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European Statistics: FAQ

European Commission - MEMO/12/249   17/04/2012

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MEMO/12/249

Brussels, 17 April 2012

European Statistics: FAQ

When was Eurostat created and what is its relation with the European Commission?

Eurostat was established in 1953 to meet the requirements of the Coal and Steel Community. Over the years its task has broadened and when the European Community was founded in 1958 it became a Directorate-General (DG) of the European Commission.

Eurostat’s key role is to supply statistics to other DGs and supply the Commission and other European Institutions with data so they can define, implement and analyse EU policies.

What system is in place for the production of statistics within the EU?

Eurostat is the Statistical Office of the European Union. Its primary role is to provide statistics at European level. It also coordinates the European Statistical System (ESS), comprised of national statistical institutes of the Member States, and other authorities responsible at national level for the development, production and dissemination of European statistics. The European statistical system (ESS) ensures the harmonisation and comparability of national statistics. The ESS in turn coordinates its work with international organisations such as the OECD, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank

What is the role of Eurostat in the production of EU statistics?

Eurostat steers the activities of the European Statistical System (ESS). Its role is to provide high quality statistics on Europe that enable comparisons between countries and regions. These statistics can then be used to feed into decision-making and policy formulation at EU and national level, as well as to gauge the effects and results of policy decisions. For example, Eurostat produces indicators to monitor the development of key strategies such as Europe 2020, sustainable development, and employment and social policy. It also publishes data on a wide range of other policy areas, from trade to transport to taxation.

Eurostat has also the important role of providing the data to be used for the excessive deficit procedure and of assessing their quality. This is an essential part of the economic governance in the EU.

In 2010, Eurostat's monitoring powers were strengthened, allowing the institution to check the accuracy on national debt and deficit figures, including through on-the-ground audits.

What rules govern EU statistics?

The Lisbon Treaty (Article 338) states that the production of EU statistics "shall conform to impartiality, reliability, objectivity, scientific independence, cost-effectiveness and statistical confidentiality", while not imposing excessive burdens on economic operators.

This is elaborated with a specific legal framework of the ESS, set out in the Regulation on European Statistics (223/2009), which today's proposal seeks to revise. Under this Regulation, the role of the ESS and its members is set out, along with means for cooperation and collaboration. It also establishes the basic principles for the development, production and dissemination of European statistics, with a view to guaranteeing efficiency and flexibility while maintaining high quality and accessibility of statistics.

Furthermore, the European Statistics Code of Practice sets out the principles of statistics, which include indicators of good practice, as well as standards that should guide the statistical institutional environment, processes and out-put.

What is in the European Statistics Code of Practice?

The European Statistics Code of Practice is a self-regulatory instrument first introduced in 2005, which sets out standards of good practice on statistics for the ESS. It was revised in 2011 with a particular focus on the principle of professional independence of statistics offices.

The Code is based on 15 principles covering the institutional environment, the statistical production processes and the output of statistics. Among the principles are the need for adequate resources, impartiality and objectivity, sound methodology and accuracy and reliability, in the production and dissemination of statistics.

The Code is not legally binding but statistical authorities at national and EU level have committed to its application.

Why is it necessary to strengthen EU rules on statistics?

Recent developments in global financial markets and in the public perception of statistical information called for a further strengthening of European statistical governance. This will safeguard the credibility of statistics and also respond adequately to data needs resulting from the EU's recent enhanced economic-policy coordination.

What will change with the new rules?

Today's proposal foresees stronger provisions in three main areas.

Firstly, the principle of professional independence of National Statistical Institutes (NSIs) will be clarified and broadened. Particular focus is given to the independence of the Heads of NSIs, as their professional autonomy is a pre-condition for ensuring the independence of the respective institutions. Under the revised Regulation, Heads of NSIs shall have the freedom to decide on processes, statistical methods, standards and procedures, and on the content and timing of statistical releases and publications. They shall coordinate the activities within the national statistical system, and be independently responsible for the internal management of national institutes.

Secondly, Member States will have to sign ‘Commitments on Confidence in Statistics’. The Commitments on Confidence will be a declaration to respect the European Statistics Code of Practice, in particular the principle of professional independence, and it shall be signed by each Member State's government and counter-signed by the Commission.

Third, the coordinating role of the NSIs in the national statistical systems is clarified, and provisions to allow NSIs free and timely access to administrative records are set down. National Statistical Institutes should also be involved, to the extent necessary, in decisions on the design, development and discontinuation of administrative records which could be used in the production of statistical data.

Do weaknesses exist in Member States' statistics systems and what has been done to address them?

The European Statistical Governance Advisory Board (ESGAB) prepares an annual report on the implementation of the European Statistics Code of Practice across Europe. Its 2011 report positively notes the modernisation of statistical laws in Member States and increased transparency since 2009. However, some shortcomings remain, largely related to the need to reinforce the legislative basis for statistical governance at national level.

