Transformed by Greece, Eurostat bares its teeth

Tue Oct 16, 2012 3:03am EDT
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By Robin Emmott

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Walter Radermacher wanted to be invisible, and working in his unremarkable office above a suburban shopping center in Luxembourg, the European Union's statistics chief nearly was.

But everything changed for Radermacher one October afternoon three years ago, when he received an alarming letter from Athens the day before his Eurostat statistics agency was scheduled to publish data on the state of Europe's accounts.

The letter was to transform Eurostat from a rubber-stamp organisation aggregating European statistics to a feared debt policeman with the power to search governments suspected of massaging their accounts.

These new powers are a little-known side of the growing centralisation of EU institutions over the 27 member states and the tightening of control over national budgets as they try to put an end to the three-year debt crisis that began in Greece.

"We statisticians like to be invisible, we want our products to speak. But we were immediately in the limelight," Radermacher, a bow-tie-wearing German who has headed Eurostat since 2008, told Reuters in an interview.

Back in 2009, a new Greek government had found that its predecessor lied about its borrowings and had run up huge debts.

In the letter sent to Eurostat, Greece's budget deficit was going to be 12.5 percent of economic output in 2009, not the 3.7 percent figure the previous administration had foreseen.

Greece's restatement not only destroyed the illusion that all euro zone members were equal and forced Athens into a bailout, but exposed Eurostat's inability to ensure the quality of European Union data because it lacked the power to do so.   Continued...