Official Journal of the European Union

C 318/78

Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning structural business statistics

COM(2006) 66 final — 2006/0020 (COD)

(2006/C 318/13)

On 27 March 2006 the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 285(1) of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the abovementioned proposal.

The Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 26 July 2006. The rapporteur was Ms Florio.

At its 429th plenary session, held on 13 and 14 September 2006 (meeting of 14 September), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 130 votes, with seven abstentions.

1.   Background


On 20 December 2000, the European Council decided to launch a ‘Multiannual programme for enterprise and entrepreneurship, and in particular for small and medium-sized enterprises’ (1). This new reference framework was intended by the European Union to improve the competitiveness of enterprises in a knowledge-based society, to simplify and facilitate their legal, administrative and financial environment, and above all to foster research and innovation, give them easier access to services and Community programmes and promote entrepreneurship.


In early 2003, the European Commission presented its Green Paper on Entrepreneurship in Europe (2), in which it stressed the need for targeted support and called for strategic policies to promote the industrial and manufacturing sector, which has been experiencing a perilous slow-down for years now in Europe, above all when compared with other areas of the world.


The principal actions proposed to support and increase the entrepreneurial spirit in Europe were:

bringing down barriers to business development and growth,

balancing the risks and rewards of entrepreneurship,

encouraging a more favourable attitude in society as a whole towards the establishment of new businesses.


In 2004, following a consultation of stakeholders based on the Green Paper, the Commission presented an action plan on entrepreneurship (3) which took account of the new responses received and built on the Multiannual Programme for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship.


At both national and European level, key issues such as industrial policy, support for services, and employment as an engine of economic growth are closely linked to priorities in the employment and social spheres, which are an important goal of the European Union's policy decisions. In this area, too, the European institutions have taken a number of initiatives in recent years, including the presentation of an annual plan by Member States.


The Luxembourg Summit of 1997 launched the European Employment Strategy (EES), which would later be seen as a key element of the Lisbon Strategy. It is the Lisbon Strategy, in fact, which set the goal of modernising the European economy by cutting unemployment and creating highly skilled jobs. These goals can only be achieved if attention is paid to social policies and to policies providing equal opportunities among all levels of the population. This is in effect a sine qua non, prior to a substantive restructuring of the economic system, for achieving a higher growth rate and a ‘healthy’ economy.


Other elements that were to be included in this ambitious project are the European Research Area, a complete integration of markets and the creation of an SME-friendly environment. In its proposal on the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (2007-2013) (4), the Commission itself states that the promotion of technologies and research is directly linked to exploiting opportunities offered by the market to new products, services and business practices. The willingness to take risks and try out new ideas on the market should also be nourished. Insufficient innovation is one of the main causes of Europe's disappointing growth.


On the social cohesion front, there was a call for immediate interventions in the fields of education/training and social protection. To ensure coordination between Member States when formulating their policies, an open method of coordination was mooted through which best practices and performances in the different fields would be exchanged and disseminated.


It was thanks to the mid-term review of the Lisbon Strategy that in 2005 the European Commission was able to present its Communication on growth and employment (5), which focused attention on two important points: bringing about solid and sustainable economic growth and creating ever more and better jobs. These goals were thought to be achievable through a synergy of the Community and national levels.

2.   General comments


The process of change in the economy and manufacturing spheres is continuous and fast moving: the various industrial sectors and their operators adapt and innovate to keep abreast of market evolution, endeavouring to remain competitive and create ever greater growth and profit opportunities.


In a market such as the European one, where businesses evolve at break-neck pace and traditional sectors (manufacturing, commerce, distribution, etc.) encroach upon one another, the demarcation line between the different types of operation can be difficult to define. Moreover, when it comes to assessing and classifying businesses, it is becoming more and more difficult to determine where the main thrust of their activity lies (whether in commerce, agriculture, manufacturing, cottage industry, services, etc.).


