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Common classification of territorial units for statistical purposes

The EU has introduced a legal framework for the geographical division of the territory of the European Union in order to harmonise the collection, transmission and publication of national and Community statistics. The compilation of regional statistics according to the common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS) stabilises them over time and provides a procedure for future alterations.


Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS) [See amending acts].


Regional statistics are one of the pillars of the Community statistical system. They form the basis for defining regional indicators. They were introduced at the beginning of the 1970s following negotiations between the national statistics offices in the Member States and Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Communities.

Users of statistics have expressed an increasing need for harmonisation at Community level in order to have data that are comparable across the whole of the European Union. In order to enable the collecting, compiling and disseminating of harmonised regional statistics, the EU has introduced the NUTS classification. It replaces the classification set up by Eurostat.

The single legal framework means that regional statistics can become stable over time. The Regulation specifies a procedure for later amendments.

Common classification of territorial units for statistics - NUTS

The NUTS classification divides up the economic territory of the Member States, including their territory outside regions as such. The latter comprises parts of the economic territory that cannot be assigned to a given region such as air space, territorial waters and the continental shelf, territorial enclaves (embassies, consulates and military bases), or resource deposits located in international waters and exploited by units residing in their territory.

If regional statistics are to be comparable, the geographical areas need to be of comparable size in population terms. Their political, administrative and institutional arrangements should also be specified. Where applicable, non-administrative units must reflect economic, social, historical, cultural, geographical and environmental considerations.

The NUTS classification is hierarchical in that it subdivides each Member State into three levels: NUTS levels 1, 2 and 3. The second and third levels are subdivisions of the first and second levels respectively. Member States may decide to go further still in terms of hierarchical levels by subdividing NUTS level 3.

Classification criteria

Territorial units are defined in terms of the existing administrative units in the Member States. An 'administrative unit' marks out a geographical area for which an administrative authority has power to take administrative or policy decisions in accordance with the legal and institutional framework of the Member State.

The NUTS level to which an administrative unit belongs is determined on the basis of population thresholds as follows:

LevelMinimum populationMaximum population
NUTS 13 million7 million
NUTS 2800 0003 million
NUTS 3150 000800 000

Where the population of a Member State as a whole is below the minimum threshold for a given NUTS level, the Member State itself constitutes a NUTS territorial unit of that level.

If, for a given level in the classification, there are no administrative units of an adequate size in a Member State, that level is to be established by aggregating an adequate number of smaller neighbouring administrative units. The resulting aggregated units are to be known as "non-administrative units".

Administrative units in the Member States

The Regulation classifies the various administrative units of the Member States before the enlargement of 1 May 2004 (EU-15) according to their level in the classification:

  • NUTS 1: "Gewesten/Regions" in Belgium; "Länder " in Germany; "Continente", "Região dos Açores" and "Região da Madeira" in Portugal; "Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland" and "Government Office Regions of England" in the United Kingdom.
  • NUTS 2: "Provincies/Provinces" in Belgium; "Regierungsbezirke" in Germany; "Periferies" in Greece; "Comundidades y ciudades autonomas" in Spain; "Régions" in France; "Regions" in Ireland; "Regioni" in Italy; "Provincies" in the Netherlands; "Länder" in Austria.
  • NUTS 3: "arrondissements" in Belgium; "amtskommuner" in Denmark; "Kreise/kreisfreie Städte" in Germany; "nomoi" in Greece; "provincias" in Spain; "départements" in France; "regional authority regions" in Ireland; "provincie" in Italy; "län" in Sweden; "maakunnat/landskapen" in Finland.

Small administrative units

Within six months following the entry into force of the Regulation, the Commission was to publish the composition of each NUTS level 3 territorial unit in terms of small administrative units of EU-15 listed in the Regulation: "Gemeenten/Communes" in Belgium; "Kommuner" in Denmark; "Gemeinden" in Germany; "Demoi/Koinotites" in Greece, "Municipios" in Spain; "Communes" in France; "Counties/County boroughs" in Ireland; "Comuni" in Italy; les "Communes" in Luxembourg; "Gemeenten" in the Netherlands; "Gemeinden" in Austria; "Freguesias" in Portugal; "Kunnat/Kommuner" in Finland; "Kommuner" in Sweden and "Wards" in the United Kingdom.

Amendments to NUTS

Changes to the NUTS classification are to be made in the second half of each calendar year. There is to be a minimum of three years between changes. The Member States are to inform the Commission of all changes to administrative units or similar changes that may have an impact on the NUTS classification (such as changes to constituent elements which may affect the borders of NUTS 3 regions).

Adjustments to small administrative units modify the NUTS classification only if they entail a transfer of more than 1% of population out of the NUTS level 3 territorial units concerned.

In the case of non-administrative units in a Member State, the NUTS classification may be amended if the change reduces the standard deviation in terms of demographic size of all the territorial units in the European Union.


ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Regulation (EC) No 1059/200311.07.2003-OJ L 154 of 21.06.2003

Amending act(s)Entry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Regulation (EC) No 1888/200526.11.2005-OJ L 309 of 25.11.2003
Regulation (EC) No 105/20072.3.2007-OJ L 39 of 10.2.2007


COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 11/2008 of 8 January 2008 implementing Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS) on the transmission of the time series for the new regional breakdown [Official Journal L 5 of 9.1.2008].

Decision No 1578/2007/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2007 on the Community Statistical Programme 2008 to 2012 [Official Journal L 344 of 28.12.2007].

Proposal for a Decision of the European Parliament and of the Council setting up a European Advisory Committee on Community Statistical Information Policy [COM(2006) 653 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council of 6 October 2005 on the appropriatenessof establishing rules on a Europe-wide basis for more detailed levels in the NUTS classification (COM(2005) 473 final - not published in the Official Journal)

Council Regulation (EC) No 322/97 of 17 February 1997 on Community Statistics [Official Journal L 52 of 22.02.1997]
The purpose of this Regulation is to set up a framework for the production of Community statistics with a view to the formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of Community policies.

Euratom: Council Decision of 19 June 1989 establishing a Committee on the Statistical Programmes of the European Communities [Official Journal L 181 of 28.6.1989].

Last updated: 09.01.2008
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