Convergence: Socioeconomic factors
Socioeconomic convergence is of utmost importance for the EU. Upward convergence in the economic dimension has always been seen as an EU political promise: Member States, and their citizens, join the EU with the expectation of reaching certain economic and social objectives and improving their working and living conditions.
Dimension 1: Macroeconomic
Real GDP per capita in PPS increased steadily in the period 1995–2017 across Europe. Similarly, the variability among countries, measured in terms of the standard deviation, also increased in the period considered, albeit with some oscillations.
Considering both developments together, a strong catching-up effect of poorer countries towards richer countries was recorded. However, in terms of absolute variability, a pattern of upward divergence can be observed. At European level, GDP per capita grew strongly, apart from the sharp decline recorded in 2008 and 2009 due to the Great Recession.
A very similar pattern can be seen for the standard deviation, which had its highest level in 2015 but dropped more recently. Diverging trends were much more pronounced in the euro zone than elsewhere, although the average development shows identical paths in both areas in the observed period.
Dimension 2: Social protection
The share of government expenditure on social protection shows that average development was quite stable between 1999 and 2008 but increased in 2009, probably as consequence of the economic and financial crisis. The increase of 2.1 percentage points reflected a 4.3% increase in overall social protection expenditure (in current prices) combined with a fall in GDP (-5.7 percentage points). Since then, the rate again remained stable, varying between 17.2% (2013) and 16.3% (2017).
The variability between countries shows a slightly different pattern: the standard deviation increased between 1999 and 2003, went down in the following years until 2010 and steeply increased since then, reaching a similar level to 2003 in 2015. Hence, over recent years a diverging trend in government expenditure on social protection relative to GDP is evident.
Dimension 3: Access to services
Upward convergence has been recorded in most of the indicators of this dimension. Overall, for the early school-leavers rate, upward convergence was recorded from 2002 to 2018 in the EU, with almost all Member States improving their performance. The proportion of early school-leavers has decreased more or less steadily from an EU Member State average of 16.4% in 2002 to 9.3% in 2018. Variability in the proportion of early school-leavers across Member States has also decreased quite continuously.
Finally, the EU average proportion of children aged less than three years in formal childcare has increased regularly from 24.4% in 2010 to 32.8% in 2017. Variability in the proportion of children below three in formal care across Member States decreased between 2010 and 2012, but then increased again until 2018. Upward divergence was identified.
Dimension 4: Gender equality
The gender employment gap in the EU28 steadily decreased from 17.5 to 10.6 percentage points between 2000 and 2018; in short, there are still more employed men than employed women. The variability among Member States followed a similar pattern of constant decrease, with the exception of a very moderate increase in 2008 and 2009. Considering both developments together, a pattern of upward convergence can be seen.
The indicator gender gap in parliamentary representation shows that the gap between women and men in national parliaments decreased from 55.3% to 45.8% between 2006 and 2017, meaning in 2017 there were the 45% more male members of parliament than female ones. Likewise, the dispersion among Member States decreased over the entire period; therefore, a process of upward convergence among countries took place.
The average gender gap in the early school-leavers rate in the EU decreased from -4.3 to -3.2 percentage points between 2002 and 2016 – there are more male early school-leavers than female. Only a short sub-period can be identified before the crisis (2004–2007) during which the gap marginally increased. At the same time, the dispersion among Member States has decreased, suggesting that, overall, a process of upward convergence took place.
Finally, analysis of upward convergence of the gender gap in the AROPE shows a weak upward divergence trend among the EU Member States in the period 2005–2016. In particular, while the average gender gap decreases over time (women present on average a higher risk of poverty and social exclusion), disparities between countries strongly increase in 2010, due to the effects of the economic and financial crisis. In the euro zone and non-euro area similar divergence patterns are registered.