EU looks to enforce rules on economic statistics
by Daniel Mason
European Union member states will have to sign documents pledging that they will produce accurate and independently gathered economic statistics – with their adherence to the rules strictly monitored by the European Commission, under proposals put forward by the EU executive today.
The commission said in a statement that the "enhanced economic policy coordination" agreed in the past year – including the so-called six pack of economic governance rules and the fiscal stability treaty enforcing strict limits on public debts and deficits – meant the demand for accurate data had "further increased". Inaccurate data provided by Greece on the size of its deficit was one of the factors that drained investor confidence and led to the debt crisis that has since spread across Europe.
The Lisbon Treaty and the six pack rules already set out the requirement for the independence in national statistics offices – with member states subject to a fine of up to 0.2 per cent of gross domestic product for falsifying data on debts and deficits. But the commission said that "recent developments" in financial markets and public's perception had "called for a further strengthening of European statistical governance".
"The economic crisis has thrown the European statistical system into the spotlight," said tax and audit commissioner Algirdas Semeta at a press conference in Brussels. "It has highlighted how much we depend on sound data to make sound decisions. And it has underlined the importance of reliable statistics for evidence-based policy making. Statistics not only pin-point where weaknesses lie in our economic and social systems, but they provide the basis for finding the right solutions to address them."
Under the proposals, EU member states' governments would be required to sign 'commitments of confidence', pledging to safeguard the independence of national statistics institutes and observe the European statistics code of practice – which was agreed in 2005 and sets out 15 principles of good practice. Each member state's commitment would be counter-signed and then monitored by the commission.
The commission said that the heads of national statistics offices should be appointed on professional criteria "without any political motivation" and "in full transparency". It also noted that the independence of the EU's statistics agency, Eurostat – which in 2010 was handed more power to verify the data provided to it by national governments – would be "reiterated" within the revised legal framework. Meanwhile, the heads of national offices would have to present annual reports on their institution's activities and financial situation.
Semeta said the measures outlined today were "another brick in the wall" in a system that already produces "good quality" data. But, he added: "It is not enough for our statistical systems to be independent and the statistics they produce of high quality: they must also be seen to be so. This is key for public support and understanding. It is crucial for ensuring measured market reactions. And it is essential for trust between member states." The proposals will need the approval of the European Parliament and EU member states.