Report on EUROSTAT Conference on “Statistics for Policymaking: Europe 2020”

Report on EUROSTAT Conference on “Statistics for Policymaking: Europe 2020”
By Lisa Cowan, EMBA, Ethical Markets European Correspondent

The 2011 annual gathering of Europe’s key statisticians and policy makers was held in Brussels, March 2011. The conference was opened by Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, who confirmed the importance of statistics as “a language which helps to grasp the complexity of modern societies and which can improve communication between policy makers and citizens.”

The underlying question at hand was how to go beyond GDP, particularly in light of the Europe 2020 goals and objectives. There were many useful speeches (conference proceedings), but what I found most insightful were the dialogues I was privileged to have in the moments between the conference sessions.

Sine the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Ethical Markets’ leadership has addressed the challenge of going beyond GDP with the work of founder Hazel Henderson and the Calvert Henderson Quality of Life Indicators she co-created with the Calvert Group, launched in 2000. Moving beyond GDP is more than tracking the plethora and choice of indicators but also recognizing the cultural shift required by staff whose job it is to collate and present the statistics.

The macroeconomics method based on money flows in GDP presents too narrow a story about the state of a nation with the excessive simplicity of the account it provides. Listing countries and their GDP percentage from one quarter to the next presents a distorted view of whether a country is growing or is in decline. Recession, technically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth, is now widely distrusted.

Since the Beyond GDP conference in the European Parliament in 2007, many broader indicators for monitoring the wellbeing of a country are being acknowledged. In the session on ‘Sustainable Growth: indicators for green growth,’ Lucio Gussetti, Director for Consultative Works at The Committee of Regions, shared his experience of trying to find comparable indicators. Of twenty-five indicators which existed in his country, only eight could be comparable internationally. Yet, broad agreement is evident across most countries on indicators of poverty gaps (GINI coefficients), health (infant mortality, life expectancy) and environment (urban air pollution, access to clean water).

The suggested green growth indicator sub themes which came out of this session are:
· Environmental efficiency of production and consumption
· Natural asset base
· Environmental quality of life
· Policy responses and economic opportunities

Jeni Klugman, Director, Human Development Report Office, referred to the pioneering United Nations Human Development Index which was launched in 1990 and is the most widely complementary set of indicators. HDI clearly shows that growth doesn’t necessarily come with human development.

Walter Radermacher, Director General of Eurostat, European Commission, articulated the need to collect and produce data which speaks to politicians, policy makers and citizens. He held up the UK as a new model of excellence which will assess wellbeing of citizens in a similar way to the new Canadian Index of Wellbeing (see http://well-being.dxwconsult.com/).

As the conference concluded, there was no question that sound and timely statistics will be crucial for making the Europe 2020 strategy a success. There is a strong will to ensure that policy making is ever more efficient and transparent and accountable to the public. The factors which will lead to success were offered as:

· Indicators must be accompanied with clear and agreed targets at European and at Member State level.
· Users and producers of statistics need to interact from early on in order to ensure the process of selection and development of indicators is effective.
· There needs to be clear quality commitments by the national and international statistical institutions as well as quality assurance frameworks.
· It is crucial to build on the long tradition of quality work and coordination within European statistics gathering.

Ethical Markets will continue reporting on Eurostat’s progress as we compare these efforts with the approaches in the OECD’s new Better Life Index.