The growth of the social economy to a point where it now accounts for a large and increasing part of the European market makes it difficult for statistical data to keep pace with a situation of constant flux and renewal. Eurostat officials say they have found it difficult to define this field because social economy activities are not always registered as business activities. However, the Committee thinks that no effort should be spared in order to measure the increasing importance of the social economy sector, which is crucial for the achievement of the Lisbon Strategy objectives. Absence of such data is an obstacle to a better understanding of developments of the business world and the market place.


The importance of obtaining structural statistics on the European Union's businesses — updated and focused above all on their activity, competitiveness and output — has been established. In stressing the importance of statistical support, it should be remembered that the collection and subsequent processing of data involves what could be substantial investments in human and financial resources, especially for small businesses.


Economic growth is an absolute priority for all the countries of the European Union, as the European Council and other European institutions have reiterated on countless occasions. This economic growth must necessarily be accompanied by the creation of new and better jobs. In all sectors, but especially in manufacturing and the services sector, this must be done in a way that fuels growth itself and allows Europe's citizens to reap the benefits.


The European development model differs from others in the considerable role attributed to the social component and to the very notion of sustainable economic growth. This must be borne in mind whenever the European institutions intend legislating in their sphere of competence.


This means that a very clear idea of the real state of European industry is needed if truly effective, useful and coherent legislation is to be framed. Political choices should be based on an analysis of the real situation and the problems involved and offer solutions that embrace as many elements as possible, seeking to anticipate the impact that decisions will have on that situation from all angles (political, economic, legal, social, national and subnational).


Statistical data are undoubtedly a crucial instrument for a thorough and effective analysis of reality. The work Eurostat has carried out since its inception is a valuable and indispensable support for the European Union's decision-making and political processes.


Statistical data are of fundamental importance because they can measure, study and describe the numerous and diverse aspects of the reality on the ground. The availability of statistical information is cardinal for the formulation and evaluation of policies, for the management of public services and functions, for a better legislative framework and for regular ongoing monitoring of the success and the progress delivered by the policies adopted.


This is true for all areas of the European Union's competence. For this reason Eurostat, supported and assisted by the statistics institutes of the Member States, is charged with compiling and providing up-to-date and reliable data. Of crucial importance in recent years have been the data collected in the fields of economy and finance, agriculture, demographic policies, social security, business, scientific research, environment, transport and, no less important, the world of industry and its attendant market indicators.


To have an idea of the importance attributed to the European business world and its development, one need look no further than the initiatives the Commission and the Council have taken on this front in recent years.

3.   The proposal for a regulation on structural business statistics


Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 58/97 adopted by the Council on 20 December 1996 has been amended no fewer than four times in the last decade, and this is the latest proposed recast, intended to improve the coherence of analyses and applicability of polices and strategies for supporting European industry and manufacturing.


To respond to the increased need for statistics, the Commission proposes a number of improvements, paying particular attention to services, which have been at the centre of considerable discussion in recent months because of their economic importance and their potential, which is not entirely reflected at EU level. The Commission also adds an annex on the demography of enterprises and business services.


The Commission has confirmed that no detailed and recent statistics are available for a raft of activities, mostly related to business services; the new proposal is therefore an opportunity to adapt the provisions in force so that economic and manufacturing activities can be compared with those in services.


In addition, the Commission has considered it necessary to have harmonised data on the demographics of businesses (start-up, operation and wind-up) and their impact on employment to support strategic recommendations on the spirit of enterprise. The ‘demographic’ data of businesses already feature in the structural indicators used for monitoring the goals set by the Lisbon Strategy. It is in this context that the Commission's proposed recast should be examined.


The proposal identifies the NACE code, normally used by the Commission's services for all statistics on economic activity, as the reference instrument for collecting statistical data (6). The NACE code has itself been revised and updated to provide a better understanding of trends in the EU's economy and manufacturing.


NACE REV. 1.1, the reference indicator, is simply an update of NACE REV. 1 and does not represent a significant reorganisation. The purposes of the revision was to reflect:

new activities that did not exist when NACE REV. 1 was drawn up;

activities which had become more important since the drafting of NACE REV. 1 as a result of changes in technology or in the economy;

the correction of errors in NACE REV. 1 which were already apparent at the time, i.e. not reflecting any changes in the philosophy of the operation.


