Statistics Explained

Statistical cooperation - introduction

Article last updated: April 2021.

This article is part of a set of background articles which introduce the statistical cooperation activities of the European Union (EU) with non-member countries (also known as non-EU countries or third countries) in the context of enlargement policy, European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and European development policy.

Eurostat, playing a leading role in the European statistical system (ESS), has accumulated a range of experience, know-how and knowledge, relating to the development of statistics and statistical systems and shares this expertise with non-member countries within the context of statistical cooperation activities — supporting, upgrading and enhancing the statistical systems of these non-member countries. The beneficiaries of this support include:

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Why statistical cooperation?

Why do we need official statistics nationally, within the EU and internationally?

Statistics have gained ground as one of the instruments capable of providing an image of the world in both its static and dynamic forms, in other words, how the world is now (or at least in the recent past) and how it has developed over time. As more and more statistics become available, their use becomes more widespread, especially in decision-making processes; this demand for official statistics continues to increase.

Official statistics are more than just a series of numbers: they provide strong evidence to policymakers (when taking and assessing policy decisions); they guide operational decisions in both the public and the private sector; and they underpin public debate within societies. Apart from their role in identifying needs, supporting the formulation of objectives and orientation of policies, official statistics also enable progress towards agreed goals to be monitored and measured. Thus, official statistics are key components of governance nationally (for instance, monitoring economic performance), within the EU (for example, the Europe 2020 strategy), and globally (for example, concerning climate change, education for all or the 2030 agenda for sustainable development), as well as providing information to the public.

In all countries, more and better quality statistics help:

  • issues to be identified, such as regional inequalities in income and wealth;
  • policies to be designed or refined, such as economic policy and employment policy;
  • forecasts to be made, for example, concerning the sustainability or not of public debt;
  • recent or current policies to be measured, for example, whether an increase in healthcare expenditure has an impact on the infant mortality rate.

The increasing demand for statistics calls for data that are comparable over time and geographically, in other words, between regions and countries. To achieve comparability, statisticians must agree on harmonised definitions, concepts and classifications, and implement these in data collection and production processes. In this respect, Eurostat and statistical agencies of other international organisations play a central role.

Why do we have cooperation in statistics?

Cooperation in statistics has gradually become an integral part of broader development policies as well as enlargement policy. Despite an improvement in the statistical capacity of many countries, data gaps remain and support is therefore targeted to compensate for the fact that some countries lack optimal financial and human resources, administrative systems or equipment on which to build data collection systems.

Eurostat cooperates actively in the field of statistics with the Western Balkan countries (Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo* and Turkey, which together constitute the enlargement countries. This statistical cooperation feeds into the wider context of the EU’s enlargement policy, with statistics being seen as a fundamental part of the public administration reform in these countries. Indeed, statistics are the basis for monitoring the progress of enlargement countries towards the EU acquis and they support accession negotiations by providing good quality data in key areas, such as macroeconomics, agriculture or social statistics. Statistical offices in enlargement countries are beneficiaries of the EU’s Instrument for Pre-accession Assistance (IPA), in which statistics is supported under both national and multi-country programmes. The aim of the support is to help the enlargement countries to develop sustainable and reliable statistical systems capable of producing statistics in compliance with the EU acquis and the European statistics Code of Practice.

The ENP-East countries benefit from regional cooperation in the form of: the Statistics Through Eastern Partnership (STEP) programme; an annual high level seminar for heads of national statistical offices; training courses in statistics adapted to their needs; and standardised assessments and reviews of their statistical systems. The ENP-South countries benefit from regional cooperation within the consecutive MEDSTAT programmes; and regional cooperation activities and annual forum meetings. ENP-East and ENP-South countries benefit from the release of statistics and dedicated publications that are based on the data they provide.

Developing and strengthening cooperation in statistics is based on a strategic partnership between the national statistical offices of non-member countries and international organisations (such as Eurostat). These partnerships enhance the shared accountability between the parties, as illustrated by the Marrakech action plan for statistics and the Dakar declaration on the development of statistics. From the beneficiaries’ perspective, statistical development is now considered an important part of national strategies for poverty reduction, while a strong statistical system may also be viewed as a key component for good governance. From the donors’ perspective, aid and development policies require statistics that have been produced and disseminated according to international standards. Only statistics that have been produced according to these standards make it possible for donors to assess whether their aid has been used effectively and to measure the resulting impact on policy objectives, such as the European consensus on development. Furthermore, the EU has vast experience in developing its own regional statistical system and this experience may well be of interest to other regions across the globe who are seeking to create similar systems, for example, the African Union or the ASEAN.

Why is Eurostat involved, how is work coordinated within the European Commission and how is statistical cooperation undertaken with other (international) agencies?