In 2011, the Commission produced a Communication Towards robust quality management for European statistics’. This Communication issued recommendations on how to strengthen the governance of the ESS, as well as how to further standardise public accounts, to review the quality of data and to assess the risk of revisions at an earlier stage. (see IP/11/482).

In the Communication, the Commission also announced that it would confirm Eurostat's professional independence by clarifying its institutional setting, its role and responsibilities within the Commission. A Commission Decision on Eurostat will be adopted in the coming weeks for that purpose.

Today's proposal is the latest step to reinforce the legal framework for European statistics. It will bring about important improvements, notably by safeguarding the independence of statistical authorities, clarifying the access and use of administrative data sources for compiling statistics, and ensuring that Member States, through Commitments on Confidence, pledge to ensure the quality and impartiality of national statistics.

What does the Six Pack say about statistics?

As part of the measures to strengthen economic governance, the "Six Pack" introduces a provision on statistical independence. It specifies three minimum criteria: transparent recruitment and dismissal processes which must be solely based on professional criteria; clear annual or multi-annual budgetary allocations, and advance indication of the date of publication of key statistical information. It also introduces a provision on sanctions relating to the manipulation of statistics (a fine of 0.2% GDP for fraudulent statistics on deficits and debt).

Comparable and reliable statistical information about the economic, social and environmental situation in the EU is necessary to provide a comprehensive response to the financial and economic crisis. Ensuring high quality European statistics is in particular crucial for the excessive deficit procedure. This is in line with what is foreseen in the EU's economic governance strategy (see MEMO/11/627).

What role do statistics play in EU economic governance?

EU economic governance is strongly based on the respect of targets expressed in numerical value of economic indicators. Thus statistics play an essential role in EU economic governance. The most prominent indicators are general government deficit and debt (so called EDP statistics). This is central to the recently reinforced fiscal and budgetary surveillance of EU Member States. The rules are well known: <3% for deficit; <60% for debt. These rules have been clarified in the Six Pack. Financial sanctions apply when they are breached.

Other statistical indicators play an important role. This is the case of the 10 statistical indicators of the "Macroeconomic Imbalance Procedure", also part of the Six Pack. The correction of competitive imbalances is at the heart of stabilising the EU, in particular the Euro area. Also to be noted are the indicators of the EU 2020 strategy for growth and jobs, which cover essentially social and educational targets.

Overall, a large range of statistics - from economic to social - plays a central role in EU economic governance.

Why is it important to guarantee the independence of heads of national statistics offices?

Statistics underpin decisions by policymakers, businesses and citizens. Therefore, sound, evidence-based decision-making relies on statistics that are free from vested interest or partiality. Public trust in these decisions and subsequent policies pursued also depends on how reliable the data underpinning them is perceived to be. Changes in governments, market behaviour or public opinion cannot be allowed to influence the outcome of statistical data. In this context, the professional independence of statistical authorities is crucial and must be guaranteed by law.

This requirement is not only applicable to statistical authorities at national level, but equally at EU level, and the Commission will therefore in the coming weeks adopt a decision on Eurostat which clarifies its role and institutional setting, thereby ensuring its professional independence.

What will Member States have to commit to in the commitment on confidence?

The Commitments on Confidence (CoC) are intended to be country-specific and therefore drafted individually by each Member State. The common element in all would be a declaration by the government to respect the European Statistics Code of Practice. Depending on the national legislation and the state of implementation of the principles of the Code, the Commitment of Confidence will also contain specific improvement actions where needed in that particular Member State.

The above-mentioned decision on Eurostat, which will be adopted shortly, will confirm the Commission's commitment on confidence in European statistics developed, produced and disseminated by Eurostat.

What happens if Member States break their commitment?

The Commitments will be binding upon the Member States in their declaration to respect the principles of the European Statistics Code of Practice. While the Code itself is a self-regulatory instrument (i.e. not legally binding), many of its principles are also set out in EU law (notably the Regulation on European Statistics).

So the Commission will monitor both the application of the Commitments and the respect of the statistical principles as established by law and take appropriate action, including possible infringement procedures, when a Member State does not comply.

Given the current economic climate, how will it be possible to provide better and more statistics without additional resources?

In its proposal for the next European Statistical Programme 2013-17 (see IP/11/1587), the Commission highlights the need for cost-effectiveness in the production of reliable statistics. This means implementing more efficient methods for producing European statistics, and choosing priority areas (such as statistics for economic governance, growth and social cohesion, climate change etc) as the primary focus for resources. Almost €300 million euros will be made available from the EU budget for statistical purposes during this period, a large portion of which will be allocated to Member States for the collection, production and dissemination of statistics.


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