Are official statistics one of Greece’s best friends (wonkish)?
Are dependable statistics one of Greece’s best friends? But are the Greek at the same time messing up the independence of Elstat, the Greek statistical office, as indicated by the recent ‘Diktat’? For those who care to look, statistics always convey a meta message. Recently, the German Statistisches Bundesamt published, based upon Eurostat data, a graph showing prices of hotels in the different countries of the EU. This is, of course, not a coincidence. At the same time people in Brussels were trying to quadruple Greece tourism VAT from 6,5 to 23% which, as the German graph clearly shows, would wipe out any kind of price competitiveness gained by the brutal Greek wage cuts. The Bundesamt is fully entitled to, next to their scheduled publications, publish any statistics as they see fit, according to UN treaties. And to criticize Merkel or Schauble, if they misuse official statistics (or me, of course, when I state that publication of the hotel prices is a subtle political statement). Also, official Greek and Eurozone statistics do map the unprecedented depth and length of the Greek crisis or the (for a western country) unprecedented level of unemployment and the tens of billions given away by the Greek government to the Greek banks. One of the elements in the
European deal with Greece ‘Diktat’ (German, ‘Befehl‘) from Brussels is however the safeguarding independence of Elstat, the Greek statistical office. What is the matter? Among other things, the present Greek chief statistician has been prosecuted for recalculating and overstating (!) the budget deficit during the Karamanlis years…The situation is according to the European Statistical Governance Assistance Board (ESGAB), March 24 2015, not caused by the Syriza government:
“Recognising that considerable progress has been made, ESGAB welcomes the newly-elected Greek Government’s pledge to fight corruption and to continue to modernise its public administration, as stated in Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis’s letter of February 2015 to the Eurogroup, outlining Greece’s proposed reforms. ESGAB welcomes especially the Greek Government’s commitment to:
‘Honour fully the Commitment on Confidence in Statistics, and in particular the institutional independence of ELSTAT, ensuring that ELSTAT has the necessary resources to implement its work programme.
Guarantee the transparency and propriety of the process of appointment of the ELSTAT President in September 2015, in cooperation with EUROSTAT.’
The progress achieved by ELSTAT can be considered as providing a pioneering example of the type of reform and modernisation that is required in Greece’s public administration as a whole. ELSTAT’s efforts should therefore continue to be supported.”
But…. (emphasis added):
Two reports found that there is still a distinct absence of a ‘wider cultural acceptance and understanding amongst politicians, administrators, the media and indeed the public at large of what professional statistical independence actually entails in practice’ and that the risk of a serious deterioration of the situation remains. As a result of the long-running legal battle over the methodological competence and independence of ELSTAT and its President,the institution has frequently been called into question in public…. The principle of professional independence must be implemented in practice. The relevant legislation and rules are in place but they need to be fully implemented, with the clear and active support of the government.
Mind that ‘professional independence’ is not part of the Diktat but part of the UN Fundamental principles of official statistics: (here especially 2 and 4):
Principle 1. Official statistics provide an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the Government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation. To this end, official statistics that meet the test of practical utility are to be compiled and made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honour citizens’ entitlement to public information.
Principle 2. To retain trust in official statistics, the statistical agencies need to decide according to strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage and presentation of statistical data.
Principle 3. To facilitate a correct interpretation of the data, the statistical agencies are to present information according to scientific standards on the sources, methods and procedures of the statistics.
Principle 4. The statistical agencies are entitled to comment on erroneous interpretation and misuse of statistics.
Principle 5. Data for statistical purposes may be drawn from all types of sources, be they statistical surveys or administrative records. Statistical agencies are to choose the source with regard to quality, timeliness, costs and the burden on
Principle 6. Individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons, are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.
Principle 7. The laws, regulations and measures under which the statistical systems operate are to be made public.
Principle 8. Coordination among statistical agencies within countries is essential to achieve consistency and efficiency in the statistical system.
Principle 9. The use by statistical agencies in each country of international concepts, classifications and methods promotes the consistency and efficiency of statistical systems at all official levels.
Principle 10. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation in statistics contributes to the improvement of systems of official statistics in all countries.
73rd plenary meeting
29 January 2014
Returning to the Diktat: in genuine negotiations it is of course always important to find common ground – if there is any. These principles clearly are common ground and it is weird that they were not mentioned. But indeed, a negotiation is described as a situation were two parties have (partly) opposing interests but are at the same time dependent on each other. Which was not the case anymore when Tsipras ruled out Grexit… Anyway: at this moment, statistics are one of Greece’s best friends.