• English

Fifty-second plenary session of the Conference of European Statisticians

Paris, 8-10 June 2004
Statement by Ms. Brigita Schmögnerová,
Executive Secretary

In the last two years, since its 50th Anniversary in 2002, the Conference of European Statisticians has been adjusting the way it works in order to confront the challenges created by the changing Europe. This is evident in the implementation of a new structure of the plenary sessions, which aims at strengthening the role of the Conference and its Bureau in identifying new emerging statistical issues and setting the agendas for their discussion and solutions, and focusing on issues of priority interest to different groups of countries in the UNECE region. A further challenge for the Conference has been to preserve its role as the coordinator of the international statistical work in the UNECE region by developing further the Integrated Presentation of International Statistical Work which, since June 2003, is available as a database on the ECE website.

The geo-political landscape of the UNECE region is undergoing major changes - the enlargement of the European Union to 25 countries in May is the most important of these. Therefore, in the context of the UNECE reform, reflections on the implications of this enlargement started a few years ago. A series of discussions were held in various areas of the UNECE work as well as workshops under the maxim “Wider Europe”, organised in cooperation with the European Commission. The discussions underlined the fact that the overall mandate and core functions of the UNECE remain highly relevant at the present time. However, the challenge is to implement them in a rapidly changing environment, marked on the one hand by the diversity in the transition stages and levels of development among Central and Eastern Europe and the CIS countries and, on the other hand, by the EU enlargement and its impact on the various integration processes in the region.

The overall and standing mandate of the UNECE is to promote the economic integration among all its member States, to avoid the emergence of dividing lines within the region and to assist the less advanced economies in catching up with the other economies of the region. Within this mandate, the UNECE fulfils three core and interrelated functions: (a) the development of norms and standards which are either legally binding through Conventions and Agreements or through policy guidelines and recommendations; (b) the production of statistics and economic analyses in support of policy debates; and (c) the carrying out of technical assistance activities for supporting transition economies in implementing UNECE norms and standards, and addressing transboundary issues at the subregional level.

Another major character of the UNECE is that, together with the other Regional Commissions, it is an important part of the UN architecture. In addition to its regional focus, UNECE holds the role of ensuring communication between the regional and global levels of the UN, in particular on the occasion of the major United Nations Conferences where Regional Commissions play a role in the regional follow-up and implementation of the outcome of these Conferences.

A further role of the UNECE that is widely acknowledged is the promotion of a multilateral dialogue in the region. It is the only regional organization which brings together North America, the European Union, the other non-EU Western and Eastern European countries, Southeast Europe and CIS countries to dialogue and cooperate on economic and sectoral issues which correspond to its fields of expertise.

The Conference will open with discussion on Matters arising from the February 2004 Session of the Economic Commission for Europe on the basis of a short paper prepared by the ECE secretariat.

In the context of the UNECE reform, the Commission decided that, given the enlargement of the EU and the new geopolitical reality within the region, the role and place of the UNECE in the new European institutional architecture should be reviewed. The Commission also decided to evaluate the state of the UNECE with the aim of developing recommendations to determine what changes to the role, mandate and functions of the UNECE are necessary in light of the changes in Europe since the UNECE was created almost 60 years ago. The review will also consider the comparative advantages the UNECE can bring to its members in the future, as well as to identify areas where greater collaboration with other organizations can eliminate unnecessary duplication of effort and fill critical gaps.

As emphasised by the Commission, the Principal Subsidiary Bodies (PSBs), one of which is the Conference of European Statisticians, should play a key role in the evaluation process of the activities of the UNECE. Recently all Chairmen of PSBs have been consulted on the Terms of reference for the planned comprehensive review of the UNECE.

The attention of the Conference will also be drawn to issues related to the technical cooperation work, for which the UNECE secretariat has prepared a paper on Technical Cooperation Activities covered by the UNECE Statistical Division for the period June 2003-May 2004. The Commission gave a positive assessment of the work done by UNECE in technical cooperation and providing assistance to its less advanced member countries, in particular in the areas of sustainable energy, environment, transport and statistics. In future, technical cooperation will be focused on the countries who are in most need of it in Southeast Europe and CIS countries. The progress in the development of national statistics in SEE and CIS is very uneven. Some countries are in the process of building the basic elements of their national statistical systems, completing their legislation, etc. It is regrettable that few, very few, CIS countries so fare have not started the process: their statistical data is not reliable and does not provide a good basis for decision-makers. I hope UNECE will succeed in attracting the interest of the statisticians of these countries so that they can better benefit from the work of the CES.

