Figures on spending and borrowing by European countries are now a lot more reliable, according to the head of the European Statistics agency, Walter Radermacher - especially Greek data. But trustworthiness of data depended on mebers of the European Union being required to share more, and break down barriers around data confidentiality.
Appearing before the European Parliament’s economic and monetary affiars committee – a report of the event here - Radermacher called for common standards for auditing public spending – a proposal likely to highly controversial in the UK, where public bodies have only recently switched to a standard not common elsewhere in Europe.
But Radermacher, formerly head of the German national statistics office, insisted costs could be saved if there countries abandoned ‘national peculiarities’ in how they measured say exports. Too much ‘double measurement’ went on, increasing the burden of statistics on business.
He called for ’a European statistical system, not co-ordination of national systems’, bemoaning ‘a still deeply anchored reluctance to share data at EU level’.
As more and more decisions were precipitated, sometimes automatically, by movements in data, it was more necessary than ever to assure the quality and reliability of statistics. That raised questions about whether nation states’ statistics agencies were well enough supported, in terms of budgets, but also made the completion of a ‘real European statistical system’ more urgent.
Since Eurostat had been given more powers in 2009, progress had been made. What had happened in Greece and Italy could not happen again, Radermacher said, referring to allegations that official figures on debt and spending had been obscured or minimised to allow those countries to join the Eurozone.
Now Eurostat figures on the Greek public sector deficit could be accepted without reservations - the agency could respond proactively to concerns about national data and conduct audits, looking at contingent liabilities.
Economic and monetary union depended on reliable and high quality official statistics, which in turn made Eurostat one of the critical institutions of the EU, provided its standards were mandatory across the continent.