The long expected opening of accession negotiations with the European Union is a good opportunity to reflect on the place Serbia would take as the supposed 29th member state of the European Union. From this hypothetical perspective, that is, compared to the existing 28 member states, I will rank Serbia according to age distribution, family conditions, level of education and health of its population; the level of GDP, salaries and unemployment rate; crime rate and traffic safety; as well as the dynamic of introducing renewable energy sources on the national level. Even a cursory comparison of the (EU) Eurostat statistical data and the data provided by our Statistical Office reveals discouraging results and lag in the case of Serbia, not only in the domain of economy, but also in regard to basic indicators such as the health of the population and the quality of human resources.
Area and population (16th and 17th place)
The Republic of Serbia, as the 29th EU member state (with “status neutral” territory of Kosovo and Metohija) would be ranked as a medium-sized country; ranked by area, Serbia would take the 14th place, somewhere in the middle of the list of EU countries. Without the territory of Kosovo, Austria and the Czech Republic would exceed the size of Serbia, which would then take the 16th place amongst member states. According to population (without Kosovo), Serbia would take the 17th place in the EU.
GDP (29th place)
Unemployment rate (3rd place)
Average salary (27th place)
In the domain of economic parameters of production and consumption, Serbia would be ranked at the very bottom of the list of EU countries. Compared by value of GDP (35% of the EU average in 2012) and the average purchasing power (43% of the EU average in 2012) per capita, Serbia would be ranked 29th. As to the unemployment rate (currently about 24% registered), Serbia would outrank only two EU countries, Spain and Greece, by a statistical margin. However, taking into consideration the significant number of unemployed who are not registered by our Statistical Office, it remains a question whether the ranking of Serbia in this domain is truly justified.
According to gross salary per hour, Serbia would take the 27th place, or the third place from the end. With 2.62 EUR per hour, Serbia would be ranked higher than only the worst paid labor force in Romania (2 EUR per hour) and Bulgaria (1.5 EUR per hour). However, this is only a relative advantage, since Serbia has a significantly higher unemployment rate than these two countries, which also have a higher production level and per capita.
In the recent statements, Serbian government officials have, on several occasions, pointed out that lowering the unemployment rate below 20% is one of the top priorities of the government. From the reality Serbia is living in, the data about unemployment in 2012 in Austria (4.3%), the Netherlands (5.3%) or Germany (5.5%) appears almost unrealistic. Even in the neighboring countries, Romania and Bulgaria (7% and 12.5%), which are often considered as examples of failure in the EU, the situation is significantly better than in our country (3 and 2 times lower unemployment rates, respectively). In the category of salaries, discrepancies compared to the most developed European countries are so big that the comparative analysis seems pointless. For example, in Denmark, gross income per hour amounted to 25 EUR in 2010, almost ten times more than in our country. Additionally, unemployment rate in Denmark is over three times lower than in Serbia.
Price of electricity (29th place)
Citizens of Serbia have the privilege (and, in the long-term, actually a problem) of using the cheapest electricity in the whole of Europe. According to the data from 2011, the price of electricity was 6.6 eurocents per kWh, which is around four times cheaper than in Denmark and Germany (29.8 and 25.3 eurocents). Electricity is also more expensive in Bulgaria (8.7 eurocents) and Romania (10.9 eurocents), as well as certain less developed countries outside the EU: Albania (11.6) and the neighboring Bosnia and Herzegovina (7.9 eurocents). The price of electricity in Serbia will have to increase in the future, in order to meet the needs of preserving the electrical-energy system in the country. On the other hand, the lower price serves an extremely important social function in the conditions of overall poverty; its uncontrolled increase could lead to a scenario not unlike the one in Bulgaria at the start of the year, when higher electricity bills led to several months long street protests, the fall of the government and long-term instability. The Bulgarian problematic experience with the privatization of the electrical-energy system should be kept in mind on the Serbian transition path towards the EU.
