Swiss face EU data challenge

Statistics are crucial for setting political and economic policy Keystone

Switzerland is set to join the European Union’s statistics service but faces a tough task to bring data banks into line with Brussels.

This content was published on June 10, 2004 - 20:32

Moves to harmonise the two systems come as part of a new set of bilateral treaties concluded by Switzerland and the EU.

“One of the goals of the accord on statistics is to have data which is compatible with that of the European Union, especially in sectors covered by the bilateral treaties,” said Gabriel Gamez of the Federal Statistics Office.

The government office has been charged since 1860 with collecting key data, which is used for price-setting and helping to determine economic policy.

It provides information on everything from labour issues to immigration and transport.

The second set of bilateral accords between Bern and Brussels will allow Switzerland access to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics office.

As a result, Eurostat will publish Swiss data alongside that of full EU member countries.

“I think Switzerland will be able to raise its profile among EU countries because of improved access to statistics,” added Gamez.

Five years

It will take federal statistics experts up to five years to get Swiss systems up to speed.

It will cost an estimated SFr30 million ($24 million) annually to adapt Swiss data to EU standards, notably in the health sector and the economy. Switzerland spends some SFr82 million annually on gathering statistics.

There are around 500 people working in the field in Switzerland. Eighty staff have recently been taken on at the newly constructed Federal Statistics Office building in the city of Neuchâtel in western Switzerland.

Switzerland will contribute SFr9 million towards Eurostat, but this amount is likely to decrease, according to Gamez.

Shortcomings

Adapting to EU norms could also help improve Swiss systems, which are marked by the country’s federalist system.

“Shortcomings are especially noticeable in sectors where cantons have a high degree of autonomy over the central authorities,” said Gamez.

Health and education are mainly in the hands of the 26 cantons, the country’s regional authorities, who also raise their own taxes.

Experts have called for a centralisation of Switzerland’s fragmented data banks and for increased powers for the Federal Statistics Office.

“It depends entirely on parliament and the government for its funds and scope of its work,” said Antoine Gualtierotti of the Graduate School of Public Administration in Lausanne.

“Our system is no longer relevant in an increasingly global economy,” said Gamez of the Federal Statistics Office.

He said that countries, such as the Netherlands and Sweden, have highly developed statistics systems.

“It is in Switzerland’s own interest to improve its data systems and benefit from the bilateral accord on statistics,” added Gamez.

swissinfo, Isabelle Eichenberger (translation: Urs Geiser)

In brief

Statistics are seen as key instruments in setting political and economic policy.

The bilateral accord on statistics will allow comparisons on data from Switzerland and the EU – Switzerland’s main trading partner.

Switzerland will take part in specific projects with Eurostat, the community’s statistics office.

The accord could help increase Switzerland’s profile in Europe.

Switzerland spends SFr82 million ($65.6 million) annually on compiling statistics.

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