President, Honourable Members,
I appreciate the opportunity to discuss with you the independence of statistics for Europe.
The independence of statistics, and of statistical authorities that produce them, is a fundamental principle explicitly set out in EU law.
The current governance of the European Statistical System relies on a clear legal framework, primarily the so-called Statistical Law. With your support, that Law has been improved and strengthened upon the initiative of the Commission, in full respect of subsidiarity and proportionality principles.
As any principle or rule set out in law, the statistical independence needs to be monitored and its implementation ensured in practice.
Regular monitoring is ensured both by the Commission and by independent peers in the context of the European Statistics Code of Practice. The Code aims at enhancing the professional independence, integrity and accountability of European statistics and of the European Statistical System.
You as one branch of the EU legislator have contributed to ensuring the transparency and accountability of the European Statistical System by establishing the European Statistical Governance Advisory Board, ESGAB. ESGAB is an independent body of experts that oversees the implementation of the Code of Practice. It makes every year a report that it presents to you, Honourable Members, as well as to the Council.
The annual ESGAB reports have always covered the principle of professional independence and illustrate the progress achieved at national and EU levels.
Based on the Commission’s and ESGAB’s monitoring, the Member States have identified and implemented improvement actions that contribute to maintaining the confidence of users, notably their trust in the independence of statistics.
As regards the specific situation in Greece and notably the situation of Mr Georgiou, let me firstly emphasise that the Commission has full confidence in the reliability and accuracy of data produced by the statistical authority in Greece, under Mr Georgiou’s leadership in the years from 2010. The Commission has consistently confirmed this in previous public statements.
Secondly, let me also repeat that the Commission neither comments on developments in ongoing national judicial proceedings nor assesses the impact of court decisions that are not final and irrevocable.
That said, I can understand that staff at Elstat may feel that they are not protected enough to do their jobs effectively and independently. the Commission has continuously followed the developments in Greece and also repeatedly expressed its concern in that regard, both in public statements and directly with the Greek authorities.
Also the Eurogroup has continuously expressed its support for Mr Georgiou and the two other Greek officials concerned, inviting the EU institutions to monitor the developments, and to report back to the Eurogroup, most recently in its statement on Greece of 22 June this year.
It is important to highlight that the Commission has actively supported Greek statistics on several strands. The support has, among others, led to amendments of Greek law to further enhance the statistical authority’s institutional, operational and financial independence. Other legal amendments have foreseen indemnification of current or former statistical officials for legal expenses incurred in the context of trials following lawsuits or criminal charges against them related to the performance of their functions.
Commission officials have also contributed extensively with their expertise to strengthen statistical processes in Greece. And we continue to do so, also in other Member States.
In conclusion, I would like to reassure you that not only has independence of national statistical authorities been strengthened by law, but Eurostat is as well actively working to ensure that independence exists also in practice; Your continued vigilance will help us in this task.