EU Defends Greece’s Budget Data Amid Case Against Ex-Stats Chief

  • European Commission concerned about appearance of manipulation
  • Greek government refuses to vouch for 2010 fiscal numbers

The European Union defended Greece’s budget data as concern mounts that a court case against the former head of the Greek statistical agency will reignite market doubts about the credibility of the country’s fiscal numbers.

The European Commission vouched for data submitted by the Hellenic Statistical Authority from 2010 to 2015 and validated by EU statistics office Eurostat. The period coincides with the tenure at the top of the Greek agency of Andreas Georgiou, who faces felony charges in Greece for reporting a 2009 budget deficit that was more than five times the EU limit and that unleashed the euro-area debt crisis.

“Data on Greek government debt during the period 2010-2015 have been fully reliable and accurately reported,” European Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, who oversees Eurostat, told reporters on Wednesday in Brussels. “We expect the Greek authorities to actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data were manipulated during the 2010-2015 period.”

The issue is politically sensitive across Europe because Greece allegedly manipulated its fiscal numbers to qualify for euro entry in 2001 and became dependent in 2010 on international emergency loans, which have flowed for the past six years in return for widespread budget cuts. The aid for Greece is underpinned by the fiscal data of Greece’s statistical agency, also known as Elstat.

Georgiou, who stepped down as Elstat’s chief last year when his term ended, faces some domestic political critics who allege that he inflated Greece’s 2009 deficit figure of 15.6 percent of gross domestic product. Greek fatigue with budget tightening splintered the political system in 2012 and helped propel the anti-austerity Syriza party of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras into office last year.

International Bailout

In 2013, Georgiou said that Greece’s decision in 2010 to seek an international bailout, awarded three months before he assumed his post in August that year, was based on data compiled by his predecessors. He also pledged to continue to produce all Greek statistics in line with EU law.

Thyssen said on Wednesday that the commission, the EU’s executive arm, has sent a letter to the Greek government stressing the importance of preserving the quality of Greek budget statistics. She said false allegations “may create major damage to the credibility of Greek statistics.”

The Greek government responded coolly to Thyssen’s remarks, confirming in an e-mailed statement that Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos had received a letter from the commission, saying he was surprised by it and pledging to respect the independent operations of the Greek judiciary. The government also said it wouldn’t take a position on the validity of the 2010 fiscal data.

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