Brussels stands by Greek statistics as manipulation row resurfaces

24 Aug 16

The European Commission has weighed in on a Greek political row surrounding accusations that the former head of the country’s official statistics authority falsified official data, underpinning Greece’s bailout programmes, on the government’s deficit.

The commissioner for European statistics hinted that if the Greek government did not “assume its responsibilities” in regards to the dispute the “successful continuation” of an €86bn EU financial aid programme for Greece could be at risk.

The argument centres on accusations against Andreas Georgiou, who worked at the International Monetary Fund before being sent to Greece in 2010 to establish a new national statistics body.

He is accused of overstating the Greek government deficit for 2009 in order to justify creditors’ imposition of harsh austerity measures.

The hard-left Syriza government, which was elected on a platform of staunch opposition to austerity, so far seems open to the possibility that official data produced by Greece’s statistics body, ELSTAT, was used to warrant what it perceives as draconian economic reforms.

Economists and statisticians from around the world have criticised a decision, taken by Greece’s supreme court earlier this month, that Georgiou should face charges of undermining the national interest, which carry a prison term of up to 10 years.

Now the European Commission has implicitly come to Geourgio’s defence. In a statement released earlier today, commissioner for European statistics Marianne Thyssen said the commission believes data on Greek government debt between 2010-15 was “fully reliable and accurately reported to Eurostat”.

The commission is calling on the Greek government, which has been accused of politicising independent institutions, to “actively and publicly challenge” the “false impression” that data was manipulated and protect ELSTAT and its staff from “unfounded claims”.

The Greek authorities must also support and preserve the quality of Greek statistics and the independence of ELSTAT, Thyssen continued.

Because the accusations undermine the credibility of fiscal data underpinning the EU’s stability support programme for Greece, she warned that these actions by the Greek government were important “in the context of ensuring the successful continuation” of the €86bn financial aid deal.

Under the three-year programme, agreed last year, the commission provides funds for Greece’s ailing economy in return for the implementation of specific reforms.

Greece has now been subject to more than half a decade of harsh austerity measures imposed by a troika of creditors, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in return for a series of hefty bailouts for its crashing economy.

A condition of one of these bailout packages was that the old Greek statistics authority, whose deficit projections were dogged by huge variation, would be replaced by ELSTAT. Under Georgiou’s leadership, ELSTAT revised the size of the 2009 deficit from 12.8% of GDP to 15.8% of GDP.

This figure would go on to be used to predicate further painful austerity conditions in the years to follow, some of which were begrudgingly carried out by the Syriza government.

The Greek supreme court’s ruling earlier this month overturned a previous decision from a lower court that Georgiou, who denies any wrongdoing, should only face charges for not stepping down from his post with the IMF before joining ELSTAT, reviving the case and the dispute over the credibility of Greece’s 2009 deficit figures.

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