War declared on profiteering

Weary of a recent wave of price increases, particularly in necessities and exacerbated by pressures from the climbing prices of oil and raw materials, the government yesterday announced a major assault on profiteering, comprising no less than 41 measures. These include a black list of firms that are found to be making excessive price hikes, but also a «white» list of those friendly to the consumer. «Unrestrained market behavior will be battled little by little, until it is eliminated,» said Development Minister Christos Folias who announced the measures. The list also includes heavy fines and the publication of names of violators, intensive checks on cost data and the strengthening of the role of the Competition Commission and consumer organizations. In addition, the Development Ministry will daily update a price list of 50 basic necessities, with «recommended good price» indicators. Folias said the measures, which will be extended if necessary, will gradually start being applied in the coming days, with the aim of getting into full swing by summer. They will cover the full range of productive, commercial and consumer activities – «from the field to the shelf to the basket» – to battle all phenomena which undermine competition and keep prices artificially high, he said. Particular emphasis will be placed on the mechanism for the implementation of the measures, said Folias, who called for the cooperation of all, in pursuit of a «free and fair market.» Finally, he pledged that there will be no utility rate increases that cannot be justified by cost data. Referring to electricity rate increases which came into effect a few months ago, he said they were disproportionately small compared to the cost increases sustained by the Public Power Corporation. The main opposition socialist PASOK party said the measures were little more than a public relations exercise, noting that they were announced just on the eve of a parliamentary debate on rising prices. «Of the 41 measures, 20 are already being applied and are mandatory for the Development Ministry… The breaking up of cartels in foodstuffs, the oil market, pharmaceuticals and other subcategories of goods and services has to be the main priority of a policy against rising prices,» PASOK said in a statement. By contrast, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the measures would contribute to the elimination of unfair practices and curtail profiteering, but that the human and technological resources of the ministry would have to be bolstered.