BRATISLAVA is the second richest region among the 12 EU candidate states, according to the EU's research house EuroStat.
Figures released on January 29 show that the region has a per capita GDP that is 95 per cent of the EU's average, lagging only behind Prague, which has per capita GDP at 124 per cent of the Union average.
But while the figures suggest the Slovak capital is performing well economically, EuroStat's data shows that 52 of 56 regions among the 12 states have GDP levels below 75 per cent of the EU average.
Apart from Bratislava and Prague only Cyprus and the Hungarian region of Kozep-Magyarorszag has GDP above that level.
Senior government figures said the data would raise concerns in Brussels about the living standards of many people in the country.
"There will be obvious concerns about this in the EU. They already know there are people living out in some eastern regions of our country in very disadvantageous conditions.
"The figures show a very serious situation. We need these regions to develop small and medium-sized enterprises, improve infrastructure and develop service industries. These could help create very much needed jobs and change the face of some of these areas," Maria Kadlečíková, Deputy Prime Minister for Integration, told The Slovak Spectator.
Slovak economists have estimated some regions in Slovakia are so poor that GDP could be below 50 per cent of the EU average. They have also said there is a growing divide between the capital, where unemployment hovers around 6 per cent, and the rest of the country, where some areas have jobless rates as high as 35 per cent.
"We saw some similar figures a few years ago showing the same large regional disparity. Looking at GDP structures Bratislava is still contributing a disproportionate amount, but that is natural for any country.
"Even within the EU, if you look at, say, Paris and the rest of France, you will probably see big disparities there. Industrial regions always contribute much more to GDP than agricultural regions," said Tomáš Kmeť, an analyst at Slovenská sporiteľňa bank.
The EU itself has also drawn attention to the problems of regional disparities, and runs programmes and funding for regional development.
Discussing British aid for regional development with local government officials in Banská Bystrica just one day after the EuroStat figures were released, British Ambassador to Slovakia, Ric Todd, said: "I know that Slovakia is not just the capital city."
He added: "The problems of regional development do not exist only here. They are a problem within the EU as well."
The EuroStat figures also confirm the capital's status as the economic hub of the country.
Bratislava attracts the most investment of any region in Slovakia and recent incentive packages for investors have reflected a government drive to draw more investment to other regions.
A lower initial investment is required to qualify for special tax holidays for investors when they start projects in areas with unemployment above 10 per cent. The only region in the country which does not have such high levels of unemployment is Bratislava.
"Maybe this will be a wake-up call to politicians to do more in terms of regional policies, but even then there is little they can do. Regional policy is a huge problem even in the EU," said Kmeť.
Despite the capital's economic success the region is still some way behind the richest in the EU itself. GDP levels in London, Brussels and Luxembourg, the highest in the EU, are 242, 217 and 186 per cent of the Union average respectively.
11. Feb 2002 at 0:00 | Ed Holt