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09/12/2016

Commission defends Greek debt data after statistics scandal

Euro & Finance

Commission defends Greek debt data after statistics scandal

Commissioner Marianne Thyssen at her European Parliament hearing in 2014.

[EPP/Flickr]

The European Commission has defended the reliability of Greek statistics on the country’s debt, and called on Athens to counter “misleading media reports” that the data was falsified.

“It is absolutely clear that data on Greek government debt during the period for 2010-2015 have been fully reliable and accurately reported … unlike the situation before this period,” said Social Affairs Commissioner Marianne Thyssen at a Brussels press conference today (24 August).

In 2010, the Commission attacked Greece for misreporting falsifying public finance figures. Greece also cooked the books on its budget deficit to join the euro.

The executive fears that the new data, which feeds into its Greek bailout programme, is not seen to be faked in a similar way, despite accusations against the former boss of the independent national statistics agency.

Andreas Georgiou stepped down as head of Elstat a year ago, after being charged in 2013 with inflating figures on the Greek budget deficit in 2009 in a way that made bailout conditions imposed on Athens by eurozone creditors tougher than they might have been.

He was recruited from the International Monetary Fund in 2010 to set up Elstat after the 2009 Greek bailout.

The case is at the centre of a political row in Greece sparked by fears the leftwing Syriza government is politicising independent institutions.

Criminal case against Greek statistics chief raises eyebrows in Brussels

A European Commission spokesperson told EurActiv.com that the executive is closely monitoring a criminal case against Greece’s former head of statistical services.

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Thyssen said that the European Commission would not comment on the Georgiou case. He faces criminal charges of “undermining the national interest” and a jail term of up to a decade.

She said, “However we are concerned by statements in the media regarding that case that appear to call into question the validity of the fiscal data underpinning the stability support programme for Greece.

“We expect the Greek authorities, we call on them, to actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data was manipulated during the 2010-2015 period and to protect Elstat and its staff from such unfounded claims.”

“These aspects are also important in the context of the successful continuation of the stability programme,” Thyssen said, as “such allegations may create major damage for the credibility of Greek statistics.”

“It is very important for the credibility of the EU institutions…we count on the Greek government to do what they have to do,” she added.

Having an independent, accurate statistics agency was among the EU’s conditions for the stricken country’s bailout.

Thyssen would not be drawn on whether the renewal of the bailout programme was in jeopardy.

She said, “In due time there will be a judgement on how we continue…let’s act step by step and wait for the reaction of the Greek government.”

EU statistics agency Eurostat backed the Greek data for 2010-2015 “without reservation”, she added.

Thyssen said a letter was sent to the Greek government, outlining their concerns.

Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said, “In its letter, the European Commission reiterates its principle that it does not comment on pending court cases, a principle that the Greek Government also shares.

“However, a contradiction is observed, between this principle and its call toward the Greek government to take a position on whether the 2010 statistics were valid.”

Gerovasili said that Greece’s finance minister Euclid Tsakalotos was “surprised” by the letter and wondered why it was sent to him rather than to the court.

“If the Commission has a privileged scientific knowledge to judge the case then it has a moral obligation to submit it to the Greek Justice to facilitate its work,” she said.

EU to take legal steps against fake Greek data

Amid financial and political turmoil, Greece now also faces accusations from the European Commission that figures on the country’s public debt are unreliable and belie the country’s true debt burden.

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Background

Andreas Georgiou stepped down as head of Elstat a year ago, after being charged in 2013 with inflating figures on the Greek budget deficit in 2009 in a way that made bailout conditions imposed on Athens by eurozone creditors tougher than they might have been.

He was recruited from the International Monetary Fund in 2010 to set up Elstat after the 2009 Greek bailout.

In 2010, the Commission attacked Greece for misreporting falsifying public finance figures. Greece also cooked the books on its budget deficit to join the euro.

Further Reading

European Commission