ECONOMY

Competition Commission is powerless

The head of the Competition Commission admitted yesterday that the existing law actually inhibits monitoring the markets for violations of competition rules. Professor Dimitris Tzouganatos told reporters that the law on competition is not applied in practice because it imposes impossible standards of proof. Thus it is impossible to determine whether companies form cartels to manipulate markets or take advantage of a dominant position in the market to raise prices excessively. In other words, the Competition Commission is largely powerless to intervene in the markets and prevent excessive increases in the prices of products, several of which are widely consumed. Tzouganatos said, in fact, that the commission does little more than collect data on prices and intervene in the most blatant cases of market manipulation by individual companies. The government has been faced with a wave of price increases in several widely consumed products, such as foodstuffs, which have hurt consumer incomes far more than the inflation rates of slightly over 3 percent would suggest. Some of these increases have become apparent because consumers now tend to buy certain products, which used to be seasonal, such as tomatoes, throughout the year. Such products are especially susceptible to dramatic price hikes in cases of bad weather, as happened early last year. The government, worried about the impact of the introduction of the euro last year, had entered into «gentlemen’s agreements» with producers in several sectors in order to keep the prices low. The strategy worked, up to a point. There were several cases of flagrant violations of the agreements from producers, and retailers, who took advantage of the public’s lack of familiarity with the new currency and, especially, lack of awareness of its real value. Greeks, used to dealing in an inflation-riddled currency, where banknotes were almost exclusively used in purchases, were initially not aware of the value of what appeared to them as small change, but which, in terms of drachmas, were significant amounts. Producers, considering themselves no longer tied up by the agreements, are ready for a further round of price increases. In any case, Tzouganatos said, the legality of «gentlemen’s agreements» was doubtful, because they go against the rule of allowing prices to be set freely and determined by open competition.