The latest version of NACE, bringing new modifications and revisions, is currently at its second reading in the European Parliament and will be launched in the coming months.


The collection of statistics, defined by the field of application (Article 2), is organised in modules, as set out in Article 3 of the proposal for a regulation:

a common module for annual structural statistics;

a detailed module for structural statistics in industry;

a detailed module for structural statistics in trade;

a detailed module for structural statistics in construction;

a detailed module for structural statistics in insurance;

a detailed module for structural statistics on credit institutions;

a detailed module for structural statistics on pension funds;

a detailed module for structural statistics on business services;

a detailed module for structural statistics on business demography;

a flexible module for the conduct of a small ad hoc data collection of enterprise characteristics.


The last three modules are new to this proposed recast of the regulation and an annex is devoted to each module and its use.


Pilot studies are also envisaged for just some of the modules. Such pilot studies have always accompanied the collection of statistics via modules; in this instance, the inclusion of ad hoc pilot studies for the health and education sectors should be highlighted. These are voluntary studies which, according to Eurostat, are intended to afford a more accurate assessment of the impact of market activities in these sectors.

4.   Specific comments


The EESC recognises the crucial contribution that statistical data make to setting industrial policy priorities under the Lisbon Strategy. The Commission also affirms, again in the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme 2007-2013 (7), the value of benchmarking as a useful instrument for drafting policies, along with studies and exchanges of good practice between national and regional authorities.


For this reason the EESC considers the revision of Regulation 58/97 important and suggests some modifications.


The heading ‘social security costs’ in the common module (Annex I) was also present in previous versions. However, new developments in the internal market now make it seem vague and difficult to interpret. Social security in the Member States is organised in different ways, with different systems and practices: the very definition of ‘social security system’ is problematic for the 25 EU Member States and should probably be elaborated and articulated further.


Again in Annex I, though it also appears in those that follow, the data on employment are unduly limited and do not reflect the complexity of the labour market across all the EU Member States. They are restricted, in fact, to the number of those working part time and full time: in reality, there are far more modes of employment than this. Moreover, there is no breakdown by sex, apart from in the banking sector (Annex VI).


Article 1 of earlier versions of Regulation 58/97 already included among the goals of statistical collection that of analysing ‘business conduct’: this recast could also have been an opportunity to gauge more carefully and in greater depth the employment policy of businesses, given the importance this has in the policies of the European Union.


On the issue of pilot studies, the Committee has misgivings about the method chosen by the Commission, which sees a need to analyse sectors such as health and education in order to ‘test the feasibility of covering market and non-market activities in these Sections’. In particular, bearing in mind the Commission's provisional proposal on the services directive, which would exclude them, the Committee believes that such sensitive sectors should not be covered by structural business statistics. In the light of the new regulatory proposals concerning services in the single market, the EESC thinks it would be useful for the Commission to initiate ad hoc gathering of statistics on these sectors.


In Annex II (the industry sector module), the Commission has decided to exclude data on overall spending and spending on staff involved in research and development. In the light of the Lisbon Strategy, the absence of such data is an obstacle to a better understanding of developments in the business world and the nature and aims of investments.


The Commission has elected to exclude data on the acquisition of energy products. However, these are quite important, since they give a broad picture of energy consumption and use by businesses; moreover, Article 1 of the draft regulation states that data on ‘the factors of production used’ will be collected and there is not the slightest doubt that energy is one of these. Above all, these indicators are accorded high priority in the most recent statements by the Council and the European Parliament, including the recent Green Paper: A European Strategy for Sustainable, Competitive and Secure Energy (8).


Annex VIII is new and concerns the structure, activity and performance of business services, while Annex IX concerns business demographics. The collection of statistics in these two fields requires far more frequent monitoring. Moreover, in the module on business demographics, the data on employment are not broken down according to employment mode or sex, although it would be very useful to know the nature and structure of the workforce when businesses are started and wound up.