As the statistical office of the EU and as a key stakeholder in the ESS, Eurostat’s role is to provide the EU with statistics that enable comparisons between countries and regions as well as to provide statistics for the EU as a whole. Within the broader context of international relations, Eurostat is involved in cooperation policy because it has the technical lead within the European Commission (EC) for statistics.

In this context, Eurostat can be seen as the interface between national statistical systems and the various services of the European Commission. Besides its role in setting-up international statistical standards, Eurostat assists beneficiary countries in developing and improving their statistical systems. Through its involvement in statistical cooperation, Eurostat supports enlargement policy, European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and European development policy.

  • Eurostat’s role in enlargement policy is to support the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) and EU delegations in monitoring the national statistical systems of candidate countries and potential candidates. It provides technical assistance in the production and dissemination of harmonised, high-quality data that conform to European and international standards. It also verifies that the respective national practices in a wide range of statistical domains comply with the EU acquis in statistics (as described in Chapter 18 of the EU acquis). This role is detailed in Eurostat’s strategy for statistical cooperation with candidate countries and potential candidates.
  • Eurostat’s role in relation to the ENP is to support the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), the European External Action Service (EEAS), and EU delegations in their activities with many of the EU’s neighbours. From the statistical perspective, Eurostat encourages ENP countries to approximate their statistical systems to those of the EU in order to produce and disseminate comparable statistics.
  • Eurostat’s role in development cooperation policy is to support the European Commission's Directorate-General for International Partnerships (DG INTPA) and the EEAS in enhancing development policies and overseeing the programming of aid. To this end, improved statistics allow progress towards poverty reduction and the agenda for sustainable development to be assessed — as identified by the European consensus on development — and funds to be allocated. Eurostat supports cooperation partners to build their statistical capacity and to advance their statistics so that they are more in line with international standards.

As a result of these activities, the European Commission (including Eurostat) benefits from the a greater availability of quality data collected by non-member countries.

Besides the support it gives to EU policymaking, Eurostat also plays an active role in statistical cooperation between international agencies and organisations. Eurostat represents the European Commission in the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC), in bilateral relationships with international financial institutions (such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and regional development banks) and in the OECD’s statistics committee (CSTAT). All these international statistical agencies cooperate to set-up international standards for statistics, to improve the comparability of statistical information, to improve the coordination of international statistics-related activities, and to support national statistical systems financially and/or technically.

Forms and areas of Eurostat cooperation in statistics

What forms do Eurostat’s cooperation activities take?

Cooperation activities in statistics potentially cover all components that make-up the statistical infrastructure and all steps in statistical production processes. Cooperation activities help to reinforce the institutional framework of national statistical systems, for instance, through the adoption of the United Nations’ Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, the European Statistics Code of Practice and the Statistics Code of Practice for ENP-South countries.

Eurostat encourages ENP countries to approximate their statistical systems to those in the EU and verifies that the enlargement countries statistical production complies with the EU acquis in statistics and also supports the design and implementation of national strategies for the development of statistics in developing countries. With the enlargement countries, statistical cooperation is broader and also more intensive than with other countries, as the aim is for enlargement countries to become fully compliant with EU standards.

The transfer of know-how or direct investment from Eurostat to beneficiaries also aims to improve the ability of the beneficiaries to respond to user needs. This can be done through the use of harmonised concepts and the implementation of standardised methodologies and guidelines, such as the analysis and design of data collection procedures, the data collection itself, data validation and editing, the analysis of results and various forms of dissemination.

Assistance may be organised through multi-beneficiary programmes with several beneficiary countries when synergies between countries can be established, or bilateral national programmes in the case of more country-specific needs. Enlargement countries benefit from IPA programmes, of which there are both multi-beneficiary programmes and national programmes. In practice, assistance takes several forms, such as peer reviews, support for data collection or the publication of statistical books, and transfer of know-how through participation in meetings within the ESS, high level seminars in partner regions to share EU values and standards in statistics, technical assistance provided by experts, statistical training courses, support for the use of common statistical tools, traineeships and study visits.

Eurostat also provides a range of statistical tools to the national statistical systems with which it collaborates. These fall into two main categories, information technology tools and statistical capacity building tools, for example:

  • Eurotrace: software which supports countries and regions to manage their international trade statistics (managing data, treating data, carrying out quality checks, calculating aggregates and indices);
  • Eretes: software which is used to compile national accounts statistics according to the 2008 system of national accounts (SNA);
  • Essential SNA: a practical handbook for the national accounts implementation on the basis of the 2008 SNA. This capacity building tool supports developing countries also through the provision of e-learning material;
  • Snapshot: a user-friendly tool which provides partner countries with an assessment of the maturity of their statistical systems and the quality of their key indicators. The tool is based on the extensively tested and refined statistical quality framework developed by the European Statistical System (ESS).

