Eurostat: What government spending in EU countries goes to – Where does Greece differ

In 2020, general government total expenditure in the EU amounted to 53.1% of gross domestic product (GDP). Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government measures to mitigate its effects, this ratio increased strongly from the previous year (46.5%) as a consequence of decreases in GDP, as well as increases in total expenditure (€7 118 in 2020 compared with €6 521 billion in 2019; an increase of €598 billion, equal to 9.2% compared with 2019).

This information comes from recently published data on general government expenditure. The article presents only a handful of findings from the more detailed set of Statistics Explained articles.

Highest proportion of government expenditure goes to social  protection and health

Among the main functions of general government expenditure in the EU, ‘social protection’ remained by far the most important in 2020, equivalent to 22.0% of GDP. The next most important areas were ‘health’ (8.0%), ‘general public services’ (6.2%) such as external affairs and public debt transactions, ‘economic affairs’ (6.1%) and ‘education’ (5.0%). The functions ‘public order and safety’ (1.8%), ‘defence’ (1.3%), ‘recreation, culture and religion’ (1.2%), ‘environmental protection’ (0.9%) and ‘housing and community amenities’ (0.6%) had more limited weights.

Strong increases in social protection, economic affairs and health driven by the COVID-19 pandemic

At EU level, general government total expenditure increased for all the major functions, but increases were concentrated in ‘social protection’ (+€238 billion, of which +€118 billion were for ‘unemployment’), ‘economic affairs’ (+€206 billion) and ‘health’ (+€95 billion).

Ratio of social protection expenditure highest in France and Finland, lowest in Ireland

‘Social protection’ represented the most important area of general government expenditure in 2020 in all EU Member States. Government social protection expenditure as percentage of GDP varied across EU Member States from 10.2% in Ireland, 12.0% in Malta and 13.1% in Bulgaria, to over a quarter in France (27.3%), Finland (25.7%) and Italy (25.2%).

Government expenditure on health highest in Czechia and Austria, on education highest in Sweden, on economic affairs highest in Croatia

In 2020, Czechia and Austria (both 9.2%) and France (9.0%) recorded the highest ratios of government expenditure to GDP devoted to health among EU Member States.

The highest ratios of government expenditure to GDP on general public services were observed in Italy (8.7%), Greece and Finland (both 8.4%).

The highest share of government expenditure on economic affairs in 2020 was recorded in Croatia (11.3%), ahead of Malta (10.0%).

For education, the highest shares were registered in Sweden (7.2%).

Expenditures in Greece

Greece spends slightly more than the European average for social protection, 22.5%. Economic affairs is the next category of expenditures with a rate of 9.9% i, ie 3.8 points above the EU average, followed by public services at 8.4%.

For health, the state spends 6.7% of its outlays, well below the European average, and for education 4.5%. The share of defense in public spending is twice the EU average at 2.6%, followed by civil protection with 2.4% (compared to 1.8% on average in the EU), environmental protection, almost twice as much as the European average, at 1.6% and local infrastructure at just 0.3% of the total.