Prague outranks Paris and Stockholm among EU's richest regions
Prague outranked Paris, Stockholm and Vienna in a list of the EU's richest regions published on Thursday (18 February) by Eurostat, the bloc's statistics office. The chart is however based on 2007 data, at the height of an economic boom in the central European state.
Prague ranked fifth among Europe's 271 regions in terms of gross domestic product per inhabitant, up from the 12th place last year. It is the only region from the new member states to feature in the upper ranks of EU's richest areas.
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Top of the list continued to be London, Luxembourg, Brussels and Hamburg, as it was the case in the last Eurostat ranking published in 2009, also based on three-year old data.
Paris, officially referred to as Ile de France, came in sixth this year, followed by southern and eastern Ireland (which includes Dublin), the Dutch region of Groningen, Bavaria, Stockholm and Vienna.
The poorest regions are still those in the newest member states – Bulgaria and Romania, but also Hungary and Poland.
Prague's performance may be a one-off, as it happened in 2007, when the Czech Republic registered its record economic growth level since 1989, mostly driven by manufacturing industry and a high domestic consumption level. It was also the year when for the first time Czech exports overtook imports, production of car, electronics and computers was booming, while inflation and unemployment were at the lowest levels in 10 years.
But the situation has since worsened, and the ranking does not reflect the impact of the economic crisis, which only started to unfold in 2008.
"It's obsolete to have this information now, when this was data from before the economic crisis," Alena Vlacihova from the Czech business representation in Brussels told EUobserver. "In 2010 and the internet era, we should be able to collect data directly and faster," she added.
Eurostat, the bloc's statistics office, only relies on data gathered from member states, which takes considerable time to be collected. The office is currently at the centre of a debate among member states pondering to bolster its powers, in response to doubts over Greek data.
"Eurostat should harmonise how it uses indicators, since some member states use other indicators or simply invent the statistics, like Hungary and Greece," Ms Vlacihova said.
Earlier this week, Belgian finance minister Didier Reynders said any increase in Eurostat's remit should be accompanied by an internal overhaul to increase the independence and transparency of the statistics office.
In particular, the Belgian politician pointed to certain Eurostat decisions relating to accounting practices used by telecommunication companies in Europe. "The decisions did not seem quite the same," in different countries, he said.
Commission economy spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio said on Wednesday it was unclear whether new Eurostat powers would be accompanied by internal reforms, although he did not rule out the possibility of some increase in staff numbers.
The statistics agency has not been immune from controversy in the past. In 2003, three senior officials were removed from their posts and a number of contracts with outside companies were cancelled after it was alleged that a double accounting system had been used during the 1990s to transfer large amounts of money to secret bank accounts.