Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Minister’s court win intensifies fears for rule of law in Greece

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 9, 2017

Fears for the independence of the Greek judicial system are mounting after the foreign minister won a court order freezing the bank accounts of a leading magazine over a reader’s letter describing him as a former “fanatical” Stalinist.

The ruling in favour of Nikos Kotzias has drawn sharp criticism from academics and public figures, who say it violates EU law on freedom of expression. It also highlights broader concern over perceived interference in the justice system by the leftwing Syriza government.

The concerns widened beyond Greece last week when senior eurozone officials warned the government that the continued prosecution of Andreas Georgiou, its former statistics chief, over claims he inflated the size of the country’s budget deficit in 2009, threatened to drive a wedge between Athens and its euro area creditors.

The affair comes as Brussels is already locked in stand-offs with Poland and Hungary over the rule of law that have raised questions over the EU’s ability to enforce the democratic standards at the core of the European project.

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Monday, August 7, 2017

Lessons for the eurozone from Greece’s painful crisis years

by George Pagoulatos

Financial Times

August 7, 2017

Greece is finally growing again. But it has been arguably the eurozone’s greatest failure. Catapulted into a debt crisis with a 15 per cent government spending deficit in 2009, the country suffered eight years of economic contraction. Unemployment is still 23 per cent, youth unemployment 45 per cent. Greece’s “Great Depression” has been as deep as that of the US in the early 1930s, but twice as long.

Can Europe learn from the country’s painful experience? A first lesson is to reform at the top of the cycle. Greece had to adjust in recession because it failed to do so in its pre-crisis boom. Reforms should always be adopted in times of growth, when people are confident and losers can be compensated. An upswing can buy time to implement reforms, but should not be invoked as evidence that reforms are unnecessary. The eurozone is now in its strongest period of post-crisis recovery. But it should avoid complacency. Reforms are necessary for the long-term viability of the monetary union. We need a stabilisation budget and joint-borrowing capacity; greater risk sharing; and financial union to break the doom loop between banks and government.

After September’s election in Germany, and assuming Emmanuel Macron delivers domestic reforms in France, Europe will be at the top of its political cycle. This is the time to push ahead with eurozone reforms. They will require painful concessions: the Germans refuse joint deposit insurance or a fiscal backstop, the French are not keen to surrender control over the national budget and the Italians reject ceilings on bank exposure to sovereign debt. But something must give.

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Elstat suspends preliminary Greek GDP estimate after discrepancies

by Kerin Hope & Eleftheria Kourtali

Financial Times

August 7, 2017

Greece’s statistical agency will no longer public “flash” estimates of the country’s gross domestic product after delays in data collection have led to frequent revisions of official growth figures.

Elstat said on Monday that its second quarter GDP estimate for 2017, which was due to be announced on August 14, would not be made public. Instead it said the provisional estimate, which is calculated using a bigger range of inputs from the economy, would be published on September 1 as scheduled.

The agency said it decided to suspend the flash estimate “in order to explore the availability of the necessary data sources that would help improve the consistency of the flash estimate.”

An Elstat official said some data used to calculate the flash estimate was incomplete, making revisions necessary when updated figures arrived.

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

A legal farce calls Greek reform into question

Financial Times
Editorial
August 6, 2017


After years of punishing austerity, Greece finally has grounds to hope it will regain its financial independence when its bailout programme ends next summer. The economy has returned to modest growth. Against expectations, Athens has hit its fiscal targets and secured a pledge of further debt relief from creditors. Yet despite the huge efforts made to put the public finances on a more sustainable trajectory, there remain serious doubts over the government’s commitment to reform the Greek state, rid institutions of political influence and guarantee the rule of law.

The conviction last week of Andreas Georgiou, the country’s former chief statistician, for “violating” his duties during the sovereign debt crisis, is especially worrying. Mr Georgiou has for six years been fighting accusations that, as head of Elstat, the statistical agency, he inflated Greece’s 2009 budget deficit, forcing the country to undergo deeper austerity.

No matter that he had been acquitted of these charges a few months earlier, only to have the case reopened. No matter that the EU’s statisticians — whose standards he was supposed to be following — have endorsed both the procedures he followed and the figures he produced, describing last week’s trial as a “preset farce”. Mr Georgiou — a former IMF official and thus part of a hated international technocracy — is a convenient scapegoat for the failures of Greece’s political class.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Greece scapegoats a statistician who only did his job

Washington Post
Editorial
August 4, 2017


In Greece, the lucrative tourism industry is threatened this summer by millions of oversized jellyfish washing ashore on the nation’s beaches. An even slimier development is the ongoing persecution of the country’s first independent chief statistician, whose tough-minded steps to straighten out Greece’s notoriously fraudulent economic data have been repaid with farcical prosecutions by a judicial system rapidly discrediting itself in the world’s eyes.

