Brief history

The National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques) - Insee - was created by the Budget Law of 27 April 1946 (art. 32 and 33). This new institution took over responsibility for public statistics, work that had been carried out continuously since 1833.

INSEE and official statistics
Dernière mise à jour le : 11/12/2015

The INSEE Directors-General

  • Jean-Luc Tavernier (since 2012)
  • Jean-Philippe Cotis (2007-2012)
  • Jean-Michel Charpin (2003-2007)
  • Paul Champsaur (1992-2003)
  • Jean-Claude Milleron (1987-1992)
  • Edmond Malinvaud (1974-1987)
  • Jean Ripert (1967-1974)
  • Claude Gruson (1961-1967)
  • Francis-Louis Closon (1946-1961)

Since 2001 : technological innovation and statistical governance

In the early 2000s, data collection within the framework of the French contribution to European statistics accounted for a large part of the national annual official statistics programme.

Additionally, the progressive enlargement of the European Union required the set-up of a new governance. This governance, initiated by the adoption in 2005 of a European Statistics Code of Practice, was developed further in 2008 with the creation of a European Statistical Advisory Committee and a European Statistical Governance Advisory Board, then in 2009 with a new regulation on European statistics establishing a partnership, governed by the European Statistical System Committee (ESSC), between the Commission on the one hand (represented by Eurostat) and the member States on the other (each one represented by its National Statistical Institute), and given the remit of developing, producing and disseminating European statistics.

The Act of 7 June 1951, which governs French official statistics law, then underwent several amendments. The main one came in 2009 with the creation of an official statistical authority responsible for ensuring due regard for the principle of professional independence in the design, production and dissemination of official statistics. For the first time, the official statistical system was given a definition in the law: it was formed of INSEE and the Ministerial Statistical Departments. The National Council for Statistical Information was given responsibility for organising cooperation between producers and users; its composition was streamlined. The competences of the Statistical Confidentiality Committee were extended to include statistical data on natural persons, as well as access to administrative data for the purposes of official statistics or scientific or historical research.

In line with these transformations facilitated by progress in data processing, the French official statistical system has made increasingly extensive use of administrative data, which, where possible, have replaced the collection of statistics so as to reduce the burden on respondents, as well as the direct costs that this collection generates.

Starting in 2004, the population census became an ongoing operation. This was a major innovation, one which transformed the results of the census, previously carried out every 7 or 9 years, into a series of annual records that can rapidly show changes in the population. The first production cycle of the new census covered the period 2004-2008, on Metropolitan France and the overseas departments, as well as the other overseas collectivities.

At the same time, geographical data and geocoding became more detailed and the local collectivities, which now had a dedicated page, had more recent and more regular information.

The "Population-Households" statistic also benefited from this progress and more systematic use was therefore made of panels, as well as of the cross-referencing of individual data files and administrative statistics under the control of the CNIL. The CNIL also allowed the scope of the National Identification Register of Private Individuals (RNIPP) to be extended to the whole French territory; this extension was gradually implemented in Mayotte (where INSEE opened a branch) and in the Pacific.

A similar territorial extension was implemented (at least as far as the public sector was concerned) by SIRENE, whose status as an inter-administrative identification register of enterprises and their establishments was strengthened once again and whose modalities for providing the public with files were validated by the Conseil d'État. Linked to the new European regulation on the development of company registers used for statistical purposes, which, among other things, takes groups of enterprises into account with great precision, a statistical register was put into place. This register is used for the deployment of ESANE, the successor to the EAE (annual business surveys), using corporate tax data.

At this point the French business statistics system broke with its tradition of identifying an enterprise with the legal unit recorded in SIRENE, by creating "profiled enterprises" for the purposes of ESANE statistics collection.

Regarding data dissemination, INSEE has made full use of the Internet and in 2003, under the impetus of Jean-Michel Charpin, introduced free access to the data available, the volume of which has grown substantially.

Innovation is one part of a more general theme: quality. Quality standards have been introduced, including those in the European regulations since 1997, relating to publication deadlines and "metadata", among other things. In 2006 a quality plan was put in place at INSEE, extending the process initiated in 1999 with the "Official statistics and enterprises" approach. The Institute's transparency, which is indispensable to its credibility, is highlighted in terms of both governance of official statistics and the results themselves. The implementation of the organic law relating to finance laws has modernised management and fostered efficiency in the statistical system. Lastly, INSEE has moved towards more systematic tracking of user satisfaction.

