Despite more than €3 billion of EU aid being pumped into the Border, Midland and West (BMW) region over the last decade, the area continues to lag behind the average for the 27 member states.
Of the union’s 271 regions the BMW ranks just 182, well down in the lower half, while the south and east, which includes Dublin and Cork, is the 19th wealthiest region in the EU.
The figures measure economic activity but when they are broken down into euro per inhabitant those in the BMW come in at €28,300, while those living in the rest of the country are at an estimated €45,000 each.
Northern Ireland fares even worse at €23,400 per inhabitant and comes even lower down the list than the BMW region. The figures relate to 2008, before the economic collapse started to really bite.
Fine Gael MEP Jim Higgins described the difference between the regions as “frightening” and said it indicated the kind of challenge facing a new government.
“All the efforts to improve the regional balance with EU money, including structural funds, has not worked. There are questions to be asked about this — why did the Celtic Tiger never arrive in the BMW region?” he said.
From 2000 to 2006, close to €3bn was pumped into the region to develop infrastructure, enterprises, help agriculture and rural development and childcare facilities.
Currently, €457 million — half from the EU and half from national coffers — is earmarked to be spent over the period 2007 to 2013. According to the BMW regional authority in Roscommon, this is expected to create 4,000 new jobs, support 2,500 micro enterprises and provide mentoring to more than 35,000 more.
Inner London, where the financial institutions are located, registered as the leading region, with GDP per inhabitant 343% of the EU average.
Britain also had two regions that came in the bottom 60 — West Wales and the Valleys, and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
The poorest region was Severozapaden in Bulgaria, at just 28% of the EU average with just €3,000 a year per inhabitant.
Many countries showed a big difference between their main cities and rural areas.