Andreas Georgiou, an American-trained economist who spent two decades working at the International Monetary Fund, was hired as Greece’s top statistician in 2010 as the country’s debt crisis was spiraling out of control. His goal was to honestly report economic data that for years had been fudged by politicians and officials seeking to minimize their own fateful fiscal mismanagement.

Having done just that, by applying reporting standards widely accepted across Europe, he is now scapegoated as the cause of the painful austerity program imposed on Greece by the IMF and European Union. Four times in recent years, an array of criminal accusations against Mr. Georgiou have been dismissed by prosecutors, only to be revived by judicial authorities amid fury by politicians and media outlets. This month, an Athens appeals court gave Mr. Georgiou a two-year suspended sentence — essentially for reporting accurate information to European authorities during the debt crisis.

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Thursday, August 3, 2017

By convicting an honest statistician, Greece condemns itself

by Megan Greene

Politico

August 3, 2017

Greek economic data is completely unreliable. That’s what I told Andreas Georgiou — as politely as I could — shortly after he had been put in charge of the Greek statistics agency in 2010.

He must not have been surprised at my answer. After all, that was exactly the problem he had been hired to fix by ensuring that the agency broke free of political influence.

And fix it he did, injecting the agency with a stiff dose of independence and markedly improving the data it produced.

His reward? Prosecution and, ultimately, conviction.

On Tuesday, Georgiou was handed a two-year suspended sentence for “breach of duty” during his stint at the head of the statistics agency, Elstat — a travesty that goes beyond the unfair treatment of one statistician to questions about the progress of Greece’s economic recovery and the sustainability of the eurozone.

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Eurozone officials in warning on Greece statistics trial ‘farce’

by Jim Brunsden, Arthur Beesley & Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 2, 2017

Senior eurozone officials have warned that the continued prosecution in Greece of its former statistics chief is threatening to drive a wedge between Athens and its euro area creditors, only weeks after the country brokered a deal on the next stages of its €86bn bailout.

A suspended sentence handed down this week against Andreas Georgiou has prompted consternation among EU policymakers, reviving what many capitals fear is a series of politically motivated trials intended to restore the economic reputation of previous governments.

The long-running affair is likely to be put on the agenda of eurozone finance ministers in September amid “concern about the conviction across institutions”, said a diplomat. The judicial proceedings centre on Mr Georgiou’s time in charge of Elstat, the independent statistics agency set up as a condition of the first Greek bailout.

In remarks on Twitter that reflect deep unease in Brussels at Mr Georgiou’s conviction, Valdis Dombrovskis, European Commission vice-president, said he was following developments with concern. It was “important that [the] independence of Elstat and people who do their jobs are protected in line with the law”, said Mr Dombrovskis, who has responsibility for euro affairs.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Former Greek data chief given suspended sentence

by Kerin Hope

Financial Times

August 1, 2017

An Athens appeal court has handed Greece’s former statistics a two-year suspended sentence for “violating” his duties during the country’s sovereign debt crisis.

The conviction of Andreas Georgiou came as a surprise as the former chairman of country’s statistical agency, Elstat, had been acquitted of the same charges by another appeals court only eight months ago. The case was reopened by Greece’s top prosecutor on grounds that a possible misjudgment had occurred.

Mr Georgiou is seen by many in Athens as the victim of a campaign to shift the blame for Greece’s financial mismanagement away from the New Democracy government who ran the country in the run-up to the debt crisis and which is blamed for borrowing recklessly on international markets.

The former statistics chief is accused of deliberately inflating the 2009 budget deficit figure from 13.6 per cent to 15.4 per cent of gross domestic product so that Greece would be forced to seek additional bailout aid and prolong harsh austerity policies required by the EU and International Monetary Fund, his former employer.

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Greek Court Finds Former Statistics Chief Guilty of Breaching Duties

by Marcus Walker

Wall Street Journal

August 1, 2017

A Greek court found the country’s former top statistician guilty of breaching his duties, ruling he should have sought approval before he told European Union authorities of the full extent of Greece’s budget deficit at the start of its debt crisis.

The Athens Appeals Court handed Andreas Georgiou, head of Greece’s official statistics agency in 2010-2015, a two-year suspended jail sentence on Monday for his handling in 2010 of the revision of Greece’s deficit data for previous years.

Mr. Georgiou denies any wrongdoing and has won widespread support from international statisticians, who say he is the victim of unjust persecution.

The EU has repeatedly certified that Mr. Georgiou reported Greece’s fiscal data accurately, in contrast with earlier Greek practices that EU bodies have said deliberately hid the scale of the country’s deficits.

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