Greece’s financial data back under the Brussels microscope

Elstat - eKathimerini

New Europe — Andreas Georgiou, a former International Monetary Fund (IMF) statistician who was highly regarded in Brussels when he ran the Greek statistics agency ELSTAT during the economic crisis (2010-2015), is currently under investigation by the Greek Supreme Court. He stands accused of inflating the country’s budget deficit in order to help justify the bailout.

Georgiou’s case was revived after Greece’s SYRIZA-Independent Greeks coalition government came to power. Some political observers at the time argued that reviving the case would furnish the new government with the political tools needed to further challenge the tough austerity imposed on the country by the IMF and EU.

The revival of the case was assisted by a former ELSTAT board member, Zoe Georganta, who in 2011 accused Georgiou of having “no idea of statistics” and was only doing whatever the EU’s statistics office (Eurostat) told him. “It is high time the case goes to court,” said Georganta.

According to her calculations, which were presented before a Greek parliamentary committee, the Greek deficit was 4% of the GDP.  Georganta’s calculations were supported by some members of the opposition New Democracy party who wanted to defend former ND Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis’ statistics era. 

‘Georgiou had no case to answer,’ said Thyssen.

Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, who is also responsible for Eurostat, stressed the importance of good data to ensure the success of EU decision-making.

Thyssen gave the EU Commission’s view on an important matter relating to Greece and its statistical data, as local media hosted statements regarding the court case against Georgiou.

Being responsible for Eurostat, the Commission underlined that “for the Commission and Eurostat it is absolutely clear that data on Greek Government debt during 2010-2015 have been fully reliable and accurately reported to Eurostat, unlike the situation before this period.”

Setting it straight, Thyssen added: “The Commission has never, and will not, as a matter of principle, comment on individual national legal proceedings.” However, she did connect Greece’s Stability Support Programme with the statistical data liability issues. Therefore, the EU Commission expects the Greek authorities to “actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data were manipulated during 2010-2015 and to protect ELSTAT and its staff from such unfounded claims”. 

From the Greek government side, reactions were harsh and quick. Greece’s Alternate Minister of Justice Dimitris Papangelopulos accused the EU Commission on August 26 of violating the country’s constitution and EU law.

As for the next steps, the Euro Working Group on August 29 will discuss the issue. Also, Alternate Finance Minister George Chouliarakis will need to provide answers in Brussels during  the preparatory meeting ahead of the September 9 Eurogroup meeting – the first meeting of the Eurozone finance ministers after breaking for the summer.

“In terms of next steps, we have asked for the point to also be on the agenda of the next Eurogroup on 9 September, as part of discussions on Greece’s programme implementation,” added the EU source. This means Greece is back on the agenda after a short period during which the country has managed to steer clear of criticism and difficult discussions.

What is more, Greece will need to start discussions over the next review of the third bailout programme, in order to receive some €2.8bn in bailout funds. This is the sub-tranche remaining from the €10.3bn of the second tranche.

Greece’s creditors are demanding that the Greek government introduce labour reforms, increase taxes and address the issue of non-performing loans , as well as to create a supervisory panel to oversee a new privatisation fund. Prime Minster Alexis Tsipras had a chance to lobby with the European Social Democrats in Paris.