European Regions Ranked In Terms Of GDP; Prague Wealthiest, Bulgaria Among Poorest

By Tom Mudd Only two of 53 central European regions have a GDP near or above the average for regions in the European Union. Prague is the wealthiest of the regions, with a GDP that is 15% higher than the EU average. Bratislava, in Slovakia, comes within one percentage point of the average. The figures, which were released earlier this month by the EU statistical agency Eurostat, show that in 51 of the 53 regions, purchasing power per head is below 75% of the EU average. Forty of the regions fall below the 50% mark. The numbers are sure to get close scrutiny from leaders of the European Union because all 10 of the countries surveyed hope to be included in plans to expand the open market. A flood of cheap laborers from new entrants is one major fear of existing partners within the EU, particularly the easternmost member countries such as Germany and Austria. The current timetable would have the first tier of new members entering the EU in 2003. But the existing members have yet to reach full agreement. Six of the 10 poorest regions are Bulgarian, with the citizens of south central Bulgaria enjoying only 22% of the purchasing power of their average EU counterparts. The Czech Republic -- despite some economic setbacks in the last few years -- boasted the healthiest GDP figures overall. Five Czech regions occupy positions within the top 10, thanks in part to the growth of the automotive sector there. The Czechs as a whole have about 60% of the purchasing power of EU citizens. But Slovenia -- at 69% of the EU average -- has a higher per-capita GDP overall. Also scoring relatively well were Hungary and Slovakia, which were at 49%.

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