The European Commission is offering its full support to the former head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority (ELSTAT), Andreas Georgiou, who is set to stand trial for allegedly tampering with Greece’s 2009 deficit figure to justify a bailout by the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund.
The Commission insisted Wednesday that the figures supplied by ELSTAT during Georgiou’s term in office had the full confidence and endorsement of Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, and urged the government to “actively and publicly challenge the false impression that data were manipulated during 2010-2015 and to protect ELSTAT and its staff from such unfounded criticism.”
“To the European Commission and Eurostat, it’s clear that the data for the Greek debt in the 2010-15 is reliable and precise as recorded by Eurostat,” said Marianne Thyssen, the commissioner responsible for Eurostat, while, in a letter she co-signed with Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici and Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, the government is urged to take steps to ensure the protection of Elstat and its staff by such unfounded accusations.
The letter, which was addressed to Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos and seen as a challenge to the leftist-led government, also insisted that Athens must throw its weight behind Elstat as support for the country’s statistics was a precondition for Greece receiving bailout loans.
According to a senior ranking European official, the case has annoyed a host of EU states as the charges hurled at Georgiou imply that they loaned Greece money that it didn’t need.
At the same time authorities in Brussels appear convinced that Georgiou is standing trial simply because he followed EU rules and that the case smacks of a government bent on politicizing independent institutions like the statistical service.
Thyssen also stressed the importance eurozone countries attach to Greece’s support of ELSTAT and the veracity of its statistics.
She added they will decide whether Athens has complied with the Commission’s request at the next meeting of eurozone finance ministers on September 9.
The Greek government, however, appeared defiant Wednesday, with spokesperson Olga Gerovasili saying that Tsakalotos expressed surprise that the letter was addressed to him, given that it concerns a case that goes back to 2010 and is currently under scrutiny by the Greek justice system. She also said Tsakalotos had never received a report by the Commission concerning problems with the independence of ELSTAT.
Gerovasili added that the government was focused on depoliticizing the public sector and that it respects independent authorities and the justice system.
Sources Wednesday insisted that the case against Georgiou was raised by ELSTAT staff and not the government.