Population growth (20th place)
From a historical point of view, during the 19th and the largest part of the 20th century, the vital statistics on marriage, average age and population growth were always positive for Serbia. Although the country was not integrated in the modern system of production and social relations which existed in the developed parts of Europe, the biological fertility and high birthrate created the basis for future development. The modern Serbian society is only at the start of the so-called “reindustrialization”, while the biological premises are not as positive as they were in the past. However, the ranking of Serbia in this domain, compared to EU member states, is not as discouraging as in the case of basic economic parameters. In the domain of vital statistics, some member states are faced with far more critical situations than Serbia, which is somewhere in the middle (or at the top of the lower end) of the list of EU countries.
The twenty year trend of negative population growth rate in Serbia, which reached the rate of -5.2 (per 1000 inhabitants) in 2011, is alarming. According to Eurostat data, 19 member states are better ranked than Serbia, which as a member state would take the 20th place (out of 29). The least favorable population growth rates exist in Germany (-189), Romania (-55.2), Italy (-46.8), Hungary (-40.7) and Bulgaria (-37.5). Compared to these countries, the situation in Serbia does not look as tragic. Immigration and emigration rates change these basic data in the overall population calculation. Thus, a considerable immigration rate to Germany and Italy not only compensates for the effect of negative population growth, but also contributes to the final positive demographical balance in these two countries. On the other hand, the negative population growth rate in Romania and Bulgaria is further increased by economic emigration. This would certainly be the case with Serbia, which, in the conditions of increased freedom of movement, has become a country of emigration, and not the opposite.
Marriages and divorces (15th and 26th place)
According to the number of new marriages in 2011 (4.9 per 1000 inhabitants), Serbia would be ranked 15th, which is at the middle of the list of EU member states. The lowest number of new marriages in 2011 was recorded in Bulgaria (2.9), and the highest in Malta (6.2). It is interesting to note that Serbia ranks very well in regard to the number of divorces, which is much lower in our country than in the EU. In 2011, only three EU member states had lower number of divorces than Serbia (1.1 per 1000 inhabitants). According to the number of divorces, Serbia is ranked 26th, which is, overall, one of the most favorable results of rankings analyzed in this article. Although serious attention is dedicated to the phenomenon of increased number of divorces in our country, in this domain of family statistics, Serbia appears as one of the healthiest countries in Europe. The highest number of divorces was noted in Lithuania (3.4), the Czech Republic (2.7) and Denmark (2.6), and the lowest in Malta (0.1) and Ireland (0.7). However, it should be noted that in Serbia, spouses choose to divorce less often due to high court costs and cultural limitations, which stigmatize mostly women for deciding to end a marriage.
Age of the population – average and expected (21st and 29th place)
An important part of population statistics relates to the average age of the population and the expected average age at birth. According to the data on the average age of the population in 2011, the Serbian population would be in the 21st place, with the average age of 41.6 years. In 2011, only 8 countries had the population older than in Serbia, the highest being in Germany (44.6 years) and Italy (43.5). The youngest EU population is in Ireland (34.6) and in Cyprus (35.7). The data on the expected age at birth brings us back to the last place on the list of EU states. Namely, according to the data from 2011, both in the case of men (69.7) and women (75) years, Serbia is ranked last (29th place), as the nation with the shortest life expectancy amongst EU member states. As a comparison – the longest life expectancy in Europe for women is 85 (in Spain and France), which is 10 years longer than expected average life expectancy for women in our country.
Mortality from malignant and cardiovascular diseases (1st place)
Serbia holds the infamous first place in the mortality rate from tumors and cardiovascular diseases per 100,000 inhabitants. This data is closely connected to the abovementioned statistics on expected average age of the population. According to the data from 2010, our country is not only in the alarming first place by the number of deaths from these diseases, but this number is also significantly higher than the corresponding values in other member states and the EU average. In the case of cardiovascular diseases, the EU average for 2010 was 209.9 cases (per 100,000 inhabitants). In France, this number was 119.5 cases, in the Netherlands 146.7 and 167.7 in Italy. The highest mortality rate among current member states is recorded in Bulgaria and Romania (621.7 and 548.4). However, even they are behind the Serbian average of 774.2 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in the same period. In the case of malignant diseases, the EU average is 166.9 deaths (per 100,000 inhabitants), while this number in Serbia is 296.1 per 100,000 inhabitants. Statistically closest, and the only one with a death rate over 200 is Hungary, with a rate of 238.8.
