Probe into consumer prices

In mid-May, two Europe-wide surveys confirmed that consumer prices in Greece had risen at a higher rate than in the rest of Europe. One of the surveys classified Greece as the 8th most expensive country in the European Union based on the prices of 10 common consumer goods, such as detergents. The government has turned its attention to the problem and the Development Ministry has already begun investigating the price of detergents, comparing them with those in other European Union member states. The investigation is likely to be extended to five other categories: baby foods and diapers, popular brands of cosmetics, soft drinks and dairy products. The government’s decision is probably not unconnected to an announcement by two multinationals to reduce the prices of their detergents. Of course these firms have a number of other motives in doing so. Use of the euro in 12 EU countries has made it very easy to compare prices in each country, while the high cost of living has restricted demand for brand names, so lowering prices is the obvious way for companies to increase sales. Nevertheless, these firms may well have taken the government survey into account; according to sources, several firms are preparing to reduce prices in other consumer categories that are expected to come under the ministry’s microscope. Irrespective of the effectiveness of these ministry surveys and of plans to amend the law banning product sales at prices below cost, these moves are a confirmation that while inflation remains a problem, the government is interested in bringing down the cost of living and is making concerted efforts to do so. This is reflected in other government moves such as the imposition of fines on supermarkets, a survey of milk prices and even restrictions on the retail prices of fuel given the continued rise of international crude oil prices. It is significant that the government has realized its best and only means of battling the high cost of living is by ensuring that the rules of competition are implemented. That is why it has reinforced the Competition Commission as a major tool in bringing some order into the marketplace. The battle is certainly not an easy one, but the government appears determined to persist in its plans. And the initial price reductions by the two multinationals might just be an early indication that the effort is beginning to paying off.

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