New consumer watchdog on the cards

The government is mulling plans to merge the Consumer Ombudsman and the General Secretariat for Consumers, replacing them with a new, independent body to be titled the Authority for the Protection of Consumers.

The move is expected to improve the protection of consumers and at the same time save some 900,000 euros annually in state money. Greece?s provisional administration has already prepared a draft of the regulation, sources have told Kathimerini.

The new authority will not be accountable to any ministry, but to Parliament, which is expected to solve the problems faced by the General Secretariat of Consumers over the past couple of years. Although the general secretariat initially operated under the auspices of the Development Ministry, it was transferred to the Labor Ministry during the September 2010 government reshuffle. The move was followed by several tiffs between the two ministries.

The new authority will mainly have a supervisory character, but it will also serve some regulatory functions. It will monitor the implementation and adoption of laws safeguarding the rights of consumers and impose penalties when it sees fit.

On a regulatory level, the Authority for the Protection of Consumers will seek to ensure the transparency of transactions and product safety. Moreover, it will recommend new measures and legal proposals for consumer protection, support the work of consumer unions and draft suppliers? codes of conduct.

Responsibility for resolving consumer disputes, which is now mostly undertaken by the Consumer Ombudsman, will be passed onto out-of-court settlement committees and private intermediaries.

Finally, the government will introduce specific conditions for the establishment and operation of organizations that mediate consumer complaints.

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