Greek government accused of meddling in competition authority

The competition authority has always been targeted by several governments in Greece, something that has irritated the business community which highlights the institutional risks. [EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI]

The Greek opposition has accused New Democracy’s conservative government of attempting to control the country’s independent competition commission.

The newly elected Greek government is due to pass a law on Monday (5 August) providing for the dismissal of members and staff of the competition commission if they have recently served in government offices.

This practically means that the current competition boss, Vassiliki Thanou, will have to be replaced.

Thanou, a former supreme court chief justice, was nominated by the previous leftist government and before that, she was a non-paid adviser of former premier Alexis Tsipras.

Contacted by EURACTIV.com, a European Commission spokesperson said the EU executive does not comment on draft laws or alleged plans and referred to the relevant EU directive on competition authorities and particularly the dismissal of independent authorities’ members.

“They may be dismissed only if they no longer fulfil the conditions required for the performance of their duties or if they have been found guilty of serious misconduct under national law. The conditions required for the performance of their duties, and what constitutes serious misconduct, shall be laid down in advance in national law,” the directive reads.

EURACTIV understands that Thanou’s dismissal cannot be justified under the EU directive.

The nomination of Thanou by the previous leftist government, although lawful, had also drawn criticism for being politically motivated considering her close ties with Tsipras.

Adonis Georgiadis, the minister for growth and investments, said Syriza could not “control” the competition authority and that Thanou’s nomination was a “black day” for the Greek parliament.

In fact, the competition authority has always been a sad story in Greek politics. In the past, it has been targeted by several governments, something that has irritated the business community which highlights the institutional risk and the lack of “state continuity”.

This time, the opposition says such a decision would deal a severe blow to the commission’s independence while the goal is to exclusively oust Thanou.

European Parliament Vice-President Dimitris Papadimoulis said the law is “clear government intervention” that will damage the reputation of the authority and vowed to raise the issue with EU’s competition chief Margrethe Vestager.

Socialist politician Giorgos Petalotis, a former deputy minister for justice, criticised both New Democracy and leftist Syriza for their stance toward the competition authority warning that it risks losing its independence.

Regarding the case of Thanou particularly, he hinted that the government’s move would go against the constitution and called on all parties let the authority’s members do their job objectively.

Business circles told EURACTIV.com that the law is unconstitutional considering that it is meant to apply not only to the competition post but to all independent bodies.

The same circles also criticised the fact that no consultation has taken place in advance, as the law actually provides for, and said that the fact that it will apply retroactively basically shows that the only target is Thanou herself.

“It’s clearly unconstitutional and against EU law,” the sources said.

“Thanou may not be the most desired person for the post. But at the end of the day, a simple government decision to oust her only increases the institutional insecurity of an already fragile business environment,” the same sources added.

The issue is expected to cause further turmoil as the government has already been criticised for non-transparent procedures when it comes to appointing general secretaries in the ministries, whose independence was a perquisite of the country’s bailout.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has also been personally accused of attempting to pool too much power onto his position after he placed under his personal control, with only a decree, the public TV broadcaster, the National News Agency as well as the country’s secret services.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.