EU warns Greece
statistics row 'dangerous' for bailout
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[August 24, 2016]
By Alastair Macdonald and Renee Maltezou
BRUSSELS/ATHENS (Reuters) - The
European Union called on Greece on Wednesday to quash what Brussels
said were false accusations the Greek statistics agency rigged data
to help foreign creditors and warned that the row posed risks to
Athens' current bailout programme.
The Greek government quickly replied that it was "surprised" at the
call from the European Commission for it to take a stance on a
judicial matter and insisted it respected the independence of the
Elstat statistics office.
Despite insisting she would not interfere with national courts,
Marianne Thyssen, who oversees the Commission's data agency Eurostat,
told reporters that former Elstat chief Andreas Georgiou effectively
had no case to answer after the Supreme Court this month reopened an
investigation into whether the former IMF economist had manipulated
public debt data.
Georgiou, who stepped down in 2015 after five years running Elstat
through the height of the Greek and euro zone debt crisis, has
denied suggestions by politicians, including from the current
left-wing government, that he may have helped Athens' foreign
creditors, including his former employer, by exaggerating Greece's
public debt problems.
A year after Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras secured a new bailout for
Greece from its euro zone partners, Thyssen said the government must
"actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data were
manipulated during 2010-2015 period and to protect Elstat and its
staff from such unfounded claims".
Failure to do so would damage the already fragile credibility of the
Greek state with international creditors. Asked whether it could
also jeopardize future disbursements of bailout funds, she declined
to speculate but said:
"It is necessary to get the record straight and avoid
misinterpretation because this could be very dangerous."
Thyssen, as social affairs commissioner, oversees Eurostat which
collates national data and she said that Eurostat had fully verified
the Greek figures provided during Georgiou's term -- a contrast, she
noted, to those sent to Brussels before he took office in 2010, when
angry euro zone partners say Greece concealed the depth of its
"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," she said.
Greek government spokeswoman Olga Gerovasili said Athens was
surprised by the Commission's comments.
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A stock ticker shows stock options inside the Athens stock exchange
building in Athens, Greece, September 21, 2015. REUTERS/Alkis
"In its letter the Commission states its standard principle to not comment on
cases pending in the justice system, a principle which is shared and followed by
the Greek government," Gerovasili said in a statement.
"However, there is a contradiction between this principle and the urging for the
Greek government to take a stance on whether statistical data in 2010 were valid
With Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commission vice president for the euro, and
Economics Commission Pierre Moscovici, Thyssen wrote to Greek Finance Minister
Euclid Tsakalotos on Tuesday. A government spokesman said the minister had
Georgiou was charged in 2013 with inflating figures on the 2009 budget deficit.
His case has seen fellow senior economists and statisticians from around the
world rally behind him. Some are helping to pay for his defense costs.
The case had appeared to be languishing but a move at the Supreme Court earlier
this month to reopen it has put Georgiou under renewed pressure and, in
Brussels' view, raised questions about the independence of Elstat from external
A recipient of repeated bailouts from its fellow members of the euro zone,
Greece's credibility with its European partners remains fragile. Germany and
other powers are still angry at the way, as they see it, successive governments
in Athens ran up unsustainable debts, masked by dubious fiscal data, triggering
a crisis that nearly wrecked the entire euro project.
(Editing by Dominic Evans)
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