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21st Apr 2019

Greek financial data much better, says Eurostat chief

  • The Greek crisis began with incorrect statistics, said Eurostat chief (Photo: Jorge Franganillo)

Greece's public finance data has seen “a real improvement” in the past six years, the head of the European Union's statistical office has said.

“Many things have changed,” Eurostat chief Walter Radermacher told journalists in Luxembourg on Tuesday (5 April).

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  • Radermacher: High quality statistics "have a price tag" (Photo: European Commission)

The EU official said he remembered well how in November 2009, after a change of government, new revised data arrived from Athens, showing the deficit to be much greater than previously reported.

“This was then the starting point, one could say, of the financial crisis. It started with incorrect Greek statistics,” said Radermacher.

“Since then, the institutional arrangements for European statistics have been completely revised.”

Europe's top statistician said that under the new rules there was a “guarantee” that statistics are produced with an “extreme high level of independence”.

For example, since 2010, Greece's statistical office is no longer part of the finance ministry.

Radermacher said Eurostat, which carries out checks of data provided by national statistical offices, did not find any new problems with Greek figures.

“Since then, with all these changes and control, we haven't expressed since 2010 one reservation on Greek public finance data at all,” he said.

Eurostat largely relies on data provided by the statistical offices in the EU's 28 member states, who are “normally cooperative, to the degree that they have the capacities to deliver”.

Radermacher expressed concern about budget cuts in national governments, although he did not name specific countries.

“This is the major problem, in particular after the financial crisis: the public sector has been shrunk. Official statistics are part of the public sector,” he said.

He said the national offices had been “really under pressure” for the past five or six years. But good statistics, Radermacher argued, have a “price tag”.

“Whenever we come and say [to national offices], there is something new we need to develop, the first question is: well, give me some money,” he said.

Eurostat's research programme is politically decided and mirrors the political priorities of the European Union. That also means that if new policy areas are added, additional data is often needed.

The EU's Energy Union project is a good example, which aims to make the EU less reliant on energy imports, but also to decrease the share of fossil fuels, and create a resilient, truly pan-European electricity system.

Last year, the European Commission noted in its first annual report on progress towards the Energy Union that there is a gap in data available to determine whether the situation has improved.

Eurostat was “aware” of the gap, Radermacher said, but also noted that if the Commission wanted better indicators on topics like energy poverty or energy efficiency, national statistical offices needed to be strengthened.

“There must be investment, broadening the scope of measurement, which means having new metrics, and new products,” he said.

“These new metrics and new products cost, that is quite simple. There is no free lunch.”

The European Commission, of which Eurostat is part, also needs to have reduced its staff size by 5 percent at the end of next year, compared with 2013 staffing levels.

Eurostat is also downsizing, although it does not have the same 5 percent target.

As a result, collection of some of the less essential statistics has been cut, noted Radermacher.

“We have cleaned our portfolio. We have taken out a couple of, let's say, grey zone elements, which were by-products,” he said.

“We have really focused now on that programme which is legally prescribed.”

He also noted that Eurostat was having talks with other EU agencies to see if they can take over specialised data collection.

One possibility Radermacher mentioned was to transfer responsibility for measurements related to Europe's forests and water to the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency.

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