It appears that our Ministry of Health (which remained unchanged in the recent government reconstruction) is exacerbating this situation. Namely, the most recent amendments to the “Ordinance on the contents and scope of the right to healthcare” from December 2012, significantly limit the possibilities of preventive healthcare for certain categories of the population. According to this Ordinance, citizens of both sexes between the ages of 23 and 35 have the right to a free routine examination once every five years. Citizens over 35, as a higher-risk category, can request a routine examination once every two years.
This leads to the conclusion that only ill citizens and high-risk groups have the opportunity to take full advantage of the system of (preventive) health care (research carried out by Ana Miletic, Blic, n. 5801). At the same time, the official website of the Ministry of Health points out the importance of prevention in successful treatment. On the Ministry’s website, we can read the following banner: “Check your health before something starts to hurt. Then it might already be too late”. A cursory analysis of the most recent regulations adopted by the Ministry testifies to the significant discrepancy between words and actions, the campaign on preventive treatments and the abovementioned Ordinance. Denying preventive examination to the most vital and healthy part of the population is completely paradoxical, since preventive treatment and routine control are designed primarily for this group, and serve the purpose of discovering the symptoms of diseases in time, so that treatment can be faster, more efficient and cheaper.
Suicide (7th place)
According to the number of suicides per 100,000 inhabitants, with the rate of 16.6 in 2010, Serbia was ranked 7th in comparison to current EU member states. This means that only six European nations have a higher suicide rate than Serbia. Lithuania (29.4), Hungary (21.7) and Latvia (18.2) have the highest suicide rate, while Mediterranean nations have traditionally the lowest rates: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, and Malta – have rates between 5 and 8 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants. A European phenomenon is Greenland, the autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark, which maintains the highest suicide rate in the world for several decades (over 100 cases per 100,000 inhabitants). If the suicide rate reflects, amongst other things, the mental health of a nation, the high place Serbia holds should also be understood as a very serious problem.
Number of medical doctors and hospital beds (25th and 14th place)
The devastating statistics on the mortality rate is related to the overall level of healthcare services offered to the population. One of the indicators related to this criterion is the number of medical doctors per 100.000 inhabitants. In Serbia, this number in 2010 was 271.7 doctors. In the same year, only four EU countries had lower numbers of doctors than Serbia – Poland (217.5), Romania (236.9), Slovenia (243.9) and the UK (271.2). It is interesting to note that the mortality rate from treatable diseases in these countries is significantly lower than in Serbia. The highest number of doctors per number of inhabitants is present in Greece (612.6), more than double the number in Serbia.
The second indicator which is often used to assess the capacity of a healthcare system is the number of available hospital beds per 100,000 inhabitants. According to this parameter, with 564.9 beds, Serbia would take 14th place among EU member states. According to this parameter, 15 EU member states have lower numbers of available hospital beds, and still the health statistics for these nations are better than in our country.
Number of deaths in traffic accidents (19th place)
The lowest number of deaths in traffic accidents per 100,000 inhabitants in the EU in 2010 was recorded in the UK (3.4) and Sweden (3.8), while the highest number was in Romania (15.3). In Romania, the poor traffic infrastructure, combined with low fuel costs, significantly increased the possibility of traffic accidents. With the rate of 6.55, Serbia is in the moderate 19th place. Thus, in 18 EU countries, the number of deaths in traffic accidents is higher than in Serbia. In addition to the statistics related to divorces, this data is also positive for Serbia. One of the elements that should be taken into consideration in the context of this positive statistics is the relatively high price of fuel compared to average income. Namely, the number of vehicles on Serbian roads is lower than it would be the case if average incomes were higher. This, in turn, lowers the number of traffic accidents.
