‘There are laws; what is lacking is enforcement’

«Greece is an underdeveloped country from the point of view of consumer protection,» said economist Ilias Kikilias, who is researching consumerism and its institutions at EKKE. In the rest of Europe, there is more scope for action by consumer bodies and corresponding initiatives. On the EU level, there is the Health and Consumer Protection Directorate-General of the European Commission, which is equivalent to a ministry, while in Greece the General Consumer Secretariat at the Ministry of Development falls under the Department of Commerce. Understaffed and without infrastructure, it is unable to protect citizens in their risky forays into the market. It is known that the government is preparing to set up a consumer ombudsman, a proposal that will probably be included in pre-election announcements. «If properly set up, with numerous, suitable staff and the proper tools, it might work. Otherwise, it’ll quickly collapse,» said KEPKA’s Tsemberlidis. «In the EU, there is consumer protection with specific measures which are monitored,» said Kikilias. «The market can’t be left to itself. It’s not just the prices. An important problem is what is written on product labels, whether they are readable and comprehensible.» To the question of whether more legislation was needed, he replied: «There are laws. What is lacking is enforcement, as is the case with labor legislation.» Consumer organizations call upon all consumers to lodge complaints, both with them and with state bodies, about the problems they have when shopping. These days especially, people should «do market research, be alert and fully prepared to make complaints,» said Goulielmou. «An essential response can be given by a consumer movement, based on voluntary action and the mentality of the active citizen,» said Tsemberlidis. «What is definitely needed is a movement that rests on the principles of direct democracy… with non-exploitation of professional position…» What is certain is that the 59 consumer organizations in Greece today are long on numbers, and rather too short on action, despite the gallant attempts made. And it is not accidental that only 3.8 percent of Greeks, in a Eurobarometer poll, believed they pursued their consumer rights.