European Union (EU) countries spent 26.9 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP) on social protection in 2006, the EU's statistics bureau Eurostat said on Tuesday.
The EU average figure continued to mask major disparities between member states, Eurostat said.
It said social protection expenditure as a percentage of GDP was above 30 percent in 2006 in France (31.1 percent), Sweden (30.7 percent) and Belgium (30.1 percent), and below 15 percent in Latvia (12.2 percent), Estonia (12.4 percent), Lithuania (13.2 percent) and Romania (14.0 percent).
These disparities reflect differences in living standards, but are also indicative of the diversity of national social protection systems and of the demographic, economic, social and institutional structures specific to each member state, Eurostat said.
The highest social protection expenditure per capita in Purchasing Power Standards in 2006, which eliminates price level differences between countries, was recorded in Luxembourg, while the lowest was recorded in Romania and Bulgaria (both at 20 percent of the EU average).
Social protection expenditure accounted for 27.1 percent in 2005 and 2004 and 27.2 percent in 2003 in the EU countries.