From 1988 to 2000 : new concerns and the emergence of new quality criteria

Four key concerns emerged: forge stronger links between the statistical system and companies, extend the action of the regional offices, adapt methods to an economy which had become much more cyclical, strengthen international insertion.

On the initiative of Jean-Claude Milleron, the Director General, Insee reorganised itself once again between1988 and 1994. These changes affected careers in information technology and human resources. In 1994, the organisation chart of head office took on its present form, with two main statistical departments: the department of company statistics and the department of demographic and social statistics.

The main change, the creation of a department of company statistics, clearly brought out concerns about the coherence of the business statistical system and improving relations with companies, whether they were being surveyed or were data users. Companies were very much aware of the burden that replying to statistical enquiries placed on them, even though, contrary to accepted beliefs, this represented only a fraction of their administrative obligations. Two measures were taken to limit this burden and distribute it better. The creation of the Quality Label Committee, within the CNIS, ensures that surveys are better run, not only for companies but also for households. Samples are coordinated, thus avoiding the risk of always surveying the same small and medium-sized companies.

At national level, the ideas of decentralisation, deconcentration and administrative simplification heavily influenced actions and policies. Regional units were reorganised so that national production and regional action could coexist as well as possible. At the end of 1991, activities in the regions were structured around three centres: a statistics department (SES), a studies and dissemination department (SED) and a resource administration department (SAR). In order to best exploit Insee's potential in the regions and reorganise the regional offices, among other things, interregional cooperation and partnerships with the devolved ministerial departments developed.

The winter of 1992-1993 was marked by a severe recession, although the consensus among economic forecasters at the time did not appreciate its scale or duration until fairly late. Imperfections in economic outlook analyses and in employment and unemployment statistics came to light. Methods had to be adapted, not only for statistics, but also for accounts and studies, to a more cyclical economy and one that was more open towards the exterior.

The European institutional context became more restrictive with the first phase of the Economic and Monetary Union. Paul Champsaur, appointed Director General, believed that there should be better comparability between data from the different member countries, especially for elements demonstrating the convergence of member states' economies. In a context of expansion, statistical cooperation reinforced a strong reorientation towards eastern bloc countries. With the support of Eurostat, Insee intervened in countries in transition, especially Poland, Romania, Russia and Albania. The main themes of this cooperation were the national accounts, company directories, price indices and economic outlook surveys. At the same time, a treaty signed on 20 September 1993 relaunched cooperation with Africa through the creation of Afristat, a regional body which aims to strengthen the capabilities of the of Sub-Saharan African States in terms of statistical and economic studies.

Teaching and research were given fresh impetus by a decree dated 2 June 1994 establishing the Group of national schools of economics and statistics (Genes).

1975 to 1987 : affirmation of independence and diversification

Edmond Malinvaud, Director General of Insee during this time, increased the Institute's independence, which was already well established under the previous directors. The Head Office relocated in 1975 from the Quai Branly to the Porte de Vanves. The majority of the regional offices were modernised at this time.

The work of the Institute diversified and more heavyweight and sophisticated tools were put in place: Suse (unified system of company statistics) and Sirene (computerised system for the national register of companies and establishments). The major nomenclatures were overhauled: NAP (classification of activities and products) and PCS (professions and socioprofessional categories).

Intermediate accounts, satellite accounts and large macro-economic models (DMS, Métric) appeared. International exchanges continued at various levels, and technical cooperation was also developed with Africa and Latin America.

From 1981, administrative decentralisation accelerated and this was accompanied by the development of regional statistical studies. There was consultation about the work to be carried out and this got under way with the new regional authorities, in the CRIES, which were a sort of local Cnis.

The development of information technology provided the possibility of better use of the information held by the administrations and public or private companies. The 1951 legal framework was complemented by the Law of 6 January 1978 on information technology, data files and civil liberties and the Law of 23 December 1986 which recognised that Insee had wide-ranging access to administrative data for statistical purposes. Insee therefore used administrative sources on a more and more systematic basis.

1967 to 1974 : expansion and reorganisation

Under the direction of Jean Ripert, Insee opened up to its potential clients by increasing its dissemination methods, especially at regional level. In 1969, national publications were overhauled with the creation of Économie et statistique, Tendances de la conjoncture, Annales, and Informations rapides. In 1973, "Données sociales" was published for the first time. At the same time, Insee improved consultation with users: in 1972, the creation of CNS (Conseil national de la statistique which has since become Conseil national de l'information statistique - CNIS) formalised the debate with statistics users.

