Criticism of the work of an institute like the INE is healthy, positive and even necessary, but when it comes from those who have a role in the functioning of an organization that should be independent and neutral, it can become, de facto, covert instructions on how to work. And that is unacceptable. That is what the European Statistical Governance Advisory Council (ESGAB) thinks, the independent mechanism of the community institutions that precisely monitors the situation of national organizations such as the INE, to denounce any type of irregular pressure. And he says it precisely after the resignation, forced or at least induced, of Juan Rodríguez Poo.
“Political interference with the compilation methods of European statistics is extremely damaging to public confidence in statistics, even more so when policy makers criticize statistics for presenting a ‘wrong’, i.e. too negative, picture of the socioeconomic evolution in the country, and therefore of the work of the Government ESGAB expresses its serious concern about the context and the actions surrounding the resignation of the president of the Spanish INE The specific fact also indicates a weakness in the legal framework statistics existing in Spain”, says crudely the text published on the pages of the European Commission.
The ESGAB was created in 2008 “to improve the professional independence, integrity and accountability of the European Statistical System, key elements of the Code of Good Practice, as well as to improve the quality of European statistics” and with a clear mandate for supervision, oversight and alert. In a Union that is ever closer, and whose political and economic practices depend on reliable and credible data, trust is essential. The Greek crisis, which since 2010 brought to light that completely false information and figures inflated to impossible levels had been provided for a long time, showed that supervision was essential and hence the sensitivity to pressure from an Executive.
The case of Greece, precisely, is the one that set off all the alarms, since the person in charge of ELSTAT, the Greek INE, who denounced the 2009 situation regarding false deficit and debt data, was accused, arrested and tried in his country. The European Commission endorsed the defense of Andreas Georgiou, putting pressure on Athens during the negotiations for his financial rescue. In June 2021, the European Parliament voted clearly to appoint Georgiou as his representative on the ESGAB Board, so he knows first-hand what the pressure of a national government to intervene in the preparation of the accounts entails.
The statement from ESGAB, the statistical advisory body of the Commission, is forceful, without much margin. “ESGAB believes that, in general, comments and criticisms of the work of a National Statistics Institute (INE) – even in public – can be useful for the production of good European statistics to the extent that they are scientifically and technically based. This also contributes to the accountability of statistical institutes for their work.However, when such comments and criticisms come from politicians and legislators with jurisdiction over the statistical institute, whose political performance is documented by public statistics, and when these comments go beyond beyond the thoughtful presentation of scientific points of view for consideration, they can effectively amount to the Government providing instructions to the INE on how to compile statistics,” denounces the European text.
The previous ESGAB press release is more than three years old and has to do precisely with Greece. Last week some Spanish MEPs shouted to the skies with the suspicious resignation of Rodríguez Poo and appealed precisely to the European standards that demand the independence of the INE. “ESGAB reiterates the legal obligation of national governments to respect the professional independence of the INE stipulated in Community Regulation 223/2009. Politicians with responsibilities who exert pressure on the INE and other producers of European statistics on the methods of calculating certain statistics, such as GDP or the rate of inflation, fail to comply with this obligation In accordance with this Regulation, European statistics will be developed, produced and disseminated in accordance with the statistical principles set out in Article 338(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, including the principles of scientific independence, impartiality and objectivity, and developed in the Code of Good Practices for European Statistics”, reiterates the statement advanced by El Confidencial.
The European Commission and Eurostat have not ruled these weeks for something they consider an internal matter of Spain. To date, the Executive’s complaints that the INE was doing its job wrong, wrongly calculating GDP and inflation, have found no echo in Luxembourg, where the numbers have been systematically validated. “Spain should thoroughly review the existing legal/institutional framework, as well as the modification of the same that is currently being considered, in order to guarantee the implementation of all the European statistical principles enshrined in the Code of Good Practices of European Statistics” , says the European association on the rules for the appointment and dismissal of the president of the INE:
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