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Brussels condemns Greece over false data January 13, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Yunanistan.
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Greece was condemned by the European Commission yesterday for falsifying data on its public finances and allowing political pressures to obstruct the collection of accurate statistics.

In a damning report published as the eurozone grapples with its worst financial crisis since the euro’s launch in 1999, the Commission said figures from Greece were so unreliable that its budget deficit and public debt might be even higher than the government had claimed last October.

At that time Greece estimated its 2009 deficit would be 12.5 per cent of gross domestic product, far above 3.7 per cent predicted in April. It revised its 2008 deficit up to 7.7 per cent from 5 per cent.

The data shocked and angered Greece’s 15 eurozone partners and prompted swift downgrades of Greek debt as well as an increase in the premium demanded by financial markets to buy Greek bonds.

The socialist government is promising to cut sharply its deficit to 3 per cent or less by 2012 but financial markets question whether it can introduce the drastic austerity measures implied by such a target without sparking labour unrest and social disorder.

The Greek finance ministry said the Commission report reflected the app-roach of previous governments, not the current one. “We’re in the process of changing the way statistics are collected and analysed,” it said.

Separately, an International Monetary Fund technical team arrived in Athens yesterday in response to a Greek request for help with a radical overhaul of the tax system due to be completed in March.

“There is absolutely nothing on the agenda about loans and borrowing [from the IMF],” the ministry said. It dismissed speculation the government might turn to the IMF for assistance if the public finances deteriorated.

The Commission, which is responsible for upholding the eurozone’s fiscal rules, made clear in its report that it had next to no faith in Greek statistics. “The current set-up does not guarantee the independence, integrity and accountability of the national statistical authorities,” it said.

The Commission denoun-ced “poor co-operation and lack of clear responsibilities between several Greek institutions and services . . . diffuse personal responsibilities, ambiguous empowerment of officials, absence of written instruction and documentation, which leave the quality of fiscal statistics subject to political pressures and electoral cycles”.

The report listed categories in which, it said, Greece had deliberately mis-reported data last year, including revenues from abolished extra-budgetary accounts, swaps write-offs, adjustment for interest payments, European Union financial grants and hospital liabilities. Hundreds of millions of euros were involved in each case.

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