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European Commission

Algirdas Šemeta

Commissioner responsible for Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-fraud

Statement on Statistics

ECON Committee (European Parliament)

Brussels, 12 November 2012

Madam Chair,

Honourable Members,

It’s almost one year ago that I addressed you after taking up the responsibility for statistics within the European Commission. It is a very good moment to summarise the progress achieved and to look over forthcoming challenges to European statistics. The Commission is pursuing its objective to build a genuine European Statistical System which is independent, strong and efficient in producing high quality European statistics.

Taking stock

Since our meeting on 23 November last year, the Commission has implemented a number of initiatives I presented to you. In particular, we progressed in improving the credibility of European statistics.

Let me shortly mention these important legislative steps.

First, the Commission adopted a proposal for amending Regulation on European statistics. I am very happy that the Parliament shares our firm belief that credibility of European statistics cannot be secured without courageous reforms. These reforms are necessary in the field of the statistical governance both at national and European level. This was evident already in the Resolution of European Parliament on quality management for European statistics adopted on the 13th March.

Your continuous support will now be particularly important in view of the discussions of the European Statistics regulation with the Council. Notably, it concerns professional independence of statistical authorities; their coordinating role in the respective statistical systems; and the 'Commitments on Confidence in Statistics'.

Second, at European level, the recently adopted Commission Decision on Eurostat strengthens the professional independence of Eurostat and its coordinating role within the Commission. We apply to ourselves the same standards as those we expect from Member States. At the same time this decision in many aspects already responds to the recommendations of the European Court of Auditors from its report on Eurostat and the ESS, published in September.

The new Decision on Eurostat also incorporates the Commission's Commitment on Confidence in Statistics. In this way we have set a good example for Member States to follow with their national Commitments which they are quite reluctant to do for the moment.

There is no more time to wait. European statistics needs data producers independent from political interferences. I know this conviction is shared between the European Parliament and the Commission. Member States must get the same understanding. They should secure the professional independence of their statistical offices even if this may require changes in their internal organisation or even in their legal framework. The Commission will continue transmitting this message to the Council. I hope that this will be reflected in the tomorrow's ECOFIN conclusions.

Third, the delegated decision on investigations and fines related to manipulation of statistics will enter into force very shortly. The Commission will now be able to use all its powers granted by the legislator with respect to public finance data. Eurostat has also strengthened its cooperation with the Supreme Audit Institutions in Europe. It will help to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of data quality checks.

Finally, responding to the call of the Council of November 2011, the Commission is now preparing a solid legal framework for the statistical indicators underlying the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure. A legislative proposal ensuring the statistical procedures and quality control mechanisms is to be tabled shortly.

Future steps

Madam Chair,

Honourable Members,

We all know that the current political and financial environment is unfavourable for any reforms and changes requiring additional efforts and resources. But it is now that Europe needs even more accurate, timely and credible statistics for the enhanced economic policy coordination.

I will shortly brief you on the projects and initiatives to be undertaken by the Commission in the years to come.

First, the Commission is determined to further optimise the quality of European statistics. For this reason the second round of peer reviews with regard to their compliance with the Code of Practice will be launched within the ESS. In this way the current situation will be re-assessed and actions to take by all players involved, identified.

Much attention will be devoted to the quality of data underlying the Excessive Deficit and Macro-economic Imbalance procedures. The Commission will continue applying all its powers in this regard, whenever necessary. Furthermore, long-term solutions could be proposed. In particular, the implementation of European standards for accrual based public sector accounting would enormously improve the comparability and transparency of public accounts across Europe.

Second, I will continue supporting and promoting the ambitious projects proposed by the Commission in its 2009 Communication 'On the production method of EU statistics: a vision for the next decade'. The implementation of these innovative concepts is now about to finish the phase of taking inventory, pilot studies and multilateral consultations. Next, the Commission will gradually put forward legislative proposals laying grounds for an operational frame for new ways of collecting, compiling, storing and disseminating European statistics. I strongly believe that in a mid-term this 'Vision' will become reality and part of daily routine.

The European statistical programme for the years 2013-2017 proposed by the Commission is fully consistent with this vision. Its implementation will be a challenge for both the Commission and Member States. However, there can be no progress without efforts. We are committed to responding to challenges we face with swift and consistent actions.

Madam Chair,

Honourable Members,

Concluding my intervention, I would like to note that the role of statistics has immensely changed in the last 20 years. Official statistics are not anymore only a basis for strategic planning and policy considerations. Starting from Maastricht criteria statistics have become used for benchmarking of countries' economic performance. Since then more and more target values and policy thresholds have been based on statistical results. Given the dynamics of contemporary financial markets a statistical release may change the perception and future of a whole country. There is no surprise that the political and public pressure on official statistics is growing.

This trend will continue and statistics will not be less sensitive anymore. Therefore, the context of the possible future reforms concerning the Union's economic and monetary policy coordination will become a driving force to think ahead. We must secure such instruments and environment for European statistics that it can always stay independent and reliable. Consequently, it may become necessary to adjust yet again the legal framework for statistics, including even the Treaty in case of major institutional reforms. The Commission will be prepared to propose adequate and efficient solutions.

In all these future projects contribution and support of the European Parliament will be of utmost importance.

Thank you for your attention.


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