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  • Editorial: Free market or cartel?

    Banks will be given a reasonable amount of time to fend off possible charges and to present their arguments so that the process can be completed

    The forays of the Greek Competition Commission at Greek banks startled everyone.

    That is because it was unexpected, professionally organised by 120 investigators who operated strictly within the framework of the law, and above all it was carried out discreetly as befits an independent authority that acts with self-respect.

    All sides confirm that the investigators immediately revealed their identity and kindly requested of bank presidents, CEOs, and commercial departments’ officials to allow them access to their offices without disturbing anything in the least.

    To those who raised objections on the grounds of a violation of private data the investigators responded that they are bound by a confidentiality agreement.

    They stated clearly that their investigation was limited to seeking out sufficient information to determine the possible implementation of cartel practices in setting hikes on a host of commissions recently implemented en masse by bank managements.

    For that reason there was a search for documents and data and printed or electronic correspondence over the last two years as well as personal diaries and notepads and whatever else could add data and material for the investigation.

    At some point in response to the persistent questions of bank officials the investigators made clear that the en masse increases in commissions on bank transactions appeared to be coordinated and organised and that this is what drew their interest.

    They suggested that the move by the banks was not in line with a competitive market and created the impression that there is a cartel.

    Overall the operation proceeded smoothly without tensions or incidents and continued up to 8 November.

    When the collection of data is complete they will be evaluated and reports will be issued.

    Banks will be given a reasonable amount of time to fend off possible charges and to present their arguments so that the process can be completed.

    Regardless of the time allotted to resolving any disputes, the message is clear to everyone.

    From now on, all those involved in commercial activities are obliged to know that there is a truly independent authority out there that will intervene whenever it determines that the rules of an open, free market economy are being circumvented and undermined.

    That message is demonstrated precisely by the manner and modus operandi of the Greek Competition Commission.

    For the first time an investigation by an independent authority was carried out in such a direct and clearly professional manner in a sector that is largely protected but is also challenged by current economic conditions.

    Yet the difficult conditions with which the banks are confronted do not justify an abnegation of their other obligations.

    It would be welcome and helpful for the modernisation and reform of our economic system if it is truly confirmed that after the divisive and unfortunate tenure of Mrs. Vasiliki Thanou at the helm we have established an independent and effective Competition Commission.

    If reports that there was organised on 8 September a similar investigation of the Courier Services sector, where there are suspicions of price fixing in costing services, one can reasonably hope that something is truly changing in the operation of the battered Greek economy.

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