Statistical cooperation outside the EEA Agreement.EFTA Technical Cooperation in the Field of Statistics
The availability of impartial and reliable statistical information is widely considered as a prerequisite for a democratic society and a necessary condition for the smooth running of a competitive market economy. Thus, EFTA and the EU have a common interest in assisting countries neighbouring the enlarged European Economic Area to develop their statistical capacity and to harmonise statistical methods and standards with international norms.
In 1992, EFTA started participating in the PHARE programme. The EU established this programme in 1989 to support economic and political reform in central and eastern European countries by providing financial and technical support in a large number of areas, including statistics. Initially, EFTA technical assistance targeted mainly the Baltic States. It was extended first to other east European countries, then to the Western Balkans, and is now extending beyond the eastern boundaries of Europe.
In parallel, EFTA has become active in the MEDSTAT programme. This statistical cooperation programme is dedicated to countries of the southern and eastern rims of the Mediterranean Sea. This part of the world is of economic importance to EFTA since most of the countries in the region have signed a declaration on cooperation or free trade agreement with EFTA.
Aim and Coverage of EFTA Technical Cooperation
Since 2005, cooperation between the EFTA Secretariat and Eurostat in assisting third countries has been governed by a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on technical cooperation in the field of statistics. Each MoU covers a three-year period and is approved by the Council and generally signed by the Director-General of Eurostat and the Secretary-General of EFTA. So far there have been three MoUs covering 2005-2007, 2008-2010 and 2011-2013. The 2011-2013 MoU concerns funds totalling EUR 2.1 million.
The overall objective of EFTA technical cooperation in the field of statistics is to promote and develop close links between the EFTA States and Eurostat in a number of programmes. Through such cooperation, EFTA seeks active and visible participation in the planning, execution and follow-up of EFTA/EU projects.
EFTA gives priority to countries that have concluded declarations on cooperation or free trade agreements with EFTA. Support is mainly granted to developing countries and economies in transition in the Balkan and Mediterranean regions, as well as to recent and prospective partners in other geographical areas, including countries east of the enlarged EU. The scope of cooperation can also include EFTA free trade and prospective partners in other regions of the world.
Two EFTA national experts are seconded to Eurostat as part of EFTA's contribution, ensuring continuity of support and EFTA visibility in the overall programming and management of EFTA/EU actions.
The EFTA Secretariat, represented by the EFTA Statistical Office in Luxembourg, acts as a link between Eurostat and the EFTA Member States for cooperation programmes and actions. The main duties for ESO are to design, implement and follow up on technical assistance projects and programmes in close cooperation with Eurostat and the EFTA States. ESO is therefore invited to participate in the various meetings organised by the Commission in the field of statistical cooperation.
EFTA is particularly active in:
* Capacity building, and strengthening and increasing the efficiency of national statistical systems and their institutional frameworks.
* Strengthening the comparability, conformity and harmonisation of statistics with internationa lstandards and norms.
* Exchanging information, disseminating statistics and using new technologies.
* Producing statistical information necessary for the establishment of free trade areas.
* Developing human resources, in particular training in support of the areas listed above.
A key programme with regard to these objectives consists of the so-called "adapted global assessments" and "light peer reviews" of national statistical systems in third countries, conducted jointly by Eurostat, UNECE and EFTA. The programme has run since 2008 and is in great demand among our partners. It currently covers the Western Balkan, Eastern European, Caucasian and Central Asian countries. After a first high-level conference in 2009 which marked the launch of the programme, a second such event is planned for 2013 to take stock of the progress of this common endeavour and to adapt its orientation and instruments.
Modalities of Cooperation
EFTA's technical cooperation activities with third countries are governed by the EFTA Council Guidelines on Technical Cooperation and cover a series of programmes and projects, including statistics, funded by the Association's budget.
EFTA's technical cooperation activities do not need to be systematically initiated by ESO in collaboration with Eurostat. ESO welcomes specific requests submitted by EFTA NSIs, EFTA partner countries and international organisations. Nevertheless, even if a project falls within the scope of the MoU with Eurostat, the EFTA Council may reject it. It is therefore important to keep in mind the following criteria when submitting a project to ESO:
* The beneficiary country should have a free trade agreement or declaration on cooperation with EFTA (the list of countries can be found on the EFTA website), or be in the process of negotiating one.
* The project should be in line with the general objectives of the Association, which are to promote growth and prosperity through closer economic cooperation and in particular to contribute to the expansion of trade in the world.
* The project should create good visibility for the EFTA Secretariat and the EFTA States, e.g. by involving EFTA experts.
* The EFTA contribution should respect the criteria of proportionality (costs v results).
