MEPs asked the Council to grant more audit powers to Eurostat and agreed on minimum standards for statistical data. It also calls for Member States to be obliged to provide more information to Eurostat.
The EP's Economic Affairs Committee on Wednesday began discussing the proposed legislation on strengthening Eurostat's powers and improving the quality of budgetary deficit data. MEPs asked the Council to live up to its political commitments by granting more audit powers to Eurostat and agreeing on minimum standards for statistical data.
The basis for discussion was two documents: a draft report containing proposed amendments by rapporteur Othmar Karas (EPP, AT) to the Commission's legislative proposals and a separate draft resolution outlining the political decisions needed to avoid another situation like the Greek data reporting case.
As regards the legislation - on which Parliament is being consulted - Mr Karas' draft report strongly recommends strengthening Eurostat as much as possible. It also calls for Member States to be obliged to provide more information to Eurostat. In addition, representatives from the ECB should take part in, and assist in, visits undertaken by Eurostat to the Member States, says the draft report.
The accompanying draft resolution raises concerns about a seeming lack of political will, particularly in the Council, to take the necessary steps to enforce Eurostat's powers. It urges the Council to act on its words and not repeat the mistake it made in 2005 when it shied away from granting Eurostat more powers, as proposed by the Commission. The draft resolution also calls on Member States to be ready to be scrutinised more closely and to be required to provide Eurostat with more information than has been the case so far.
Time for Member States to go beyond words
"This is the first legislative act related to the Greek crisis and it is the first litmus test for the Member States on whether they are ready to act on their words. Eurostat must be empowered to get whatever information it wants", said Mr Karas in his opening remarks. All other MEPs argued on similar lines, with some saying that the Commission's legislative proposal did not go far enough, that it was important to be as tough as possible on data reporting and even that Eurostat should be granted 'dawn raid' powers just like the Commission's competition services.
Statistics are at the basis of good economic governance
The chair of the committee, Sharon Bowles (ALDE, UK), lent her full support to the proposal to give Eurostat stronger audit-like powers in order to improve the quality of European statistics. She emphasised that the Commission's recent proposal to give Eurostat more powers to investigate the reliability of national statistics should not be watered down in the Council and agreed with the approach taken by Mr Karas, that the Commission (Eurostat) must have the full right to decide when to undertake these kinds of methodological visits in the Member States.
"Accurate statistics and improved verification of the reliability of aggregate data provided to Eurostat are essential prerequisites for any improvements of economic governance in the Union. The Commission proposal is the minimum needed as a result of the lessons of the Greek case, and reporting obligations need to be enforced among all Member States. This reporting should include details of any off balance sheet activity", Ms Bowles said.
Taking the floor at the end of the debate, a representative of Eurostat thanked MEPs for their strong support and willingness to work urgently, and said he was convinced that the message from Parliament would be heard and acted upon by Council.
Based on today's discussion, the Economic Affairs Committee will try to deal quickly with the EP draft report in order to have the new rules in place as soon as possible. The committee votes will take place on 28 June, with the votes by the full Parliament to follow in June for the resolution and July for the legislative report
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