50th Conference of European Statisticians
Paris, 10-12 June 2002
Statement by Mrs. Brigita Schmögnerová
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe
Secretary-General of OECD, Chairman of the CES, Heads of statistical offices, ladies and gentlemen!
It is my great pleasure to address you at this important moment when you celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CES (Conference of European Statisticians).
It was in 1953 at an ad hoc Regional meeting of European Statisticians, when the conference of European Statisticians was created and became a "Principal Subsidiary Body of the ECE".
For almost 40 years, that is throughout the whole period of the cold war, the CES served as "a bridge between statistical offices from market and non-market economies". Statisticians regularly met in Geneva under the umbrella of the CES to discuss and approve statistical standards, exchange data and improve international capability. As mentioned in Fellegi and Franchet's paper when analysing important developments in the world that have had a profound impact on the role of the CES after the fall of the iron curtain, the Conference is not anymore a "bridge" but a "forum" for knowledge and experience, and transfer among statistical offices in countries at different levels of statistical development.
To narrow a statistical divide is and for some time will remain one of the functions of the Conference. Yesterday in your discussion of the future of the CES you focused on 1. the importance of raising the profile of CES, 2. need to respond to new challenges, 3.need for flexibility (Korolev's paper), 4. impact of the EU on the CES etc. You discussed the same issues which are discussed in the ECE as a part of the debate of the "Strengthening the Organisation".
I would like to congratulate the CES to take this initiative and encourage you to make the decisions that will assist to better respond to new arising challenges. We all agree that the challenges in the world, but particularly in this region in the last decade are enormous; the transition from CSE to market economies in 27 member states, deepening the European Integration under the EU umbrella and on-going EU-enlargement which is going to have an impact on existing EU member states, acceding and also non-acceding countries; the growing globalisation with its positive and also negative impacts on society; the new ICT as a tool for the development of information society; growing understanding of the need for sustainable development, etc. To these new challenges all key actors, governments, businesses, NGO's, international organisations have to respond adequately. This is certainly an important task for the UNECE and the CES.
Therefore the UNECE started a debate on the "Strengthening the UNECE" as a part of the UN Secretary General's initiative to reform the UN. We discuss issues like raising the policy profile of UNECE, including social policy issues into ECE mandate, country groupings approach, more focus on the implementation and monitoring and reviewing of "hard" and "soft" law (like norms, standards, conventions, best practices, guidelines, etc). The reform if adopted will need the Conference's support in many fields like, the need for new measurements, sets of new indicators of good governance, knowledge based economy etc, new data collection, better quality of statistical data, new statistical techniques etc.
Therefore I welcome that in Item 3 in matters arising from the May 2002 Annual Session of the Economic Commission for Europe, it is proposed that the Bureau of the Conference and the Conference itself should continue to work actively towards contributing positively to strengthening the ECE as an organisation.
One innovative element of your work could be possibly implemented in the work of some other PSB of the ECE as a part of the reform: it is Integrated Presentation of the Programmes of Work of the international agencies active in the ECE and OECD areas. To my understanding this is an efficient tool to avoid duplications, to improve the cooperation among relevant agencies and to increase synergy. I would appreciate if you could share your experience with other PSBs not only in Integrated Presentation of the Programmes of Work but also in organising expert meetings jointly by two or more agencies such as with Eurostat, OECD and other international organisations. Possible conversion of the Integrated Presentation into a database product could be next progress worth to be initiated.
Many of you referred to the mandate of the Conference and its objectives as confirmed by the Conference at its 1991 plenary session, like: to improve national statistics, to promote closer co-ordination of the statistical activities but also to respond to emerging needs arising out of transition, integration and other processes of cooperation both within the ECE region and between the ECE region and other regions.
As I said earlier the CES should continue to have a role in assisting statistical offices to close the statistical divide which still exists among the members and thus to contribute to the integration of this region. So that the role of the Conference is ensuring that the statistical practices of the most advanced members do not drift apart from those of other member countries of the ECE.
The secretariat of the ECE is committed to provide technical assistance to statistical offices if required and with the involvement of the UNDP. It is important that we avoid duplications and improve coordination with the Eurostat, although the ECE's involvement is very limited. The reform of the ECE's technical assistance should allow better responding to member states needs, be more demand-driven and action-orientated. The CES as an international body considers its role in the region but also its contribution to out of regional development of statistics. Its contribution to other regions and its contribution to the Statistical Commission of the UN should be considered. The mandate of the CES also assumes to respond to regional and global processes. Therefore it should be considered how the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, Monterrey Consensus, expected Johannesburg declaration could be integrated into the CES programme of work.
The Conference should also find means that permit to further contribute to cross-sectoral activities in the ECE, to deal with economic and social implications of population ageing and should clarify its contribution to the information society which as we believe could help to develop a more democratic and just world. In order that the misuse of information is avoided which would otherwise represent a threat to UN values, it is needed to improve quality and reliability of information, to improve statistical knowledge and ICT skills in society, to provide new information which was not needed before, to guarantee free access to information, etc. To accomplish this task it requires combined efforts of governments including their commitment to increased transparency and accountability, national statistical offices, business sector, research institutes and international organisations.
The CES can contribute significantly to the democratic debate, through better dissemination of knowledge to the civil society and its increasing use in policy decisions. In this process the "official statistics" will face increased competition in various fields of its activities: in conducting statistical surveys, in data collection, in data dissemination, in statistical analysis, etc from business research, different agencies, etc. The competition will raise many problems such as quality of data, divergence of data, etc. But in general, competition and some division of labour should be welcomed as a way of improvement of work of statistical offices and relevant international organisations and as a contribution to a more knowledgeable society.
Finally, I would like to thank the OECD for hosting the 50th CES in the OECD premises; Eurostat for facilitating the participation of representatives of some transition members in the CES; the chairman of CES and the Bureau and the Executive heads of the statistical offices for your commitment to the work of the CES and also the ECE Statistical Division for servicing the Conference. I would like to congratulate the CES and wish the Conference another 50 years of success.
Thank you in advance.