Following the McKinsey report (1971), the structures at Insee were reorganised drastically. Statistical practices evolved: statistical surveys on households or companies, purely statistical operations, become more frequent and a wider variety of data was collected. This is also the year when the first annual survey on industry and building/public works took place, completed by the departments in 1972.

Statistical services developed rapidly in the other administrations: this trend has not slowed since. The Institute began to reinforce its coordinating role, providing these departments with the framework needed for their development and it became transformed into a resource centre for the entire public statistics system.

Staff numbers at Insee increased rapidly, rising from 5,600 in 1970 to 7,000 in 1976.

1946 to the 1960s : construction of Insee

Under the terms of the Budget Law of 27 April 1946, the National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies for France and its overseas territories (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques pour la métropole et la France d'outre-mer) was created. This was the result of a merger between the National Statistics Service (Service national des statistiques) and the economic studies and documentation services of the Ministry of National Economy. It was a general directorate of the Ministry of the National Economy (then separate from the Ministry of Finance). Its first Director General was Francis Louis Closon. A law of 28 August 1946 gave Insee responsibility for the electoral roll. The Law of 7 June 1951 on legal obligation, coordination and confidentiality in the field of statistics gave public statistical surveys their legal framework. The reconstruction and reorganisation of production were the main preoccupations of the time: under the new law, sectoral surveys could be conducted, managed by the different ministries or by approved professional organisations.

Survey techniques - imported from the United States - were applied to economic and social studies: this is the period when the first surveys were set up, studying family budgets, housing, health and labour costs.

The exploitation of sources which were not primarily for statistical purposes, i.e. administrative documents or management files, began around this time: for example, tax forms for salaries (1950) and for company performance, or documents relating to the employment of disabled people, for the structure of employment (1968).

Staff numbers at the Institute, however, dropped from 6,400 in 1946 to less than 3,000 in 1960.

Towards 1960, with the expansion of planning, France began to apply statistics to this area and to economic regulation policies. In 1962, Insee took on its present area of responsibility, after taking on some tasks and personnel from the economic and financial studies office (SEEF), part of the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Insee, directed by Claude Gruson, former head of SEEF, took over the fundamental work of national accounts and forecasting, especially in relation to long-term planning. He collaborated with the Forescasting Department, created in 1965, to establish the annual forecasts included in the "economic budgets".

1940 to 1945 : the National Statistics Service

In 1941, the National Statistics Service (Service national des statistiques, SNS) was created within the Ministry of Finance, by the merging of SGF, the Economic Observation Department (Service d'observation économique, created in 1937), the Economic Outlook Institute (Institut de conjoncture, created in 1938) and the Demographics Department (Service de la démographie) ; this latter department, created in 1940 from former army recruitment offices, had a lot of staff available, and had tabulating equipment in the various regional offices. René Carmille, the creator of the SNS, who was skilled in the use of statistical tabulating equipment, introduced a whole range of statistical activities with the purpose of exploiting administrative data files. He was an excellent organiser and opened regional offices and a school for the application of statistical techniques; he created the body of administrators, attachés and clerks who would form the backbone of the department's statistical information system. Arrested in Lyon in 1944 for his resistance work, René Carmille died in Dachau on 26 January 1945.

From 1833 to 1940 : birth of modern public statistics

In 1833, at the Ministry of Trade, a General Statistics Office was created, which in 1840 took the name it was to keep until 1941 : Statistique Générale de la France (SGF). This department or office was attached in 1906 to the newly formed Ministry of Labour. The SGF became involved in new activities associated with the management and pay of the labour force, and also launched new surveys (1st consumer survey in 1907, launch of a periodical survey on retail prices in 1911, etc.). From 1930 to 1936, except for a short period in 1934, the SGF became a sub-department attached to the Presidency of the Council. At the end of 1936, it became a department of the Ministry of the National Economy. Alongside this central statistical body, statistics departments were gradually ermerging in other administrations. On the eve of the Second World War, the responsibilities of the SGF were defined as follows :

  • to organise and analyse major surveys which are not the responsibility of a ministerial department (notably the population census) ;
  • to publish statistics on civil status ;
  • to observe prices and calculate the price index and the industrial production index ;
  • to coordinate statistical activity across administrative departments ;
  • to analyse results of studies carried out ;
  • to disseminate statistics from all sources and the results of its own work by publishing the Statistics Directory (Annuaire statistique, created in 1878), the Bulletin of general statistics in France (Bulletin de la statistique générale de la France, created in 1911) and specifically targeted publications.

The SGF had too few staff at its disposal (less than 150) to fully carry out these tasks.