experts has been facilitated by the URBACT programme, which promotes sustainable urban development through a range of funding initiatives. At the time of writing, the URBACT III programme (to cover the programming period 2014–20) was still under discussion. However, the next programming period is likely to be more results-oriented and will incorporate a reference framework for sustainable cities, a toolkit designed to help cities promote and enhance their work.

See also

Further Eurostat information



Cities and greater cities (urb_cgc)
Larger urban zone (urb_luz)
Perception survey results (urb_percep) :Key indicators for core cities (urb_ikey)

Dedicated section

City statistics - Urban Audit

Methodology / Metadata

Source data for figures and maps (MS Excel)

External links