Fuel strike raises issues of cartels, competitiveness

The government’s handling of the recent fuel distributors’ strike provoked an angry response from the leadership of the Hellenic Federation of Enterprises (SEV) and the General Confederation of Greek Labor (GSEE), during yesterday’s meeting of the National Competitiveness Council. «It’s not about trying to ascertain the existence of cartels at a time when ministerial offices are the venues at which prices, freight charges and other privileges are agreed with closed-shop occupations, for which competition is restricted by law,» SEV president Dimitris Daskalopoulos said on the sidelines of the meeting. Speaking at the same event earlier, GSEE president Yiannis Panagopoulos launched a verbal attack on both the government and tanker truck operators. He spoke of «a deal under the table between the government and truck operators,» charging that the government essentially negotiated the right of a closed-shop group to legally break the law. In addition, Daskalopoulos blamed the government for the unprecedented surge in consumer prices. Accusing the government of retaining a large number of closed-shop occupations and having the power to set prices for an excessive number of products and services, Daskalopoulos doubted the effectiveness of a series of measures announced by the Ministry of Development to tackle rising prices. «We cannot go back to measures scrapped by many other countries due to their failure to work in favor of consumers,» Daskalopoulos noted. According to data by the National Competition Measuring System, on a total of 151 indices Greece is lagging by an average of 69.5 percent in the EU-27. Shortcomings have been identified in a number of areas, including research and innovation, education, environmental protection and the labor market. Also attending the meeting was Development Minister Christos Folias, who acknowledged that «the report’s message is that a lot of work is required.» The Greek economy’s low competitiveness is also reflected in reports by the World Economic Forum and IMD. Global competitiveness indices of the World Economic Forum show that in 2007 Greece sank from 61st to 65th place, out of a total of 131 countries. Innovation, labor market effectiveness, public debt and bureaucracy are the sectors in need of improvement. However, Greece retained its 36th position in IMD’s World Competitiveness Yearbook, while the World Bank’s Doing Business report moved Greece down by five positions to 100th place among a total of 178 nations.