PARIS - Europe's governments are turning their attention to prostitution, drugs and contraband as possible ways of boosting their economic growth profiles, as they struggle away from their debt crises.
Italy caused a stir when it announced last month that it would begin including revenues from drug trafficking and the sex trade, as well as contraband tobacco and alcohol, to calculate gross domestic product (GDP) from next year.
One effect would be to reduce the public deficit as a ratio of output, if EU authorities were to accept the idea. That would be a big help to countries trying to get their public deficits below the EU ceiling of 3.0 per cent of output.
In 2012, Italy's central bank estimated the value of the criminal economy at 10.9 per cent of GDP. Including these figures could therefore boost the country's growth to above the government's 1.3 per cent estimate.
Last month, Britain said including illegal activities such as prostitution and drugs into national accounts would add about 10 billion pounds (12.3 billion euros, $16.8 billion) to GDP, equivalent to about one per cent of national output.
Using the undeclared or so-called black economy to calculate national statistics is part of a range of changes recommended by the European Union's statistical institute, Eurostat, to be implemented in September.
Eurostat said including such data would allow a better comparison between countries with different laws.
"GDP is not an indicator of morality," said a spokesman, adding that only transactions carried out consensually would be included.
But others are less convinced.
Eric Vernier, researcher at the Institute of International Relations, said including "gross criminal product" in growth figures is a cynical attempt to combat the eurozone's debt crisis.
"The problem is to put this new statistical method on the table at the moment when everyone has budget problems," he said.
"There has been a general acceptance of this accounting approach since the crisis: what matters most is what goes into the state coffers."