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OPINION
Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Hateful statistics

A director of the CEOE Spanish employers' association, Joan Rosell, has voiced doubts about the validity of our country's Active Population Survey (EPA)

Joaquín Estefanía

It was the systematic falsification of public accounts that set off the chain of misfortune recently seen in Greece, and which brought the euro to the brink of crisis. The IMF recently censured Argentina for systematic doctoring of the country's real inflation rate. This brought an irate response from the president, Cristina Fernández, generating ardent controversy on the manner of measuring the evolution of prices in that country.

In Spain - though we had been mentioned only in passing in the Argentinean president's words - we caught some gusts of the storm of debate, when the president of the CEOE Spanish employers' association, Joan Rosell, threw more fuel on the fire, by casting doubt on our country's Active Population Survey (EPA), an internationally standardized statistic that measures the rate of unemployment in European countries - a rate that now exceeds 26 percent in Spain. Rosell took the line that Spanish official statistics are "complicated, inefficient and bad," and that in order to properly determine the number of jobless you have to turn to the employment agencies' registries, and not to the EPA.

It is a bad sign when representatives of private organizations question official statistics (which in this case coincide almost exactly with those of Eurostat, the European Commission's agency). The National Statistics Institute (INE) had to come out in its own defense against the aspersions cast on it by Rosell, in an institutional communiqué asserting the absolute procedural standardization and reliability of the EPA.

It is a bad sign when representatives of private organizations question official statistics

However, there seem to be some political clouds gathering around the situation of the INE (whose president, Gregorio Izquierdo, comes from the Institute of Economic Studies, the CEOE's think tank - something that makes Rosell's remarks all the more surprising).

In recent weeks Inmaculada Rodríguez-Piñero, one of the chief parliamentary voices of the Socialist Party (PSOE) on economic matters, has presented at least three formal questions in Congress concerning the institute in general, and in particular the preparation of the EPA. In one of these, she inquires whether the president of the INE has any intention of personally micro-managing the preparation of Spain's national accounts, of the consumer price index (CPI) and of the EPA, to the detriment of the agency's technical teams. All of which suggests some sort of suspicion.

It would certainly be another depressing step backward in our country's gradual institutional standardization with the rest of Europe if, as appears to be occurring once again in the public television system, the INE, too, were to slip into some degree of subservience to the interests of the governing party.

Creative accounting applied to public accounts is at the origin of a number of European problems of credibility, creative procedures having been profusely applied to achieve apparent compliance with the anti-inflationary conditions imposed by the Treaty of Maastricht when the euro zone countries got the experiment of the single currency underway.

Within a few days we are to be informed of our country's current public deficit figure. Let us hope that the discussion that then begins will be focused on the relative fulfillment, or otherwise, of deficit-reduction objectives, and not on whether or not creative accounting played a determining role in their preparation.

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