Greece: numbers for the truth
Seven weeks after signing the memorandum, Georgiou was accepted for the post as head of the new statistics agency, he changed continents, with a baby, dogs and cat. “I thought to myself, this is my duty now, I’m doing something for my country,” he says. “It was in trouble and I had a few qualifications that could get it out of there.”
Georgiou lets out a short, bright laugh. “Vote on the numbers?”
There is a photo from August 2, 2010 of his assumption of office as head of the new statistics authority Elstat, a youthfully smiling Georgiou, freshly shaven face, shaking hands with the finance minister. A scene that exudes zest for action, a new era for Greece. A few hours after admission, he met with the authority’s board of directors for the first meeting. “That’s when I realized it was going to be difficult,” he says. “Much more difficult than I had imagined.”
The other board members asked him at the time: let’s negotiate the budget figures with Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU. He replied: Why negotiate? They later asked for the numbers to be voted on in the round before he sent them to the EU agency. Georgiou lets out a short, bright laugh. “Vote on the numbers?”
His mother comes into the living room, she is visiting from Greece, a very delicate person, 88 years old, leaning on a walking stick, a dark floral cardigan over her shoulders. She slowly sinks into the chair, a moment’s silence, then she starts talking. “I don’t have long to live,” she says. “When I leave this world, I want to do so knowing that Andreas and his daughter can live without these problems, without this persecution.”
Andreas Georgiou clicks on a statistical graphic and slides onto the edge of the sofa. Curves, bar charts, the key insight: At the time, the conservative government had given the budget deficit for 2009 at an estimated 3.7 percent. Under the new Social Democratic government, it was retrospectively recalculated to 13.6 percent. Shortly thereafter, Georgiou came into office, and under his leadership it eventually grew to 15.4 percent.
So he revised the deficit upwards by 1.8 percentage points. And for all the hostilities, the attempts to legally destroy him? “The problem wasn’t the 1.8 percent,” he says. “The problem was that I broke with a tradition. An established way of dealing with numbers.”