The fifteen countries of the European Union still differ considerably in the size and structure of their welfare systems. The percentages of GDP allocated for welfare expenditure range from a maximum of 33% in Sweden to a minimum of 15% in Ireland, with the northern countries, Germany and France recording percentages of over a fourth of their GDP and the southern countries and Ireland with percentages more or less under that rate. Italy and Greece are on this threshold. As shown in the 3-dimensional figure 1, the differences in the structure of welfare expenditure are even more evident when, for sake of a compatible comparison, such expenditure is distributed among the five groups represented therein. Excluding Ireland and - just barely - Finland and Portugal, old-age and survivor’s benefits account for the greatest percentage of welfare expenditure. In many countries of Northern Europe, the percentages for sickness, health care and disability are just slightly lower.
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