Introduction and background.The Purpose of EFTA/EU Statistical Cooperation
The availability of impartial, reliable and comparable international statistics is widely regarded as a cornerstone of all democratic societies and a prerequisite for the smooth and sustainable functioning of a competitive market economy. Indeed, statistics are essential for planning, implementing and monitoring companies' and governments' policies, indispensable for a better understanding of the society around us and necessary for making comparisons between different countries and regions.
European integration has highlighted the necessity for all EFTA States to cooperate with their main partners in order to ensure the production and dissemination of coherent and comparable statistical information for describing and monitoring relevant economic, social and environmental policies.
Concretely, the Agreement on the European Economic Area (EEA Agreement) and the Agreement between Switzerland and the European Union in the field of statistics (Swiss/EU Agreement) foresee that the contracting parties shall improve their cooperation through common programmes and procedures. The purpose of this cooperation is to achieve gradual harmonisation, as well as to ensure the coherent evolution of their legal framework for the production, transmission and dissemination of official statistics. In this respect, the agreements enable EFTA experts to participate fully in the work of EU committees and other EU technical bodies responsible for developing statistical programmes and actions.
EFTA/EU statistical cooperation through the EEA Agreement and the Swiss/EU Agreement has progressively favoured strengthened collaboration between parties in the field of technical assistance for third countries and training for statisticians.
The European Free Trade Association in Brief
In 1960, in response to the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC) three years earlier, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom established the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) to promote closer economic cooperation and free trade in Europe. These countries were later joined by Iceland, Finland and Liechtenstein.
Most of EFTA's members have now left to join the European Union. Today, EFTA comprises four Member States: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It has offices in Geneva (headquarters), Brussels and Luxembourg. A Secretary-General directs the Secretariat, assisted by two Deputy Secretaries-General, based in Geneva and Brussels.
The EFTA Convention and Relations with Third Countries
The EFTA Convention forms the legal basis of the organisation and governs relations between the EFTA States. The first EFTA Convention, signed in Stockholm in 1960, was intended mainly to provide a framework for the liberalisation of trade in goods between its Member States. The Convention was updated and became the Vaduz Convention, which entered into force on 1 June 2002. The Vaduz Convention contained several significant changes and innovations, such as:
* Trade in services
* Free movement of persons
* Social security
* Public procurement
* Intellectual property rights
The objective of the update was to integrate into the Convention the principles and rules established within the framework of the EEA Agreement (see next section) and the content of the Agreement signed between Switzerland and the EU in the field of statistics. The result is that all EFTA countries now benefit from virtually the same privileged relationship with each other as they do with the EU. The annexes of the EFTA Convention are amended continuously to ensure consistency with other legal commitments of the EFTA States, such as the EEA Agreement.
In line with the broad objectives of the Convention, EFTA has developed economic relations with a number of countries outside the European Union (referred to as "third countries") through free trade and cooperation agreements. This network covers more than 30 countries and territories and has secured EFTA's economic operators free access to markets with a total of around 440 million consumers outside the EU. EFTA's trade activities are managed in Geneva.
The EFTA Council is the governing body of the Association. It is responsible for intra-EFTA relations, as well as relations between EFTA States and third countries. Financial and common administrative matters lie with the Council, which meets once a month at the level of heads of permanent missions to EFTA in Geneva and twice a year at ministerial level. All Member States are represented and have one vote each.
The Agreement on the European Economic Area
Three of the four EFTA Member States (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) and the Member States of the European Union are signatories to the Agreement on the European Economic Area. Thus, the three EEA EFTA States participate in the EU's Internal Market. The Secretariat in Brussels services the EFTA pillar of this extensive agreement.
The Standing Committee of the EFTA States is the forum for decision making, administration and management of the EEA Agreement for the EEA EFTA States. Subcommittees and working groups assist the Standing Committee. Among these is Subcommittee IV, which is supported by the Working Group of the Heads of EFTA National Statistical Institutes and deals with EEA statistical cooperation.
The EFTA Statistical Office
The EFTA Statistical Office (ESO) was created in 1991 as a liaison office between the Statistical Office of the European Union (Eurostat) and the EFTA national statistical institutes (NSIs). This also meant the creation of a third duty station of the EFTA Secretariat in addition to those in Geneva and Brussels. ESO's main objective is to sustain the integration of the EFTA States into the evolving European Statistical System (ESS), thereby providing harmonised and comparable statistics supporting the general cooperation process between EFTA and the EU. ESO is located on the premises of Eurostat in Luxembourg and has five staff members: the Head of the EFTA Statistical Office, the Deputy Head, two assistants and a trainee, in general a young professional from one of the EFTA national statistical institutes.
2011 Budget of the EFTA Secretariat
EFTA Budget 2011 EFTA Activities CHF Trade relations 4 682 000 Managing the EEA Agreement 8 824 000 EFTA/EU statistical cooperation 747 000 Secretary-General's services 1 964 000 EU/EFTA and EFTA cooperation programmes 3 245 000 Internal activities 4 192 000 Total EFTA Secretariat 23 654 000 Contributions to the EFTA Budget 2011 Member State Share % Contributions (in CHF) Iceland 4.33 1 025 000 Liechtenstein 0.87 205 000 Norway 57.12 13 510 000 Switzerland 37.68 8 914 000 Total 100.00 23 654 000