OPINION

Necessary upgrade

As an instrument of the Development Ministry with responsibility for monitoring the enforcement of legislation to control oligopolies and protect competition, the Competition Commission has been an independent administrative authority since 1995 with considerable guarantees of independence. Since 2000, these have included its financial self-sufficiency. This institutional emancipation was in line with international practice, as was its growing importance for the free exercise of competition. As the market was gradually freed of market inspections and legislative restrictions and gradually passed into a state of maturity where prices were regulated by supply and demand, it became clear how important it was for the forces of the private economy to operate freely, unfettered by oligopolies and cartels. The Greek Competition Commission has tried to live up to its role, but for some time now, it has been clear that it never acquired the necessary caliber. It has never had sufficient manpower. Promises of incentives to hire staff – and of a high standard – were never fulfilled, and there was an exponential increase in the volume of cases for inspection (particularly given the large number of mergers of firms in prominent positions). As a result, the commission has been at a disadvantage, with entire categories of allegations of individual infringements delayed for years or never investigated at all. The Development Ministry, whose bill has been given the green light by the Cabinet, is trying to upgrade the commission in order to smooth its way and consolidate its ability to exercise real control over free competition – by charting market trends, speeding up the examination of corporate mergers and laying an increased emphasis on preventive and automatic controls on potential infringements. The Development Ministry’s bill will be released tomorrow. Experts will decide on the extent to which its provisions can create the kind of conditions needed to facilitate the commission’s task. Of course, the fact that its chairman will be appointed by the Cabinet from now on, instead of by the Development Ministry, could be seen as a strong, symbolic upgrade. But the protection of competition is not achieved by symbolism but by a tangible increase in staff, the ability to inspect and true independence. Let us not forget that competition is not just a technical but often a political issue as well. Entangled interests, which we all want dealt with as an outrageous violation of free competition, are present in public works, contracts and rigged tenders. An independent and effective Competition Commission could avert phenomena such as these.