Running on Fumes: Findings of the European Catch-Up Index 2019


The catching-up of the new EU member states with their Western counterparts was most dynamic in the 2011-2014 period, after which the process slowed down or was reversed for some countries, according to report “Running on Fumes”, which contains the findings of the new Catch-Up Index 2019. This is the ninth edition of the Catch-Up Index, with the first report released in 2011 and published every year. The Catch Up Index registers the convergence and divergence in Europe by measuring the performance of 35 countries – the EU member states, the candidate and potential candidate countries across four categories – Economy, Quality of Life, Democracy and Governance, using 47 basic indicators.

The top five performers in Index 2019 by overall scores are Denmark (1st place out of 35 with 71 points out of 100), Sweden (2nd with 70 points), Luxembourg (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. At the bottom of the ranking by overall score are Bosnia and Herzegovina (35th place with 18 points), Turkey (34th with 22 points), North Macedonia (33rd with 25 points), Albania (32nd with 25 points), Serbia (31st with 29 points). Index 2019 shows a gap between the best performers in the Northern and Western Europe and those lagging behind in the Southeast of the continent.

And while many East-West and North-South divides still persist, the Index 2019 shows that they should not be always taken for granted. The catching-up process has allowed a number of EU10+1 countries, as the group of the new EU member states is dubbed, to perform on par or even outperform a number of older member states. The Southern European states still have very good Quality of Life indicators and mostly solid results in Democracy and Governance, despite reversals in recent years.

A trio of EU10+1 countries – Estonia, Czech Republic and Slovenia – is showcasing the catching-up process as they are closest to the desired average benchmarks of the EU15+2 countries and outperform the rest of the new member states. In the overall ranking, Estonia is on 13th position out of 35 countries with 57 points on a 0 to 100 scale (lowest to highest), followed by the Czech Republic (14th) and Slovenia (15th) each with 55 points.

But while Index 2019 shows the trajectory of the new EU member states convergence with the rest, there are already cases of divergence of some countries indicated in the categories of Democracy and Governance. In Democracy, Hungary witnessed a significant drop of 6 positions and 15 score points in comparison to 2011 and lands on 28th position out of 35 in Index 2019, while Poland dropped by six positions compared to 2012 and slid to 24th position in 2019. Both countries lost 2 positions each in the Governance rankings compared to 2011 and the next several years.

This indicates that the catching-up paradigm may be changing as some political parties on power started to reject emulating their “Western” counterparts, at least in democracy and governance. 

The EU10+1 as a group are still far from the best performers of the EU15+2 and their average scores are closest to the average benchmarks in the Economy and further away, but equally distant to the average scores in Quality of Life, Democracy and Governance. This may be partly due to the fact that catching-up in the Economy has been relatively easier than in translating this into a success in other complex system  and partly due to decision of certain governments to decouple the catching-up categories with reversals in democracy or governance.

The new EU member states still differ in many respects from the EU15+2, but at the same time make up a diverse group themselves. For example, Slovakia (1st among 35 countries), Slovenia (2nd) and the Czech Republic (3rd) are the least unequal countries among the 35 countries according to the Gini indicator. But Bulgaria (34th out of 35 countries), Lithuania (33rd), and Latvia (30th) are among the most unequal countries.

The cluster analysis, which divides the countries into groups with similar characteristics, shows that there are clear geographic patterns as shown in the cluster map by overall scores. All countries in the clusters four to six are exclusively concentrated on the Balkans or around it, while no country from this region is in the better performing clusters one to three. This creates a picture of the dividing lines in Europe between the Balkans and the rest.

The comparison between clusters in the Index 2011 and Index 2019 by overall score shows that the new member states as a whole have “graduated” to the better performing clusters, catching-up with a number of EU15+2 countries and leaving the last two clusters to the EU candidate countries in Southeastern Europe.

The analyses show that there seems to be geographic and time patterns in the Catch-Up Index long-term dynamics. The top clusters consist of best performing countries in Western core and Northern Europe while the last two clusters consist of the candidate countries located in Southeastern Europe, which are falling behind.

The year on year country developments in the index are as a rule incremental, but the long-term comparisons between the first edition in 2011 and the latest 2019 edition show the levels of change. The trends in the ranking and scores shows that the catching-up and the changes were most dynamic from 2011 to the 2014-2016 period, after which there is a slowdown of the process. The changes in the period 2011-2019 happen mostly within the EU10+1 group, compared to the EU15+2 of old member states and the EU candidate countries.

The data used in the Index 2019 encompass the period before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which started in early 2020. Therefore, the Index 2019 data and findings in this report describe the situation on the European continent before the Covid-19 health, economic and social crisis.

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 report Running on Fumes: Findings of the European Catch-Up Index 2019 is available in English in or

The report presents the findings of the European Catch-Up Index project of the European Policies Initiative (EuPI) of Open Society Institute – Sofia Foundation (OSI-Sofia) supported by a grant from Open Society Foundations (OSFs). This product is for non-commercial use only. The views expressed in the report are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of OSI-Sofia or OSFs.


Marin Lessenski