Austrian Statistics Office Dragged Into Tussle Over Independence

(Bloomberg) -- Austria’s statistics office has become the latest institution embroiled in a lingering battle between Europe’s economic policy establishment and populist politicians.

Reports about government plans to rein in Statistik Austria triggered a proposal by its president -- an appointee of a previous administration whose term expires this year -- to bring the body under the auspices of parliament in order to secure its independence. Austrian conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is governing in a coalition with the nationalist Freedom Party.

“Statistical data and figures are the basis for many political, economic and individual decisions,” Statistik Austria’s Konrad Pesendorfer said in an open letter to Kurz. “The calculation and the publication of those data must be beyond any kind of political influence.”

The chancellery said that it’s evaluating the current setup of the data office and is seeking higher efficiency and lower costs, but has no intention to curb its independence. Safeguarding statisticians from political meddling is also required by the European Union’s rules for statistics.

The debate comes as populist governments across Europe seek to curb the ability of unelected expert institutions to influence policy making. One of Italy’s deputy premiers has suggested that the Bank of Italy should be “reduced to zero” because of its failures in banking supervision. Donald Trump has targeted the Fed’s tightening policy, while Brexiteers have accused Bank of England Governor Mark Carney of being biased against the U.K. leaving the EU.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.