Brussels OKs Greek 2009 deficit figure despite probe

The European Commission said Wednesday that Greece’s fiscal data from 2009 onward have been completely reliable, a day after prosecutors asked for the head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Andreas Georgiou, to face a criminal inquiry over allegations that he inflated the 2009 deficit figure to justify the government’s decision to apply for a bailout.

“Eurostat has been clear that it finds the revision of the Greek public finance data for 2009 by the Greek statistical office, ELSTAT, to be reliable and that the compilation of Greek data followed all the EU rules applicable and which all member states are bound by,” said Emer Traynor, a spokesperson for Commissioner Algirdas Semeta, who is responsible for taxation and customs union, audit and anti-fraud.

The decision to refer Georgiou and two other ELSTAT officials to a special magistrate has caused surprise in Brussels and concern in Greece’s coalition government.

“As a result, Eurostat’s been able to publish the government data on deficit and debt, which has been transmitted by ELSTAT without reservation since November 2010, which was not the case in previous periods,” Traynor added in response to a question from Kathimerini.

“We see this as reflecting the very significant progress that has been made in the quality of public finance data which has been transmitted by Greece as a result of new and strengthened procedures that have been put in place.”

The head of Eurostat, Walter Radermacher wrote to a Greek parliamentary committee in March last year to underline problems with the reliability of the country’s statistics between 2004 and 2010, and to emphasize that the reform of ELSTAT led to the agency gaining independence and greater trustworthiness.

Georgiou’s accuser, ex-ELSTAT official Zoe Georganta, claimed Wednesday in a radio interview that Greece’s deficit figure for 2009 should have been under 4 percent. The last time the Greek public deficit came in below 4 percent was in 2001.