5.   Conclusions and recommendations


The European Union needs better statistics to support current sector-specific industrial policies.


For this reason, the EESC stresses the key role played by Eurostat as the instrument for monitoring the European Union's policies. The EESC thinks, therefore, that Eurostat's work should be reinforced and the statistics-gathering networks in the Member States expanded and improved.


The EESC broadly supports the proposal to recast Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 58/97 on industrial statistics.


Statistics are an important tool at both Community and national level, so support instruments should be devised to make them ever more effective, timely and reliable.


As far as possible, statistics should be based on up-to-date data already kept by administrative authorities and other authorised bodies. The administrative burden of collecting statistics must match the size of the business concerned. In some countries, gathering data on SMEs is the responsibility of local or regional business associations. It would be useful for Member States to pool good practices of this kind.


Increasingly targeted and up-to-date statistics are needed on the structure of businesses and their production activity, taking into account the volume and variety of activities (production, commerce, distribution) sometimes carried out by one and the same company.


The Committee considers it important to have a good system within which Eurostat, the social partners, the academic world and businesses can consult one another and pool experience. This mechanism should be improved and expanded within the CEIES-Eurostat forum (one representative of users for each Member State).


Were Eurostat to dialogue more closely with social partners on social security costs, for example, it would be possible to get a more detailed breakdown of the burden on businesses in this area, which is not uniform throughout the 25 EU Member States, rather than having just one heading.


Although employment data are part of other targeted statistics, if they were more detailed, they could provide a clearer picture of the activities of businesses. The Committee notes that structural business statistics, including those on demography, must always include a careful analysis of the quality of employment. Employment is a key factor in the success of business activities and so statistics on modes of work that distinguish only between part-time and full-time work are entirely inadequate, particularly in the light of constant changes in the labour market. Moreover, the Committee does not consider it useful to separate structural business statistics from employment data, as the two fields are inextricably linked.


Year after year, the social economy accounts for an ever greater part of the European economy. The EESC suggests, therefore, that the Commission could use Eurostat to examine this sector and its impact on the business world using the pilot study method.


The Committee reiterates its doubts regarding the appropriateness of assessing the health and education sectors using the pilot study method. Given the sensitivity of these sectors and their crucial importance for all of Europe's citizens, it would be inappropriate to include these fields in structural business statistics. In the light of the new regulatory proposals concerning services in the single market, the EESC thinks it would be useful for the Commission to initiate ad hoc gathering of statistics on these sectors.


On the question of energy purchases and investment in human resources in the research and development sector, the EESC considers that, although ad hoc statistical gathering is provided for, it is important to assess both the qualitative and quantitative importance this has in the life of businesses — in the light of both the Lisbon Strategy goals and the most recent concerns and initiatives undertaken by the European Union on energy policy.


As far as statistics on environmental variables are concerned, the EESC stresses the importance of collecting data on the treatment of industrial waste, waste-water purification and the cleaning-up of polluted areas. It would also be good to know whether industrial waste treatment is performed in-house or contracted out, given the cost of such operations.


In Annex IV, which refers to the building industry, it would be useful to differentiate between the various activities: housing, public buildings, transport networks and infrastructure.


Greater emphasis should be given to regionally based statistics showing in which areas industry and business had sprung up, what the principal activities were, in which areas research investment was concentrated, and where the most business start-ups and failures were.

Brussels, 14 September 2006.

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Anne-Marie SIGMUND

(1)  Decision 2000/819/EC.

(2)  COM(2003) 27 final, 21.1.2003.

(3)  COM(2004) 70 final, 11.2.2004.

(4)  COM(2005) 121 final, 6.4.2005.

(5)  COM(2005) 330 final, 20.7.2005.

(6)  NACE: Nomenclature générale des Activités économiques dans les Communautés Européennes (General Industrial Classification of Economic Activities in the European Communities).

(7)  See footnote 4.

(8)  COM(2006) 105 final, 8.3.2006.