How Hard Can It Be? Findings of the European Catch-Up Index 2018


The so-called new EU member states (EU10+1) have been converging with the rest, but the process has slowed down in recent years and there are already differences in the group as some are diverging or stagnating in the different categories.

In Index 2018, the five best performing countries by overall score (this is the average of the four categories) are Denmark (1st with 71 points), Sweden (2nd with 70 points), Luxemburg (3rd with 70 points), the Netherlands (4th with 70 points) and Finland (5th with 69 points) in the ranking of 35 countries in on a scale from 100 to 0 points, highest to lowest. The five most poorly performing countries by overall score are BiH (35th with 35 points), Turkey (34th with 22 points), Macedonia (33rd with 24 points), Albania (32nd with 25 points) and Serbia (31st with 29 points).


There are clear geographical patterns in Index 2018 as there is divide especially between the best performing countries in Western core and Northern Europe and those in Southeastern Europe. Thus, the Balkan countries, which include the EU candidates (with Turkey too) and EU member states (including the close neighbor Hungary), are lagging behind in almost all respects.

The long-term trends in the period 2011-2018 show that a number of old EU member states such as Ireland, Portugal and Cyprus as well as Iceland are progressing in recent years, and even Greece shows small signs of improvement, which means many of the crisis-ridden of the 2008 Great Recession countries are recovering.

There are three new EU member states  in Index 2018 that are very close to the desired average benchmark of 60 points – Estonia (13th position) with 57 points, the Czech Republic (14th) with 55 points and Slovenia (15th) with 54 points. The success stories of the catching-up show that geography is not necessarily destiny and countries can improve their fortunes.

The trends between 2011 and 2018 show that the paradigm of the catching-up process might be changing as CEE countries have good track record in Economy, but have started to regressing substantially in Democracy, Governance and Quality of Life, such as in the cases of Hungary and Poland. There are already in-group differences among the new EU member states with regard to Governance and Democracy as some countries converge and the others diverge within the period 2011-2018.

When the short-term annual change 2017-2018 is considered, the Overall Scores and ranking show that most of the EU10+1 countries have stagnated (7 out of 11), three regressed and one progressed with minimal change. In the Economy, most of the countries have either stagnated (4 out of 11) or regressed (5 out of 11) with all Visegrad 4 registering decrease in this category and the rest (3 out 11) progressed. In the Quality of Life, the annual change showed mostly stagnation of the countries in focus (6 out of 11), with 3 progressing and 2 regressing. In Democracy, annual change shows a mixed picture of mostly stagnation (5 out of 11), with progress (3 out of 11) and regress (3 out of 11) in equal measure. In Governance, there is the largest share of regress compared to the other categories (5 out of 11 countries) with the rest split among progress (3 out of 11) and regress (3 out of 11).

Generally, the catching-up in the Economy category remains the most successful and in the Quality of Life category the least successful among the EU10+1 as a group as a number of them fail to translate economic achievements into better quality of life.

In each category there are indicators that play a bigger role in the progress or the regress in catching-up. In the Economy, the most problematic indicator for the new member states is GPD per capita, as they remain far from the desired levels. In contrast, low government debt drives the success of the EU10+1 up the ranking of the Index. In Quality of Life, the most problematic indicator for the EU10+1 is the wealth of households, as they remain poorer than the old member states. The new member states are also lagging behind in the health indicators, especially in life expectancy, which remains much lower than those of the old member states. In education, countries such as Estonia, Slovenia and Poland perform much better than the others in the PISA sub-indicator. In inequality (Gini Index), Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic perform better due to their lower inequality levels. In Democracy, Trust in People is one of the problematic indicators, contributing to the poor performance of the group. Satisfaction with democracy in the EU10+1 countries also tends to be low. In Media Freedoms, for example Estonia is outperforming the rest and Bulgaria is lagging behind. In Civil and Political Rights, Estonia is among the best and Hungary among the worst performers. In Governance, Governance Effectiveness, Corruption, E-government are among the problematic indicators, hindering the EU10+1 performance (Estonia is an exception in Corruption and E-government). Rule of Law and Internal conflict and Crime are other indicators, in which many of the new member states have problems.

But despite the frustration among new EU member states with the pace of catching-up with the Western counterparts, the comparison to the candidates countries in the Balkans, which all lag behind, show that EU membership offers advantageous framework for their development.

Full text of the report How Hard Can It Be? Findings of the European Catch-Up Index 2018

The online platform at allows users to view and work interactively with the data, creating their own “catching up” models and comparisons across countries and indicators.

The Catch-Up Index is a project of the European Policy Initiative (EuPI) of the Open Society Institute – Sofia.

Contact: Marin Lessenski