20 years in 20 figures – a data-based trip across Europe


Author: Dora Perjesi
Chart (GDP per capita in the new EU member states of 2004 (EU-10)): Josef Schreiner.
The text benefited from useful comments provided by Thomas Gruber and Julia Wörz.

There is a saying that “May is the month of expectation, the month of wishes, the month of hope.”1 As a matter of fact, this seems to be the perfect description of May 2004, when 10 countries joined the EU, which, at that time, had consisted of 15 members. This event is considered the most significant enlargement in the EU’s recent history; and May 2004 certainly was a month of high expectations, wishes and hope.

Apart from its political and symbolic importance for a continent that had overcome the divisions of the 20th century, the enlargement has delivered positive developments also from an economic point of view. Since their EU accession, per capita incomes in the 10 countries under review (EU-10) have advanced from a mere 60% of the EU average back in 2004 to more than 80% in 2023.

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Are you curious to learn more about some other interesting developments that took place in these 10 countries in the last 20 years and compare them to each other?

If so, then join us for a data-based trip across Europe on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the 2004 enlargement. We will travel through all 10 countries in alphabetical order and look at economic and social developments since 2004 that make them unique among their peers.2

CYPRUS: banking on the internet – smaller gender pay gap

  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in internet banking use: 71% of people use internet banking in Cyprus (2023 data). The ratio increased by 200% (i.e. tripled) compared to 2012.3
  • Largest improvement within the EU-10 in the gender pay gap: The difference between average gross earnings per hour between male and female employees decreased to 10% in Cyprus (2022 data). The pay gap narrowed by 40% compared to 2010.4

CZECHIA: less energy consumption – strongly increased digital skills

  • Greatest decrease within the EU-10 in energy consumption by end users: Final energy consumption is at 25 million tons of oil equivalent in Czechia (2022 data). Energy consumption by end users decreased by 6% compared to 2004.5
  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in the ratio of persons with good digital skills: Almost 70% of people in Czechia have basic or above basic overall digital skills (2023 data). The ratio improved by 21.5% compared to 2015.6

ESTONIA: less greenhouse gas emissions – less dependency on imported energy

  • Largest reduction within the EU-10 in greenhouse gas emissions: Net greenhouse gas emissions in Estonia stand at 31% of the level observed in 1990 (2021 data). Estonia decreased its net greenhouse gas emissions by 35% since its EU accession in 2004.7
  • Largest cutback within the EU-10 in dependency on imported energy: Estonia needs to cover only 6% of its gross energy needs through imports (2022 data). The share of imported energy decreased by 80% compared to 2004.

HUNGARY: more healthy years – researchers on the rise

  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in healthy life years expected at birth: The number of years expected at birth to be spent in good health increased by 9 years in Hungary (2021 data). The life period with healthy years lengthened by 17% compared to 2005.9
  • Highest increase (in %) within the EU-10 in the number of researchers: Almost 46,000 researchers work in Hungary (in FTEs, 2022 data). Their number tripled compared to 2004.10

LATVIA: increase in employee compensation – women lead among researchers

  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in employee compensation per hour in euro: A person employed in Latvia receives EUR 11.6 per hour as gross compensation for their work (2021 data). The amount of hourly (nominal) compensation in euro increased by 350% (4.5 times) compared to 2004.11
  • Highest share of women among researchers within the EU-10: Latvia has a special tradition of having slightly more women among researchers than men. The share of female researchers has been on average 51% in Latvia since 2011.12

LITHUANIA: online shopping – GDP per person nearing EU average

  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in the ratio of persons buying online: 48% of persons in Lithuania made an online purchase in the last 3 months (2023 data). The ratio of persons shopping online increased 13 times compared to 2007.13
  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in per capita GDP compared to EU average: GDP per person in Lithuania is 89% the EU average (2022 data). The figure increased by 78% compared to 2004.14

MALTA: rising employment – jump in renewable energy

  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in the employment rate of people aged 20-64 years: 82% of people aged 20-64 are employed in Malta (2023 data). The employment rate increased by 38% compared to 2009.15
  • Greatest jump within the EU-10 in the share of energy from renewable sources: 13% of energy come from renewable sources in Malta (2022 data). The share of renewable energy increased 131 times from almost zero in 2004.16