The Integrated Presentation of International Statistical Work in the UNECE Region has been a crucial tool for more than a decade in the achievement of effective coordination of international statistical work in the UNECE region. Traditionally, it has been a main topic for discussion at the Conference. For a second consecutive year, the planned statistical work of the other UN Regional Commissions (ECLAC, ESCWA and ESCAP) is also presented, which contributes to strengthening the cooperation between the UN Regional Commissions. However, in order to remain relevant, the Integrated Presentation needs to be improved on an on-going basis. A number of changes are planned in the future with regard to the structure of the Integrated Presentation, the procedure for its review and modalities for its updating that are presented to the Conference for endorsement.

For the first time this year, the ECE secretariat has prepared an Annual UNECE Statistical Programme that is presented to the Conference after being endorsed by the CES Bureau in October 2003. It also includes the statistical activities undertaken by other UNECE Divisions. The Statistical Programme is an important tool for the UNECE Statistical Division to be able to coordinate the statistical activities carried out in UNECE under different sub-programmes and in this way to fulfil its mandate.

Once again this year, the Conference will discuss within its seminar part one topic related to foundational issues of the statistical systems and a second one related to an immerging issue.

National Statistical Systems is the topic of the first seminar session organised by Statistics Finland. The discussion will focus on some aspects of the National Statistical Systems, such as the coordination required when the statistical system is decentralised; independence and integrity of official statistics throughout the system; the demand generating new statistics and especially the role of political debate on that demand; and the distinction of official statistics (produced by the National Statistical Systems) from other production of statistical information.

The respect of the principals of independence, integrity and credibility of official statistics is important in order for the statisticians to accomplish their mission as producers of official statistics. To be effective, a statistical agency must be credible. If the statistical information that an agency produces is not trusted, the effectiveness of the agency is seriously undermined. This principle is valid for both national and international official statistics. The goal of the statistical agencies should be to produce objective and accurate data that the users trust. In this context the crucial role of the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics that were developed by the Conference of European Statisticians in 1991 and adopted by the Economic Commission for Europe in 1992 should be mentioned.

In the last decade, statisticians have been faced by the challenge of meeting the demand for new statistics. It is not only the international organizations that generate new statistical demand. Economic and social developments require new statistics, related to security, globalisation, immigration and population aging. A further challenge for the statisticians has been to meet the demand for a wide range of indicators formulated by policy makers, whether for regional policies or at the global level following the UN summits, such as the Millennium Development Goals. In this context, the Conference will discuss the need for a more pro-active approach by statistical agencies. I think this is a very appropriate time to do so. In one year we will take stock of the first five years of the Millennium Declaration commitments. Among other issues, there is a growing recognition that the monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals has to be approved. The recent World Bank studies suggest that there is a need for review of the current indicators, for disaggregation of indicators, re-definition of some indicators, additional indicators, etc., at the national level. UNECE – as a regional organization – needs to consider the value-added of monitoring the Millennium Development Goals at the regional level. The achievement of many Millennium Development targets in many countries depends on regional, intraregional and interregional cooperation and policies. Statisticians should therefore formulate indicators to measure the impact of these policies in achieving Millennium Development Goals.

Measuring Prices and Volume of the Service Sector is the topic for the second seminar organised by the Office for National Statistics of the United Kingdom.

The service sector has been rising steadily in developed economies for many years and users are increasingly asking for more information on the service sector. Policy makers and central banks are interested in this area as it produces much of the growth in the developed economies. For example, more than 70% of the GDP for both the euro area and the EU is produced by activities which are classified traditionally as services.

The seminar will address issues such as progress made internationally in the measurement of services; how the countries are tackling the difficult area of measuring government output; issues related to measuring services prices, and the use of service sector statistics by external users such as banks.

Lastly, the Conference will have to select the topics for its seminars in 2005 based on a survey conducted by the UNECE secretariat earlier this year. The results of the survey show that there is support for the topic on Measurement of Sustainable Development and the role of official statistics. May I add that this direction of your work would be strongly recommended by the Secretariat, taking into consideration the importance of Sustainable Development and commitments made by Heads of State and Governments at the WSSD in 2002 in Johannesburg.

Mr. Chairman,

I would like to wish you all success for your deliberations.

Thank you for your attention