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European Commission

MEMO

Brussels, 17 September 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 the Commission and European Institutions, so they can define, implement, monitor 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 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 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 of national public debt and deficit figures, including through on-the-ground verification.

What rules govern EU statistics?

The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (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 the Commission has proposed to revise (see IP/12/735). 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 output.

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 statistical 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.

Why is a new Decision on Eurostat necessary?

In recent years, there have been a number of significant developments which impact both the role of Eurostat and the functioning of the European Statistical System. Today's decision aims to reflect, for example, the revision of the European Statistics Code of Practice in 2011 and the amendments to the Regulation on European Statistics proposed by the Commission last April. Eurostat also received enhanced powers for the quality management of EDP statistics and the verification of government finance statistics in the new economic governance framework, and the Decision addresses the role and tasks of Eurostat in this respect.

What will change with the new Decision on Eurostat?

The professional independence of Eurostat will be reinforced through, in particular, the clarification of the status and functional responsibilities of the Director General, who will be regarded as the Chief Statistician with specific tasks.

Elements of the cooperation between Eurostat and other Commission services as regards statistical activities and the coordination of these activities by the Chief Statistician will be set out and result in closer relations with other services of the Commission.

A clarification of the concept of statistics, to distinguish between data and information produced by other Commission services and statistics produced by Eurostat is also provided.

Commission activities related to statistics will be subject to a continuous planning and programming process with a view to ensuring consolidated information on these activities. This process will be coordinated by Eurostat and will closely involve other services of the Commission, as well as other users and stakeholders.

Cooperation and a regular constructive dialogue with user services with the view of taking into account user needs and relevant policy developments will be ensured.

It is also expected that the implementation of the Decision on Eurostat will allow better use of resources, increased transparency and reduction of reporting burden.

Finally, this new Decision on Eurostat will be the Commitment on Confidence in Statistics for the Commission.

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.

What does the Six Pack say about statistics?

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).

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 for the head of the office 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 deficit and debt). On 29 June 2012, the Commission adopted a Decision putting in place rules and procedures for investigations and fines in such cases. The European Parliament has already expressed its support and the Decision is now being discussed at Council level before it can enter into force.

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 putting in place a strategic prioritisation approach to better allocate scarce resources. Almost €300 million 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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