Murder rate (4th place)
Prison population (10th place)
Police staff (6th place)
With the burdening heritage of wars and overall poverty, coupled with criminalized security services and police, Serbia should be amongst the countries with the highest rate of crime and insecurity on the streets compared to EU member states. The statistics confirm this, but also show significantly higher crime rates in some other countries. In regard to the murder rate in the period between 2007 and 2009 per 100,000 inhabitants, Serbia takes the respectable 4th place with the rate of 2.21, behind Lithuania (8.31), Estonia (5.74) and Finland (2.36). Namely, it turned out that the effect of the global economic crisis which hit the Baltic states hardest in 2009, criminalized their societies and affected social stratification much stronger in comparison to what long-term negative consequences of war, economic devastation and unemployment did to our country. In the same period (2007-2009), according to the abovementioned criteria, Belgrade would take the 8th place among EU capitals. Maybe we are not aware of this fact, but Vilnius, Tallinn, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Brussels, Prague and Bratislava are less safe than Belgrade, at least according to this criterion.
According to the number of prison population in the period between 2008 and 2010 per 100,000 inhabitants, with the rate of 144, Serbia would take the 10th place. In this regard as well, the highest numbers are recorded in the Baltic states, Latvia (305), Estonia (264) and Lithuania (248). The lowest numbers are recorded in Finland (62), Slovenia (66), Denmark and Germany (68 each).
According to the average annual number of active police officers (per 100,000 inhabitants), with 451 police officers for the period 2008-2010, Serbia would be ranked in the high 6th place. The highest numbers in this period were recorded in Mediterranean countries: Cyprus (664), Spain (508) and Malta (456).
High education (26th place)
The percentage of the population which has completed some type of tertiary education is used as a criterion of technical and cultural potential for the development of a society. Particular attention is given to the population between the ages of 30 and 34, who should be most active and contribute the most to the developmental processes. According to this indicator, Serbia, with 20.6% in 2010, was ranked at the very bottom of the list of EU member states. A lower percentage of tertiary education in the abovementioned age group was recorded only in Romania (18.1), Italy (19.8) and the Czech Republic (20.4). The highest percentage of population with tertiary education in the abovementioned age group was recorded in Ireland (50.1), Cyprus (47.1), Luxembourg (46.1) and Finland (45.7). The EU average for 2010 was 33.5 percent. The additional burden in the case of Serbia are the outdated teaching methods and inadequate knowledge and skills taught at the universities. If that is any comfort, three EU countries are, at least statistically, worse ranked than Serbia.
Renewable energy sources (29th place)
A topic which is slowly becoming of public interest, and which is a daily preoccupation in EU member states, is the increase of the participation of the so-called renewable energy sources in electricity consumption at the national level. If we look at the period between 2004 and 2011, the most significant increase in the participation of renewable energy sources (a little over three times) was recorded in the UK and Luxembourg. A more than double increase in the participation of renewable energy sources was recorded in Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Hungary. In the above-mentioned period, Serbia did not increase the participation of renewable energy sources, which pertain entirely to the electricity produced in hydroelectric power plants, at all. However, energy produced by hydroelectric power plants in Serbia already accounts for around 11% of the national consumption, ranking Serbia higher than many EU member states. In regard to this issue, Serbia is ranked somewhere around the 12th place on the list of EU member states for 2011, and with further investments in this sector, it would move up on the list.
Although the situation is not as bad as it is usually described in the media, comparing the basic parameters of Serbia and EU member states does not leave much place for optimism. Serbia appears as a country lagging in the number of doctors, with leading numbers of prison population and police officers, as the absolute record holder in the number of deaths from malignant and cardiovascular diseases, a country on the very bottom of the EU list when economy, employment and education are concerned. Serbian population is not the oldest in the EU, but it is faced with a dramatic demographic crisis. Stalling the process of EU integrations would only further worsen the parameters of Serbia compared to EU member states’ standards.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic