If you are visiting Cyprus on holiday, you can be reassured that Cyprus is the safest country in the EU – based on analysis of data from the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat.
You cannot draw this conclusion simply by visiting the Eurostat website, as the statistics are simply given in their absolute form: total number of recorded crimes, total number of violent crimes, robberies and so on.
From the site, you can find out that there were 2.3 million crimes recorded in Spain in 2012 (the latest data), 4.4 million in the UK and just 8,000 crimes recorded in Cyprus in the same year.
But Spain has a much larger population than Cyprus, so if you want to compare, say, places to go on holiday, places to retire, or places to set up your business, the absolute numbers do not really tell you much.
In order to do get a comparative analysis, you need to go to a separate part of the Eurostat website and pick up all the statistics on population by country.
Just to make life difficult, the countries in the list of population statistics are listed in a different order from those in the list of crime statistics (one is alphabetical by full name; one is alphabetical by short name – DE for Germany, HR for Croatia).
So you have to fiddle a bit to get your lists lined up. For economists, this is just daily occupational hazard; let’s face it – we love faffing about with numbers.
Once you have your list of crimes in one column and your population list in the other, you can now do the formula to find out how many crimes there are per head of population (or per 100, per 1,000 to get numbers that do not have too many decimal places). This gives a better idea of which is the most crime-ridden country in the EU.
Which country has the highest crime rate?
Before reading on to find out, have a think about which country would be your first guess. Given that they have the lowest per-capita incomes in the EU, my first guess would probably have been Bulgaria or Romania.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the country with the highest recorded crime rate is Sweden, with 14.8 crimes per 100 people, compared with 6.5 for the UK and only 0.9 in Cyprus (the lowest rate).
But this is where we have to be careful. As the saying goes, there are lies, damn lies and statistics.
I have never visited Sweden, but given its reputation for good governance, I wouldn’t be surprised if, say, it is a crime to cross the road anywhere other than at traffic lights. Also, given that Nordic countries are generally far ahead of the rest of us when it comes to technology, you can probably record the fact that someone has left the bins out on Tuesday instead of Wednesday on your smartphone.
So perhaps Sweden just has more categories of crime and is better at recording crime than other countries. It also makes me wonder if this is the reason why, unusually for Eurostat, it does not give out crime statistics on a per-capita basis.
Cyprus lowest for violent crimes, robbery
Given that different countries have different crimes, it is probably better to look at specific crimes that are highly likely to be reported to the police, such as violent crime, robberies or burglaries.
Here the country that comes out worst is the UK, with 1.21 violent crimes per 100 people in 2012, compared with an EU average of 0.57. Cyprus is the second lowest, at 0.06 violent crimes per 100.
The lowest is Romania, at 0.03. Like Sweden at the other end, this is counter-intuitive and might be a case of low levels recording.
Incidentally, Scotland alone is much closer to Cyprus, at just 0.32. Higher rates England and Wales and Northern Ireland drag the average up.
Cyprus also comes out among the lowest for robberies. Here the rate is 0.20 per 1,000 people, compared with an EU average of 1.11. The worst rate is in Belgium with a robbery rate of 2.53 per 1,000. Maybe this is because Brussels, as the EU capital, has lots of short-term, slightly disoriented visitors who are more vulnerable to wallet-nabbing than others.
Notwithstanding questions about Sweden and Romania, the statistics suggest what those of us who have lived in Cyprus for any amount of time already know: Cyprus is a pretty safe place to live and do business.