When required and only after approval of the project by the EFTA Council, a contract is signed between ESO and the implementing organisation (e.g. the EFTA NSIs or statistical authorities of partner countries). The contract lays down the modalities for implementing the project: expected outcome, timeframe, costs and payment procedures.
EFTA in the European Statistical Training Programme
In order to maintain a high level of competence and to ensure data consistency throughout the ESS, statisticians require continuous training in new methods, new techniques and best practices. EFTA has always placed great importance on the quality and comparability of European statistics and therefore supports Eurostat in the design and implementation of the ambitious European Statistical Training Programme (ESTP).
Agreement Between the EFTA Secretariat and Eurostat
With a view to securing full participation by EFTA statisticians in the ESTP, the EFTA Secretariat has committed itself, through an exchange of letters with Eurostat, to finance the organisation of at least two courses per year. The exchange of letters is renewed every four years, the latest one covering the period 2011-2014. These EFTA courses are given by EFTA national statistical institutes and are open to statisticians from the EFTA and EU Member States. In return, Eurostat ensures that EFTA statisticians have the right to participate in all ESTP courses financed by Eurostat.
Since 2006, Statistics Norway (SSB) and the Federal Statistical Office of Switzerland (FSO) have each organised one to two courses per year on topics such as user-friendly dissemination of official statistics, the use of administrative registers, the use of business registers, methods of survey and sampling, and data analysis and modelling. These courses have proven to be among those of the programme most in demand.
Involvement of EFTA NSIs in ESTP Courses Financed by Eurostat
For the periods 2006-2011 and 2012-2015 Eurostat has contracted a consortium to organise several courses within the framework of the ESTP. The consortium comprises - other than two implementing private agencies - a number of national statistical institutes of the European Statistical System, including SSB and FSO, who lead and/or co-organise the training courses.
In parallel with these courses, certain courses are organised in-house when the relevant know-how is available within Eurostat.
In order for ESO to follow up on participation by EFTA statisticians in ESTP courses, Eurostat annually sends ESO a final list of participants.
Swiss/EU Agreement in the Field of Statistics
After Swiss voters narrowly rejected joining the European Economic Area, seven sectoral agreements, such as the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, were concluded between the European Union and Switzerland in 1999.
As this cooperation proved successful, a second package of nine sectoral agreements between the EU and Switzerland followed in 2004. In addition to the Schengen/Dublin and other agreements, this second package included the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Statistics, which came into force on 1 January 2007. This agreement ensures the production and dissemination of coherent and comparable statistical information for describing and monitoring all economic, social and environmental policies relevant to bilateral cooperation.
The Swiss/EU Agreement comprises a main section, governing the rights and obligations of both parties, and two annexes. Annex A contains all EU legislation relevant to Switzerland for the policy areas mentioned above, and Annex B governs the financial contribution paid by Switzerland on an annual basis for its participation in the EU's statistical programme.
A Joint Swiss/EU Committee is responsible for implementing the Agreement, as well as for updating Annexes A and B. It is composed of representatives of both contractual parties in equal numbers and is chaired by both the General Director of Eurostat and the Federal Statistical Office. The Joint Committee has held three meetings to date and has revised Annex A twice. Every year it adopts a Swiss/EU statistical work programme, which is a subset and runs in parallel with the annual work programme of the Commission.
Through this agreement, Switzerland is entitled to participate on an equal footing with the EU Member States in the European Commission's experts groups, committees and other advisory bodies that assist the Commission in the management and development of programmes and actions ("decision shaping"), but without the right to vote or receive grants. It also secures the publication of Swiss data in all of Eurostat's dissemination tools. In return, Switzerland contributes financially to the EU statistical programme and seconds two to three national experts to Eurostat. The average annual financial contribution by Switzerland over the past five years has been EUR 4 million.
The main differences between EEA and Swiss/EU cooperation are:
* Statistical cooperation under the EEA Agreement is part of an extensive "multi-sectional" arrangement, while the Swiss/EU Agreement is specifically devoted to statistics. This explains why the EEA Joint Committee is responsible for the management of all fields covered by the EEA Agreement, while the Swiss/EU Joint Committee is only in charge of the implementation of statistical cooperation.
* Institutional provisions for statistical cooperation under the EEA Agreement are laid out in Protocol 30 to the Agreement, whereas the Swiss/EU Agreement itself contains all practical and institutional provisions for statistical cooperation.
With this agreement, Switzerland increased the comparability of its statistical information not only with the EU Member States, but also with its EFTA partners.
Since the Swiss/EU Agreement is a strictly bilateral arrangement, the EFTA Secretariat is, from a legal and institutional point of view, not involved in its implementation. Nevertheless, all parties have agreed that the EFTA Statistical Office shall also provide technical support to Switzerland in the implementation of its agreement on statistical cooperation with the EU.