These tools have been tested, reviewed and updated over a number of years. Many developing countries and EU delegations use them on a regular basis.

Which regions/country groupings does Eurostat provide statistical cooperation to?

Types of statistical cooperation vary according to policy frameworks, which in turn depend on the geographical region in question. Eurostat has a global engagement, cooperating with enlargement countries, ENP countries, African, Asian and Latin American countries.

  • The enlargement countries are either candidate countries (Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania, Serbia and Turkey) or potential candidates which have the prospect of EU membership as and when they are ready (Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo). Official statistics play a triple role in the enlargement process: they are part of the EU acquis as screened through Chapter 18 on statistics (strategy and progress reports); they serve other EU policy areas by providing data for monitoring changes and assessing the impact of policies chosen; and they provide statistical indicators for monitoring the implementation of the Instruments of pre-Accession (IPA) programmes. Enlargement countries receive financial assistance through the IPA.
  • The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) countries are divided into two broad geographic groups: ENP-East countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and ENP-South countries (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine [1], Syria [2] and Tunisia). Within the overall package of ENP initiatives, ENP countries are supported in the process of approximating their statistical systems to those of the EU. The ENP was revised in 2015 based on a wide consultation of Member States, international organisations and NGOs. The review was adopted on 18 November 2015 through a joint communication JOIN(2015) 50 final of the European Commission and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The revision of the ENP focused on six main topics: stabilisation of the neighbourhood; a differentiation principle, to reflect the ambitions and commitment of each partner country and increase ownership and partnership; promoting good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights; joint priorities for cooperation; the regional dimension with a view towards the Eastern Partnership and the Union for the Mediterranean as well as beyond the ENP countries; a more effective delivery of support and assistance.
    • With regard to ENP-East countries, the EU’s regional statistical programme Statistics Through Eastern Partnership STEP is the main vehicle for cooperation and technical assistance. In partnership with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Eurostat conducts global assessments of statistical systems. These evaluate the level of conformity of the national statistical systems in the ENP-East countries with that of the European statistics Code of Practice and make recommendations to improve the functioning of each statistical system. In addition, Eurostat annually collects data from these countries and disseminates them through its free online database, statistical books and leaflets. Once a year Eurostat organises a high level seminar for the heads of the national statistical offices of the ENP-East countries at which strategic managerial issues, including quality in statistics are discussed. In recent years, the national statistical offices of all ENP-East countries have participated in training courses modelled on the courses provided within the European statistical training programme.
    • Eurostat’s statistical cooperation with ENP-South countries is principally undertaken through the multi-country MEDSTAT programmes. More details on MEDSTAT programmes are available in this article. Eurostat organises an annual meeting for heads of the national statistical offices of the ENP-South countries and collects data from these countries and disseminates them through its free online database and various statistical books and leaflets.
  • For both enlargement and ENP countries, practical assistance is also provided through Twinning programmes and the technical assistance and information exchange instrument (TAIEX).
  • Besides enlargement and ENP countries, Eurostat has developed statistical cooperation activities with other non-member countries, which are grouped together either on a geographic or income basis: African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries, Asian and Latin American countries, and higher income countries (HIC).
  • Within Africa, Eurostat supports the African Union Commission (AUC) working in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), to implement the Strategy for the Harmonisation of Statistics in Africa (SHaSA). The strategy was adopted by heads of state and government in 2010 as Africa’s first continent-wide strategy for statistics. Its main purpose is to enable the African statistical system to generate timely, reliable, and harmonised statistical information, covering all aspects of political, economic, social, and cultural integration for Africa. It aims to drive forward the continental integration agenda, a pivotal goal for African heads of state and government. In 2018, a revised version (SHaSA II), taking account of the African Charter on Statistics and new developments, was adopted. The African Charter was developed by the African statistical system and its partners and entered into force in 2014. Eurostat provides support within Africa in the form of training and expertise (in particular within the fields of national accounts, trade statistics and quality), as well as a range of information technology tools and statistical capacity building tools (see above for examples). As of 2016, Eurostat implements the pan-African Statistics programme (PAS), as part of an overall pan-African programme. It aims at supporting African integration by improving the availability and quality of statistical information required for informed decision-making and policy monitoring. To this end, the programme provides technical assistance to enhance harmonisation and coordination of statistics on the continent and to foster institutional capacity building. In this context it also supports the set-up of STATAFRIC, the African Union Institute for Statistics, located in Tunis.

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* This designation is without prejudice to positions on status, and is in line with UNSCR 1244/1999 and the ICJ Opinion on the Kosovo declaration of independence.

  1. This designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of the EU Member States on this issue.
  2. Cooperation with Syria is currently suspended due to the political situation in the country.