2:28am

Fri December 16, 2011
Planet Money

A Technocrat In Trouble

Andreas Georgiou is the technocrat charged with running the Greek statistics office — the same office that, in the years leading up to the financial crisis, produced wildly distorted reports of Greece's finances.

"My goal is to make this a competent, boring institution and not to be in the limelight," Georgiou told me recently. "Not to have to give an interview like this one."

So far, though, his efforts have been met with resistance, strikes and a criminal investigation that could lead to life in prison for Georgiou.

His first priority after he was appointed was to figure out how big Greece's deficit really was back in 2009, when the crisis began. He looked through all the data and concluded that Greece's deficit that year was 15.8 percent of GDP — higher what had previously been reported.

Eurostat, the central authority in Brussels, praised Georgiou's methodology and blessed the number as true. The hundreds of Greek people who work beneath Georgiou — the old guard — did not.

"Everybody said, 'Oh, what number is this?' says Konstantinos Skordas. "We expected to discuss this matter."

Skordas sits on a governing board for the statistics office. His board wanted to debate and vote on the deficit number before anyone in Brussels was allowed to see it. Georgiou, the technocrat, saw that as a threat to his independence. He refused. The number is the number, he said. It's not something to be put up for a vote.

This was not a popular decision.

Georgiou's email was hacked, he says. Statistics workers went on strike, picketing outside the building. And a Greek prosecutor began investigating Georgiou for allegedly acting in cahoots with Eurostat and deliberately trying to make Greece look bad by inflating the deficit number. If Georgiou is charged and convicted, he faces life in prison.

I asked Skordas why Greek officials can't work together with Georgiou and the European statistics service.

"Eurostat is not our boss," he said. "Each country is independent!"

This is not how a technocrat thinks.

"To me there is no Greek statistics versus European statistics," Georgiou says. "It is all European statistics. And we have to follow the European rules. There is not us and them. We are not sitting on opposite sides of the table."

For the euro to succeed, people like Skordas will have to buy into Georgiou's vision. All Europeans sitting on the same side of the table: the technocrats' side.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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