EU statisticians defend Greek colleague over data charges

EU statisticians on Thursday voiced their solidarity with the head of the data service in bailed-out Greece who is facing charges that he deliberately over-stated 2009 deficit figures, aggravating the country's problems.

Eurostat said it wanted to "express our deep concern at recent developments ... in Greece, which we believe can affect not only the integrity of official statistics in that country" but also European data.

"We are concerned that political debates surrounding judicial action taken ... and the calling into question of the validity of data which have repeatedly passed ... stringent quality checks," it said in a statement signed by its head and those of national data groups in member states.

Andreas Georgiou, head of the Hellenic Statistical Authority, faces legal action for "false attestation to the detriment of the state" and "violation of duty" after the figures forced the government of the day to introduce stinging austerity measures.

The measures and the accompanying EU-IMF bailout have proved hugely unpopular, and are widely blamed for bringing the Greek economy to the verge of collapse and for soaring unemployment.

The statement said EU data had to be produced under the strictest guidelines and Eurostat closely examined all figures submitted.

"We are encouraged that in Greece many important steps have been taken in recent years to reinforce the credibility of official data," it said.

"We are confident that Greek authorities will do everything necessary to protect the independence of (the statistics body), its management and its staff from political and all other interference."