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Administrative units


(INSPIRE, 2007) Units of administration, dividing areas where Member States have and/or exercise jurisdictional rights, for local, regional and national governance, separated by administrative boundaries.


Official administrative units should be provided according to the administrative levels used within each country. Each national territory is divided into administrative units. The administrative units are divided by administrative boundaries. (INSPIRE IMS, 2003) ) The definition has been interpreted not to include administrative units such as census districts, post office regions and other sector-specific regions. In the INSPIRE IMS paper such regions were included under the heading "Administrative units", but with the Council version of INSPIRE definition for this theme, using the term "jurisdictional rights", such sector and management-specific units can not be included.

Administrative units and administrative boundaries form a partition of space.

Scope, use examples:

Administrative units data are used for

  • Operations and management;
  • Showing competent authorities;
  • Referencing of information and statistics;
  • Bbasis for generation of statistical map showing economic phenomena, demography etc.;
  • Aas a reference for correct location of objects;
  • For “cookie cutting” of databases.

The administrative division forms an indirect spatial reference system. The reference to an administrative unit provides a spatial dimension to data without using coordinates. (INSPIRE IMS, 2003).

Administrative boundaries are the key to horizontal interoperability between the products of national data custodians. Neighbours should agree on international boundaries with shared geometry at the best possible resolution. (INSPIRE RDM, 2002).

The reference date of the administrative units has to be considered for purpose of linkage to statistical information as for instance population figures.

Use example: EBM (EuroBoundaryMap), a pan-European administrative boundary dataset produced and distributed by EuroGeographics since 1995. EBM provides information on the geometry and hierarchical structure of administrative units in Europe, together with a link to the corresponding NUTS codes. By means of the NUTS codes the user can associate NUTS-based statistical information with spatial data from EBM. This serves areas of application such as:

  • Market analysis;
  • Asset management;
  • Geo-referencing demographic analysis;
  • Thematic planning;
  • Referencing statistical cross-border data;
  • Geo-referencing demographic analysis.

The DIAMONT project, managed by the European Academy in Italy, uses EuroBoundaryMap as reference information to advise the Alpine Convention on the creation of an Alpine-wide information system (SOIA) and the selection of appropriate indicators and relevant data for sustainable regional development. Another example is the European Environment Agency which is mapping NUTS-based information about the level of organic farming to the administrative division in Europe.

Important feature types and attributes:

Administrative unit

  • Name(s): official name(s) of the administrative unit in the national language(s);
  • National administrative level (1st, 2nd, …);
  • National code: official code of the administrative unit used by the National Statistical Office;
  • Links with statistical codes, such as NUTS and LAU;
  • Country code according to the ISO 3166 definition.

Administrative boundary

  • National boundary level (international, 1st, 2nd, …);
  • Status (e.g definite, in dispute, exclusive economic zone, territorial sea).

NUTS and LAU nomenclature is being used at the overall European scale, and could be considered more widely used also at lower levels in the context of INSPIRE. The Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS) was established by the European Office for Statistics (EuroStat) in order to provide a single uniform breakdown of territorial units for the production of regional statistics for the European Union. NUTS excludes specific territorial units and local units in favour of regional units of a general nature. At a more detailed level, there are the districts and municipalities. These are called Local Administrative Units (LAU) and are not subject of the NUTS Regulation. At the top of the hierarchy are the individual member states of the EU, below that are NUTS levels 1 to 3, then LAU levels 1 and 2. NUTS regions do not necessarily match with the national administrative units.

Links and overlaps with other themes:

The main overlaps are :

  • Hydrography: The coastline is an essential feature for many applications that need to differentiate between land and water areas. The coastline should be integrated in the administrative units data;
  • Geographical names: names of administrative units;
  • Cadastral parcels: Administrative boundaries do coincide in most (but not all) cases with the boundaries of Cadastre and Land registration;
  • Statistical units;
  • Area management/restriction/regulation zones. Managing bodies are often organised according to administrative units.


Reference documents:

Regulation (EC) No. 1059/2003 of the European Parliament and the Council of 26 May 2003 on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS). Official Journal L154, 21.06.2003

ISO 3166-1:1997 Codes for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions - Part 1: Country codes

ABDS for the CEEC - Memorandum of Understanding

ABDS for the CEEC - Public Report

EuroGeographics: EuroBoundaryMap v1.1, User Guide and Data Specification

IHO S-23 Limits of Oceans and Seas. URL:

Several SDICs/LMOs from EU Member States or Regions have submitted data specifications for datasets that include administrative units. See categorized list of reference material, compiled by JRC, March 2007.


Last updated 3141 days ago by INSPIRE Forum