International statistical cooperation - introduction

From Statistics Explained

This article is part of a set of background articles introducing the international statistical cooperation of the European Union (EU) with non-EU countries in the framework of the enlargement policy, the European neighbourhood policy and the development and cooperation policy.

In the EU statistical cooperation among Member States is framed and coordinated by Eurostat and has led to the development of the European statistical system (ESS). The ESS is based on the harmonisation of statistical concepts, methods and definitions which enable the collection of reliable, robust and comparable statistics among EU Member States. Eurostat, as the leading partner of the ESS, has accumulated the experience, the know-how and the expert-based knowledge of the highest standards, in compliance with international statistical references. This expertise is now shared with numerous non-EU countries (e.g. enlargement countries - acceding, candidate and potential candidate countries, ENP-East countries and ENP-South countries) in the framework of international statistical cooperation activities in order to support, upgrade and enhance their statistical systems.

Why international statistical cooperation?

Why do we need official statistics at national, European and international level?

In knowledge-based economies and information societies, statistics have gained ground as one of the instruments capable of capturing the world in both its static and dynamic forms. As more and more statistics become available and their use becomes more widespread, especially in decision-making processes, the demand for official statistics has been increasing. Official statistics are more than just a series of numbers: they provide strong evidence to policymakers (when making and assessing policy decisions); they guide the operational decisions in both the public and the private sector; they provide support in public debates within societies. Apart from their role in identifying needs, formulating objectives and orienting policies, official statistics also enable progress towards agreed goals to be monitored and measured. Thus, official statistics become key components of governance at national (for the monitoring of the economic and financial crisis for instance), European (e.g. Europe 2020, EU Sustainable development strategy), and international level (e.g. Climate change, Education for all and Millennium development goals – MDG) as part of the public information available to all.

In developing countries, more and improved statistics allow certain issues to be identified (e.g. the poorest region, the region with highest food production), policies to be designed (e.g. an effective plan for allocation of aid to those who need it, where they need it, when they need it and in the form that they need it), forecasts to be made (e.g. in terms of whether public debt is sustainable or not), and current policies to be measured (e.g. whether an increase in health care expenditure had an impact on the infant mortality rate). The increasing demand for statistics calls for data that are comparable through time and space. Such comparability implies that statisticians must agree on harmonised definitions, concepts and nomenclatures, and implement these in data collection processes. In this respect, Eurostat and statistical agencies of international organisations play the central role.

Why do we have international cooperation in statistics?

International cooperation in statistics has gradually become an integral part of broader development policies. Despite an improvement in the statistical capacity of many countries, data gaps still remain. Dynamic solutions of best practice often need to be found, therefore, to compensate for the fact that countries lack optimal financial and human resources. Developing and strengthening international cooperation in statistics suits the needs of both beneficiaries and donors and enhances the shared accountability between them (such as the Marrakech Action plan for statistics and the Dakar Declaration on the development of statistics). From the beneficiaries’ perspective, statistical development is now considered an important part of the national strategy for poverty reduction. From the donors’ perspective, aid and development policies require statistics that have been produced and disseminated according to international standards. These statistics, then allow donors to assess whether aid has been used effectively and the resulting impact on policy objectives (e.g. European consensus on development).

Why is Eurostat involved? How is work coordinated within the European Commission and how is statistical cooperation undertaken with other (international) agencies?

As the statistical office of the European Union and as a key stakeholder of the European statistical system (ESS), Eurostat’s role is to provide the European Union with statistics that enable comparisons between countries and regions. Within the European Union, Eurostat is the interface between national statistical systems and the various services of the European Commission. Besides its role in setting up international statistical standards, Eurostat assists beneficiary countries in developing and improving their statistical systems. Through its involvement in international statistical cooperation, Eurostat supports the enlargement policy, the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) and the development and cooperation policy. As a result, it benefits from the quality statistics and comparable data collected by non-member countries.

