Catching the big fish

The high cost of living will be the focus of George Papandreou’s speech tonight at the Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF) in a bid to rally troubled Greek households around his Socialist opposition party. Development Minister Dimitris Sioufas and his deputy, Yiannis Papathanassiou, are firing back for ruling New Democracy with multi-page announcements and tedious statistics showing inflation to be actually lower than during PASOK’s period of rule and claiming that if not for this year’s surge in oil prices, inflation would be in line with the eurozone average. We do not mean to question official figures. Besides, the process is overseen by the European Union and it would be in bad faith to claim that economic policymakers are understating the numbers out of political expediency. That said, no serious politician or objective journalist can turn a deaf ear to consumers’ grievances about high prices. No government official can afford to ignore the fact that in a country where salaries are half or 70 percent of the EU average, basic products like milk cost more in Athens than in Paris or Berlin. The late prime minister Georgios Papandreou, grandfather of the PASOK leader, famously said that while numbers prosper in Greece, people are miserable. Sioufas should leave statistics aside and focus on the people. If the government really wants to fight inflation, it must make sure the Competition Commission wrestles with some blatant cases of profiteering, monopolistic practices and price fixing. If the government wants to win public trust, Economy Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis should identify and publish the fines imposed on the big fish that for years have been cheating the tax system. Unfortunately, after imposing fines on some supermarkets, the commission fell asleep.