More action called for

Yesterday’s decision by the National Telecommunications Commission to impose a 1-million-euro fine on each of the three mobile telephone firms in Greece was no bolt from the blue. The firms’ simultaneous decision to raise the cost of sending text messages was a typical example of the type of practices that undermine healthy competition. Yet as one swallow is not enough to herald the summer, experts are well aware that consumers have to deal with these kinds of practices every day in nearly all sectors of economic activity, from bank loans to dairy products. The consequences of this pathological situation in the supposedly «free» market are numerous. The first victim, naturally, is the ordinary consumer, forced to pay for overpriced products and services. Public finances are also burdened by the pressure on the inflation rate, which in Greece is almost double the eurozone’s average. The eventual victim in the eyes of the public is the notion of liberalism itself, since consumers are justified in wondering why markets should be deregulated, often at considerable social cost, if a state monopoly is simply to be replaced by a private oligopoly. Of course, monopolies are neither new nor solely a Greek phenomenon. Nevertheless, industrially developed countries have for decades had effective institutions to deal with them. In the USA, antitrust legislation dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The Greek state has a powerful tool for dealing with monopolies: the Competition Commission, an independent authority monitored by the Development Ministry. It has a large number of experts at its service. Unfortunately, investigations of violations in a number of sectors have led to the accumulation of huge files but no action. Let us hope that the Commission’s decision yesterday will serve as an example. Otherwise, the deregulation of markets will start to sound like those whinging bus passengers who don’t want others to climb aboard after they’re safely on.