POLAND: high-tech jobs on the rise – more investment in R&D

  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in the number of people employed in high-tech sectors: 590,000 work in high-tech sectors17 in Poland (2022 data). The number increased by 178,000 (+43%) compared to 2008.18
  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in the ratio of R&D expenditure relative to GDP: Poland spends 1.46% of its GDP on research and development (2022 data). The ratio increased by 160% (2.6 times) compared to 2004.19

SLOVAKIA: more graduates – rise in waste recycling

  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in the share of young adults with a university degree: 39% of young adults between the ages of 25 and 34 have successfully completed tertiary education in Slovakia (at university or at a higher technical institution, 2022 data). The ratio increased by 170% (almost 3 times) compared to 2004.20
  • Highest increase within the EU-10 in the recycling of municipal waste: 50% of municipal waste is recycled in Slovakia (2022 data). The recycling rate increased 24 times compared to 2005.21

SLOVENIA: first to have the euro – career as EU official

  • First among the EU-10 to introduce the euro: Slovenians have paid with euro since January 1, 2007.22 Slovenia was the first among the 10 new EU countries to introduce the euro.23
  • Highest increase (in %) within the EU-10 in the number of people working at the European Commission: 338 Slovenians work at the European Commission (2024 data). The number of Slovenians employed by the European Commission increased by 19% compared to 2016.24
Overview table – indicators of selected developments in EU-10 countries since 2004   
Indicator Best performers among EU−10 countries EU−27 average Reference period
Country Latest available data Change Latest available data Change
Internet banking use Cyprus 71% +200% 64% +67% 2012−2023
Gender pay gap 10% −40% 12.7% −20% 2010−2022
Change in energy consumption Czechia −6% −10% 2004−2022
Ratio of people with good digital skills 70% +21.5% 56% +3% 2015−2023
Greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 level Estonia 31% −35% 72% −25% 2004−2021
Share of imported energy 6% −80% 62% +10% 2004−2022
Change in healthy life years expected at birth Hungary +9 years +17% +3 years +4% 2005−2021
Number of researchers (FTE) 46,000 +200% (Tripled) 2,000,000 +100% (Doubled) 2004−2022
Employee compensation per hour Latvia EUR 11.6 +350% EUR 25 +50% 2004−2021
Share of female researchers 51% on average 34% +5% 2011−2021
Ratio of people buying online Lithuania 48% +1,200% (Increased 130 times) 58% +200% (Tripled) 2007−2023
GDP per person compared to EU−27 average 89% 78% 2004−2022
Employment rate of people aged 20−64 years Malta 82% +38% 75% +12% 2009−2023
Share of renewable energy 13% Increased 131 times 23% Increased 2.4 times 2004−2022
Number of people employed in high−tech sectors Poland 590,000 +43% 9,8 million +41% 2008−2022
Ratio of R&D expenditure to GDP 1.46% +160% 2.24% +25% 2004−2022
Share of young adults with a university degree Slovakia 39% +170% 42% +60% 2004−2022
Recycling rate of municipal waste 50% Increased 24 times 48.5% Increased 1.5 times 2005−2022
Euro introduction Slovenia First to introduce the euro in 2007 2004−2024
Number of people working at the European Commission 338 +19% 29,891 (all EU−27) +1.6% 2016−2024

1 Author unknown; some online sources (without providing evidence though) name English novelist Emily Brontë as the author.
2 Comparisons may refer to shorter periods, depending on data availability.
3 Eurostat data, internet banking use
4 Eurostat data, gender pay gap

5 Eurostat data, final energy consumption
Eurostat data, digital skills until 2019 and digital skills from 2021

7 Eurostat data, net GHG emissions
8 Eurostat data, energy dependency

9 Eurostat data, healthy life years
10 Eurostat data, researchers

11 Eurostat data, employee compensation per hour
12 Eurostat data, women researchers
13 Eurostat data, internet purchases until 2019 and internet purchases from 2020
14 Eurostat data, GDP per person compared to EU average
15 Eurostat data, employment rate of persons aged 20-64 years
16 Eurostat data, share of renewable energy
17 High-technology sectors: high-technology manufacturing and knowledge-intensive high-technology services.
18 Eurostat data, high-tech sector employment
19 Eurostat data, R&D expenditure
20 Eurostat data, tertiary attainment of young adults
21 Eurostat data, recycling rate of municipal waste
22 European Commission, Slovenia and the euro
23 7 out of the EU-10 countries have already introduced the euro.
24 European Commission, information on staff figures