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27/07/2016

Greek government accused of targeting independent authorities

Competition

Greek government accused of targeting independent authorities

The Syriza-led government is under attack over its alleged efforts to take control of country’s independent authorities.

A recently introduced law has raised questions over the independence of the country’s competition authority (HCC), while profound concern is being expressed over the selection of the new board of the Regulatory Authority for Energy (RAE).

The latter’s independence is vital for the economy, as well as a mandatory term under the third bailout agreed on by Athens and its lenders last summer.

Opposition parties in Athens blame the government for trying to control the independent national authorities, and create a “party-based” public administration.

On the other hand, Syriza claims that it wants to ensure transparency in public affairs.

The HCC case

Under a new bill, the age limit of automatic withdrawal from the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC) is set at 73 years for the president, and vice-president and at 70 years for the rest of the board members. 

Currently, Dimitris Kyritsakis, the head of the HCC, is 75 years old which means that he will not be able to continue in his mandate.

The new law, also, provides that the board members of the HCC should have no by blood or marriage relation with any person who is a member of the Greek or the European Parliament, or the government.

This provision, according to HCC officials, is photographing the current Vice-President, Dimitris Loukas, whose wife is a lawmaker of the opposition right-wing New Democracy party.

“It is a first important step towards ensuring transparency in public life […] something that unfortunately previous governments did not take,” Marina Chrysoveloni, spokeswoman of the government’s right-wing coalition partner, the Independent Greeks, said.

The independence under question

Syriza government’s move triggered the strong reaction of HCC, whose independence is under severe threat.

In a statement, the HCC noted that the amendment was introduced with rapid procedures and that it did not meet the prerequisites of good lawmaking.

“It deals a serious blow to the independence of the HCC,” the communique reads.

The HCC also noted that the amendment was submitted without being previously consulted, raising serious issues over the efficiency of its operation.

News portal Euro2day quoted Kyritsakis, as saying: “They [Syriza government] seek resignations with provisions that apply to the [current] members of the Competition Commission.”

“Respect the independence of the Authority. Let us do our job,” he warned.

The energy sector

In the meantime, the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER), which represents the national regulators, expressed its concern over the new limited role of RAE.

In a report published last week, CEER stressed that RAE did not have any institutional role in drawing the new national support schemes for renewables in Greece.

On the way to an integrated energy union, the report reads, national regulators should have an exclusive right in shaping the framework of renewables.

Today (2 February) a transparency committee of the Greek parliament will examine, through a hearing, the candidates for the vacant seats of the second Vice-President and the members of the Plenary of the Energy Regulatory Authority.

Reports in Athens suggest that the new members are personal choices of the minister and are not directly related to the subject, putting into question their ability to deliver ahead of the energy challenges Greece is facing.

Syriza “allergic” to independent authorities

Giorgos Koumoutsakos, spokesperson of the right-wing New Democracy party, accused the government of trying to kill the independent authorities. 

He stated that the Syriza-led government was “allergic” to independent authorities in public administration.

“We want strong, functional, and independent authorities, with a specific role rather than being controlled by the government. So we will resist any attempt to dismantle [the institutions],” he said, adding that the issue is linked with the democratic functioning of the country.

Along the same lines, centrist Potami lawmaker, Charis Theocharis, said that the Syriza government was trying to get rid of the current HCC presidium.

“This is a blatant government intervention to control the public administration. A clear interference in an independent authority,” Theocharis stressed.