ECONOMY

Gov’t bolsters competition drive

The main opposition PASOK party yesterday gave its qualified support to a government draft bill on protecting competition from oligopolies. PASOK rapporteurs told Parliament’s Production and Trade Committee the bill was «of limited scope» but «in the right direction,» and they would vote for it in principle. «We wish to bolster the Competition Commission but not just for the easy jobs. The bill is too small, just following developments,» said former PASOK government spokesman Christos Protopapas. Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou then reminded Protopapas that the present government had imposed heavy fines on supermarkets for harmonized pricing practices. «Was a heavy fine ever imposed on a company in the past which I don’t remember?» he asked. The bill empowers the Competition Commission to intervene when it finds a lack of «conditions of effective competition» and adopt «every necessary measure which will regulate behavior or promote such conditions.» «The draft bill has been submitted to the European Commission and there has been no objection,» Papathanassiou said. «On the contrary, there were reactions from vested interests in Greece and one of the opponents was the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV).» «We have the political will to make the commission independent and will clash with vested interests where necessary,» he said. Communist Party MP Angelos Tzekis said the Competition Commission is independent only in name, since, according to the bill, the minister can allow the illegal accumulation of capital «when it presents more general economic advantages» (Article 5). He cited the commission’s approval of the merger of the country’s two biggest oil refiners, Hellenic Petroleum and Petrola in 2003, and its initially lukewarm attitude toward consumer complaints of profiteering by supermarkets. «The government and the commission cannot and do not want to apply an anti-monopoly policy,» he said. Separately, the Supermarket Enterprises Association of Greece (SESME) said the Development Ministry’s referral to justice of chains Carrefour Marinopoulos, Atlantic and Veropoulos for misleading pricing practices was indiscriminate. Atlantic was found in violation in only one out of 35,000 products sold, and Carrefour in only 10 instances, «which may possibly indicate deliberate action.» The Development Ministry’s Department of Trade responded by saying the number of violations was immaterial, and it has given instructions for stricter checks. SESME also aired seven proposals for improving the functioning of competition in retailing, including that shoppers should pay for plastic bags, that the number of supermarkets per area should be limited, and an electronic commerce platform and central distributing agency should be created to reduce logistical costs.