Tags: EU | EU | Greece | Economy

Europe Says Greek Economic Figures Unreliable

Tuesday, 12 Jan 2010 01:33 PM

The European Union's statistics arm said Greece's government budget figures were unreliable and seem to have been falsified to play down the budget crisis that has shaken the EU.

Eurostat said the Greek statistical office NSSG had complained of political interference in the financial figures to be sent to the EU executive last October. The NSSG is currently controlled by the Greek finance ministry.

The agency also blamed poor bookkeeping for the low quality of Greek statistics and said that it still had "a substantial number of unanswered questions" on spending for social security, hospital arrears and deals between the government and state-owned companies.

Greece shocked bond markets and other EU governments in October when it announced that its 2009 deficit would be a staggering 12.5 percent, far above the 3.7 percent it estimated the previous spring. Its growing debt is forecast to overtake Italy this year as Europe's highest.

Revising figures for recent years could see Greece's current debt and deficit figures increase again.

Eurostat said there was "deliberate misreporting" in accounts, citing fudged figures for interest payments, EU grants, unpaid hospital debt and swaps write-offs that made the deficit appear smaller.

"The current set-up does not guarantee the independence, integrity and accountability of the national statistical authorities," Eurostat said. It warned unless these problems were tackled, "the reliability of Greek deficit and debt will remain in question."

Neither the Greek finance ministry or the statistics office was available for comment on Tuesday. Greece's new center-left government, which took over Oct. 4, has promised to make the statistics service independent to eliminate any political pressure on its work.

The European Commission will within weeks formally condemn Greece for breaking EU debt limits and will comment on a budget program that Greece will send the EU executive this month on how it plans to reduce debt over the next few years.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters after meeting Greek officials in Athens on Tuesday that he was confident that the government would make the reforms needed and to start reducing debt soon with tough action.

He said this was "a matter of common interest" to the entire EU.

Greece's debt crisis shows how little power the EU executive has to rein in countries who don't follow EU budget rules designed to align the economies of the 16 nations that use the euro and support the shared currency. Athens has for years ignored EU recommendations to reduce debt and reform spending.

The EU's economy commissioner candidate Olli Rehn said Monday that EU officials should have the power to audit Greek statistics, saying it was "very difficult to take a long-term view" on the economy when its figures couldn't be trusted.

He said he did not believe the current crisis would force Greece to quit the euro, calling on Athens to come up with "concrete and tangible" plans to cut spending and raise revenues to pay off debt.

Greece's finance ministry last week hiked taxes on tobacco and alcohol.

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Associated Press Writer Nicholas Paphitis contributed to this report.

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The European Union's statistics arm said Greece's government budget figures were unreliable and seem to have been falsified to play down the budget crisis that has shaken the EU.Eurostat said the Greek statistical office NSSG had complained of political interference in the...
EU,EU,Greece,Economy
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2010-33-12
Tuesday, 12 Jan 2010 01:33 PM
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