by Nicolas Véron
Peterson Institute for International Economics
June 25, 2018
Relentless prosecutions in Greece against Andreas Georgiou, the highly respected former head of the country’s national statistical institute ELSTAT, are more than a matter of shameful harassment by Greece. His case raises disturbing questions about the integrity of European statistical processes. Forceful action by EU authorities on Georgiou’s case is long overdue. The European Union also needs to consider reforming its statistical framework to ensure a similar scandal cannot recur.
Georgiou’s legal ordeal began in 2011 and has included accusations of inflating Greece’s 2009 budget deficit, a key figure in the context of the country’s loss of financial market access and request for financial assistance in 2010, and of “violating his duty” by not respecting ELSTAT procedures. The sequence of legal developments, interwoven with Georgiou’s scapegoating by several Greek political leaders, is too long to be summarized here. (It is documented on the website of the Friends of Greece, a dedicated advocacy group.)
A new low was recently reached when Greece’s Supreme Court irrevocably rejected Georgiou’s request for annulment of his Appeals Court conviction for having refused to submit Greece’s 2009 government deficit and debt numbers for prior approval to ELSTAT’s politically appointed board. He was also given a two-year suspended prison sentence. But Georgiou was merely following the European Statistics Code of Practice, which assigns “sole responsibility” to heads of national statistical institutes (NSIs), such as ELSTAT, and had been endorsed under Greek law prior to these events. Furthermore, the same figures and methodologies used by Georgiou’s ELSTAT to produce them have been subsequently used by the Greek government, including as the basis for European and international financial assistance and debt relief.