Paavo Lipponen, Prime Minister

Dear participants of the conference, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to the 52nd Session of the International Statistical Institute now being held in Helsinki.

The overall framework within which decisions have to be made in both the private and public sector, has changed considerably in the past few decades. The uncertainty and growing complexity of the societies we live in are just some of the reasons why statistical science and statistical information are becoming more vital to us.

The new global era - or information society - whichever name we choose to adopt, does not evolve spontaneously. It requires well-functioning markets and bold decisions in both the public and private sectors. It also requires new concepts of good governance, transparency and accountability in both government and business. The quality of decision making depends essentially on the quantity and quality of the available information basis.

In this modern digital age, the problem no longer is the shortage of information but, rather, its oversupply. One important mission of statistical science is to convert today's vast digital information masses into forms which individual organisations and society can utilise. The statistical science, together with computer science are modern instruments that frame the difficult art of decision making.

In Europe, for instance, the acceleration of integration in the 1990's, with enlargement and the birth of the Economic and Monetary Union, has created new criteria for both statistics and the general political information basis. It is widely known that statistics are very closely linked with the monetary, economic and employment policies practised in Europe. The connection is so crucial that up to a degree we could even talk of a change of culture in this respect. Administration and decision making in the European Union rest on statistics more directly than we are traditionally accustomed to.

Union-level employment policy is a good example of the Union's expanding policy areas and the detailed statistical needs they create. The employment policy is also descriptive of the general trend of tying political goals and decisions to exact statistical figures, which are used to give policies predictability and transparency. Increasingly economic policies are implemented through the market mechanism, which makes steadily flowing and reliable statistics production a prerequisite, not only to the efficient functioning of the markets, but also to the successful implementation of the policies.

The reliability of statistics is becoming increasingly important to the credibility of governments and the policies they practise. A high-quality information base supports better decision making and better policies. Providing the general public with open and honest statistical information is also vital. All citizens must be in a position where they can understand and assess the policies followed by governments. In this respect, the work of the international statistical community - including the International Statistical Institute - has done in the past few decades to promote a set of ethical principles and good practices in statistics production has been vitally important.

An important topic for the Finnish Presidency of the Union is coordination of economic policies and the statistical needs it creates. Early this year the Member States' ministers of finance outlined their opinion on statistical needs. They came up with an impressive list but concluded, however, that the ongoing development projects met reasonably well the changing statistical needs of current policies.

In recent years, European statistical cooperation has largely focused on the development of economic and monetary statistics. We should also strengthen the information basis for social and environmental statistics in the same way to highlight the problems in these areas and bring them to the fore in the social debate. In environmental matters, for example, international decision making already rests firmly on statistics. Ensuring the best quality of these statistics is something we still have to work on.

After European and other regional integration the next challenge to our policies and political infrastructure - which also embraces statistics - is most likely to be the deepening global integration. The vision of global age is already inspiring the working agenda for the international community. More and more, statistical assessment and forecasting models will be needed for the international scene.

In globalised markets it is essential for the consumers to get more information on price formation of goods and services. For the sake of transparency and openness the general public should be able to have wide access to information used by big companies and international organisations. One important aspect in globalisation is the rapid expansion of electronic commerce which is creating a new marketplace that is accessible from all over the world.

As the world becomes more complex, understanding entities is more and more difficult. We are facing interdependence among many problems. In public decision making, too, we may accept solutions to partial problems too readily. One reason for this may be that statistical information is too fragmented. This presents a challenge to statistical science and statistical authorities alike. The sources of data should be combined and data compacted in a way that would help us to understand entities and complex cause and consequence relationships. Combining the economic, social and environmental information systems should also continue to be a further objective.

Statistics has played a great role in the deepening of international exchange and the strengthening of positive interdependence. I would like to express my deepest respect to the International Statistical Institute, which has contributed greatly to the progress of statistical science and to the strengthening of international basis of statistics.

I want to welcome you to Helsinki and wish all success to the International Statistical Institute and this Helsinki Session.


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