ECONOMY

Consumer gripes rise

Greece’s consumer hotline (tel 1520) has seen calls almost quadruple within a year. As many as 22,413 calls of protest were recorded throughout 2005, while the fines imposed on violators after inspections conducted exceeded 2.5 million euros, a conference in Athens heard yesterday. Addressing the «Consumer Strategy 2007-2013» event, the general secretary for Consumers, Athanassios Skordas, referred to the strengthening of checks and the upgrading of communication with citizens. In 2005, the 1520 hotline recorded 33,345 calls by consumers, with more than two-thirds of them being complaint calls. More than half (50.77 percent) of them were resolved and another 29.02 percent were redirected to other agencies. The vast majority of complaint calls concerned supermarkets (3,387), retailers of electrical goods (2,772) and foodstuffs (2,125), the service sector (2,072), beauty centers (1,830) and banks (1,591). The Hellenic Food Authority (EFET) received 3,628 complaints. The rise in the number of complaints is likely connected to the advertising of the consumer hotline, but also comes at a time when the majority of dangerous products in the European Union are of Chinese origin. Speaking at the same conference, the European commissioner on health and consumer protection, Markos Kyprianou, said the EU is facing a serious problem with Chinese products, citing toys as a good example. In Europe, 80 percent of toys come from China and 121 of the 159 dangerous products found are Chinese toys, the Cypriot official said. He added that the Chinese government has been requested to take action for the protection of consumers. The commissioner referred to legislative action taken by the European Commission to protect consumers, such as the safety of disabled people and the directive on consumer credit. In his speech, Kyprianou also stressed that «the compromise made in the EU budget leaves the sector of health and consumer protection with less money,» causing problems mainly to the new member states and consumer organizations. «Our intention is to make consumers feel that the organized state safeguards the quality and safety standards,» said Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas, opening the conference. He noted that for many years Greece lagged in consumer protection issues, and underscored the effort made today to highlight and resolve problems, citing the main action taken. Sioufas said the level of market competition is satisfactory and announced that fines are about to be raised, their imposition will be simplified and checks will increase. By July the legal framework for consumer organizations will have been completed, since for Sioufas the informed consumer is »the most effective obstacle to profiteering, to tricks, to deceits and to the circulation of products that are dangerous for the health and safety of citizens.» Although in the Greek market there is a great range of prices in most products and services, there are still some markets dominated by monopolies and oligopolies, said Deputy Development Minister Yiannis Papathanassiou.