The crisis has set in motion fundamental changes in Europe and the markings are already visible as registered by the findings of the new European Catch-Up Index, exposing and deepening divergences in Europe but at the same time creating new patterns of convergence and models of a "multispeed Europe".
The report "Aftershocks: What Did the Crisis Do to Europe?" is based on the second edition of the Catch-Up Index, which measures and ranks 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, measured by 47 indicators, with scores from 100-0 (highest to lowest) and rankings from 1-35 (highest to lowest).
The highest ranking countries are Luxemburg (1st place), the Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Denmark and Finland (2nd, 3rd and 4t) and the Netherlands (5th) as measured by overall score, which is the average of the four categories. They are followed by a group of core European countries, including the big three of Germany (6th), UK (9th) and France (12th), along this their neighbors of Austria (7th), Iceland (8th), Belgium (10th), Ireland (11th). At the bottom of the ranking of 35 countries are the Turkey (33th) and Western Balkan countries – Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina (30th to 35th), with fellow Balkan countries of Greece, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria just slightly ahead at the end of the row (25th, 26th, 28th, 29th).
The best performing countries – the ones that have moved most up the ranking in comparison to the 2011 index - are Germany (3 spots up), the Czech Republic and Poland (2 spots up each). The countries that have slid down the most are the crisis-ridden Iceland - 2 spots down, Ireland - 3 spots and Spain and Italy by 2 spots each.
The index registers the effects of the economic crisis on the continent in all main categories – economy, democracy, quality of life and governance – and outlines the possible groups in "a multispeed Europe". These clusters are hierarchical groups of countries with similar characteristics as defined by the performance in the index. The divisions of Europe have a clear geographic pattern as the most advanced clusters include neighboring countries in the North and Northwest parts of the continent and the countries that are lagging behind are in the Southeast of Europe – the Balkans – with the last two clusters uniting all SEE countries – EU members, candidates and potential candidates alike.
This confirms the tendency for an increasing North-South divide, which gradually replaces the previous East-West divisions after many former communist countries and new EU member states – such as the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Poland or Slovakia among others – are already catching up the best performing Western countries in a number of indicators. Reversely, Greece is among the countries lagging behind and is in company of its Balkan neighbors, sliding down the rankings not only in Economy category by dropping from 27th to 31st place – as expected – but also in Democracy and Governance by one spot. However, Greece retains relatively good position in Quality of Life at 17th place. This is apparently the category, where the newer member states of the EU are catching-up most slowly and difficultly the older member states.
"The tier-one advanced countries are the new center that can quickly consolidate and leave a fragmented, last-tier periphery. In geographic terms, the leaders are in the North and Northwest of the continent with the Southeast being their antipodes, including even EU member states such as Greece, Bulgaria and Romania and soon to be member Croatia. The index registers no substantial changes in the Western Balkans, which is not a sign of stability, but likely of a dangerous stagnation as they remain at the bottom of the rankings" said lead researcher Marin Lessenski.
The crisis seems to have had a level playing field effect on the European countries. The differences are no longer based primarily on the "membership factor". The countries in the clusters share similarities based on achievements, not on their status or the length of stay in clubs as the EU or the Eurozone. In general, older member states still tend to be better off than newer member states and EU members doing better than most non-members. However, the pronounced geographic patterns of divergence and convergence have brought about a kind of "organic Europe", with neighboring countries being more similar to each other and convergent in clusters and more different from the rest. For example, a number of CEE countries managed to pull up in the race and get closer to their North or Western counterparts, with some of them ahead of the Southern EU members in an array of indicators. At the other is Greece, which is diverging from its Western European group and getting closer to its neighbors.
Progress in the catching-up process is not evenly spread and the findings indicate that the divisions between former East and West are gradually waning. The performance of the EU10 – the newer EU member states from CEE – have already distinguished the leaders and laggards in the group as some post-communist countries are catching-up with the best performing countries in some indicators – e.g. with Estonia standing out on 11th place in Democracy category among 35 countries. Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Estonia consistently rank highly in the index at 13th, 15th and 18th positions respectively by overall score. Romania and Bulgaria are the ones that lag behind, occupying 28th and 29th position in the overall ranking and are similarly behind in the different categories. There is a danger that the crisis and the prospects for diminishing EU cohesion policy threaten to further undermine convergence in Europe and increase divergence. But it seems that breakthroughs in catching-up require a much more massive effort and substantial change of paradigm as “accession” does not translate automatically “integration” and the EU’s cohesion policies is not designed to address divergence in democracy or governance.
The special online platform at http://www.TheCatchUpIndex.eu allows users to view and work interactively with the data of the index. The report "Aftershocks: What Did the Crisis Do to Europe?" is available for download at www.eupi.eu and www.TheCatchUpIndex.eu.
The Catch-Up Index is a product of the European Policies Initiative (EuPI; www.eupi.eu) of the Open Society Institute – Sofia (www.osi.bg), an independent think tank and advocacy organization, based in Sofia, Bulgaria.