  • Eurostat’s role in the enlargement policy is to support the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enlargement in monitoring the national statistical systems of the acceding countries, candidate and potential candidate countries. It provides technical assistance in the production and dissemination of harmonised and high-quality data that conforms to European and international standards. It also verifies that the respective national statistical systems comply with the acquis in the fields of statistics (as described in Chapter 18 of the acquis). This role is detailed in Eurostat’s strategy for statistical cooperation with candidate countries and potential candidates.
  • Eurostat’s role in the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) is to support the European external action service (EEAS) and the Commission delegations in their activities regarding many of the EU’s other neighbours. From the statistical perspective, Eurostat encourages ENP countries to approximate their statistical systems to those of the EU in order to produce and disseminate more and improved statistics.
  • Eurostat’s role in the development and cooperation policy is to support the Directorate-General for development and cooperation – EuropeAid – and the EEAS in enhancing development policies and overseeing the programming of aid. To this end, improved statistics allow progress towards poverty reduction and the Millennium development goals to be assessed, as identified by the European consensus on development, and funds to be allocated.
  • Besides the support it gives to EU policy-making, Eurostat plays an active role in the statistical cooperation between international agencies and organisations. Eurostat represents the European Commission in the United Nations Statistical Commission (UNSC), in bilateral relationships with international financial institutions (e.g. IMF, World Bank and regional development banks) and in the OECD Statistics Committee (CSTAT). All these international statistical agencies cooperate to set up international standards for statistics, to improve the comparability of statistical information, to improve the co-ordination of international statistics-related activities, and to support national statistical systems either financially or technically.

Forms and areas of Eurostat cooperation in statistics

Which forms do Eurostat’s cooperation activities take?

Cooperation activities in statistics potentially work on all possible components of the statistical infrastructure and the steps in the statistical process. Cooperation activities help to reinforce the institutional framework of national statistical systems (for instance through the adoption of fundamental principles and code of practice) and to support the design and the implementation of national strategies for the development of statistics. The transfers of know-how or direct investments from Eurostat to the beneficiary also aim to improve the ability of countries to respond to user needs. This can be done through the use of harmonised concepts and the implementation of standardised methodologies and guidelines (such as the analysis and design of the data collection, the data collection itself, data control and possible correction, the analysis of results and the various forms of their dissemination).

Assistance is organised either through multi-beneficiary programmes (when synergies between countries can be established) or bilateral national programmes (in the case of more country-specific needs). In practice, assistance takes several forms, such as peer reviews, support for data collection and transfer of know-how (through participation in meetings within the ESS for enlargement countries, statistics training courses, traineeships and study visits).

Which regions / country groupings does Eurostat provide statistical cooperation to?

Types of statistical cooperation vary according to policy needs. Broadly speaking, Eurostat cooperates with three groups of countries: enlargement countries, European Neighbourhood Policy countries and the countries of the rest of the world.

  • The enlargement countries belong either to the group of acceding and candidate countries (Croatia, Iceland, Macedonia, Montenegro, Turkey and, since March 2012, Serbia) or to the group of potential candidates (i.e. countries which have the prospect of EU membership as and when they are ready: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as Kosovo under UNSCR 1244/99). Official statistics play two roles in the enlargement process: they are part of the acquis (as screened through Chapter 18 on statistics) and they form a component of the other Chapters, enabling the progress of enlargement countries towards all the accession criteria to be monitored (progress reports). Candidate countries (as well as potential candidates) receive financial assistance through the Instrument for pre-accession assistance (IPA).
  • The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) aims to avoid the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours by strengthening the prosperity, stability and security of all. The 'Neighbourhood' countries are divided into two, broad geographic groups: ENP-East countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and ENP-South countries (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria and Tunisia). Within the overall package of ENP initiatives, ENP beneficiary countries are supported in the process of approximating their statistical systems to those of the EU.
  • With regard to ENP-East countries, one of Eurostat's key tasks (in partnership with EFTA and UNECE) is to conduct the Adapted Global Assessments (AGA). These evaluate the level of conformity of the national statistical systems of the ENP-East countries with that of the EU and international standards. In addition, Eurostat collects and disseminates data annually from these countries (through its database and leaflets).
  • Eurostat's statistical cooperation with ENP-South countries (which does not currently extend to Libya) is principally undertaken through the multi-country MEDSTAT programme. This programme, of which there have been three phases, is designed to provide regional training in statistical methods and standards as well as country-specific assistance in implementing them in national statistical systems. This work enables the statistical systems in the region to be strengthened. Eurostat, collects data from these countries and publishes them through its free-to-view on line database and its various paper publications (copies of which are also free-to-view on line). The European Neighbourhood Policy is financed through a single instrument – the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI).

See also

Further Eurostat information


Main tables

Total population, Candidate countries and potential candidates (tgs00027)
Gross domestic product, Candidate countries and potential candidates (tgs00028)


Dedicated section

External links

  • European Commission
European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)
United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) 
United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD)