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Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Executive summary

I caught this morning ...

I rose in the morning sun shone through the stained glass of our house. I saw the dress Lin had bought in Corfu in January. I felt prescient; a micro-second of incandescent content. She'll be a strong woman μια ισχυρή γυναίκα.
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Here, in a well-filled nutshell, is the driving force for changing Greece.

The work undertaken by the Greek authorities in recent years to reinforce competition law and strengthen the Hellenic Competition Commission  Ελληνική Επιτροπή Ανταγωνισμού, to simplify business administration and to liberalise professional services, has demonstrated their political willingness to address existing regulatory barriers to competition that have contributed to holding back the economic recovery.The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Competition Assessment of Laws and Regulations in Greece project, through the scrutiny of legislation in four sectors of the Greek economy – food processing, retail trade, building materials and tourism – has led to the identification of 555 regulatory restrictions. These regulations were selected as being potentially harmful to competition from the original 1053 legal texts chosen for analysis, using the OECD's Competition Assessment Toolkit. In total, the report makes 329 specific recommendations to mitigate harm to competition.1 In addition, 40 provisions were found to constitute an administrative burden on businesses.
Summary of the legal provisions analysed by sector 
If the recommendations detailed in this report are implemented, benefits to consumers in Greece and to the Greek economy should arise in all four sectors. Throughout the project, we have thought to identify the sources of those benefits and, where possible, provide quantitative estimates. Such estimates are made on the basis of experiences of deregulation in other countries in some instances, or by relating conservative estimates of efficiency gains to the overall size of the business activity affected. More specifically, if the particular restrictions that have been identified during the project are lifted, the OECD has calculated a positive effect to the Greek economy of around €5.2 billion. This estimated amount stems from the nine broad issues that we were able to quantify (representing 66 provisions out of 329); in other words, the full effect on the Greek economy is likely to be even larger. The amount is the total of the estimated resulting positive effects on consumer surplus, increased expenditure and higher turnover, respectively, in the sectors analysed, as a result of removing current regulatory barriers to competition.
In addition, we consider that the cumulative, long-term impact on the Greek economy of lifting all the restrictions identified as harmful, including those that were more technical in nature (for instance regulations on foodstuffs), should not be underestimated, since the rationalisation of the body of legislation in these sectors will also positively affect the ability of businesses to compete in the longer term, provided that the recommendations are implemented fully.Such benefits generally take the form of lower prices and greater choice and variety for consumers. Often this will result from entry of new, more efficient firms, or from existing suppliers finding more efficient forms of production under competitive pressure.
Naturally, in some cases there will be a trade-off in terms of the cost of implementing the recommendations. The OECD work has focused entirely on analysing the harm to competition from the regulatory restrictions identified, and how to mitigate it; but in some cases there is likely to be some cost involved in reforming the legislation. It may be the case, for instance, that a funding gap will be created by the lifting of levies on goods or services previously used to finance pension funds. The OECD work on competition assessment does not calculate these costs. Rather it is a study that assesses the harm to competition from the restrictions identified, mainly to consumers, but also to Greek businesses that cannot compete freely. The harm can therefore be thought of as the overall loss of efficiency to the Greek economy.

Key recommendations (out of a total of 329 recommendations)
  • Repeal obsolete and outdated legislation for the four sectors analysed, especially from the Code of Foodstuffs and Beverages.
  • Abolish all barriers to entry that have been identified. These include the strict licensing requirements in the asphalt sector; minimum requirements for storage, or minimum capital requirements in the building materials sector; numerous barriers to investment in tourism activities, such as geographical restrictions or minimum quality requirements; limits on tourist coach activities; restrictions on offices of travel agents; limits to the trade of blended olive oils; and so on.
  • Abolish any requirement to seek price approval or to submit prices to the authorities or to trade and industry associations for all tourist activities.
  • Remove all third-party levies and fees. These include the tax on advertising and the levies on flour and on cement.
  • Fully liberalise Sunday trading, including for stores above 250m2, shopping malls and outlets.
  • The five-day restriction on the shelf life of milk should be lifted. The product’s use-by date should be determined by the producers, according to their pasteurisation methods and the relevant EU regulation. Milk cartons should be clearly stamped with the date of production and the valid-to date.
  • Prices of over-the-counter medicines (OTCs) and dietary supplements such as vitamins should be liberalised. This should be done in conjunction with a full liberalisation of the distribution channels.
  • Retailers should be able to decide freely on shop promotions and discounts, including on the determination of periods of seasonal sales.
  • The regulation of cruises should be relaxed by lifting the round-trip restriction on cruises leaving a Greek port, so as to allow passengers to embark the cruise at one port and disembark at another port.
  • The five-mile restriction on moorings should be lifted, allowing marina operators to compete with nearby commercial or fishing ports on prices.
  • Finally, horizontal regulations that hamper or thwart the proper functioning of markets should be removed to allow competition to drive efficiency gains and increase productivity across all sectors of the Greek economy.
Provided all the recommendations are fully implemented, the benefits to the Greek economy will include the emergence of more competitive markets, resulting in faster productivity growth over time. In this report we do not attempt to estimate this effect. However, in Australia, which undertook a broad programme to remove regulatory barriers to competition in the 1990s, there have been significant benefits. In 2005 the Productivity Commission examined the effects of selected pro-competitive reforms and calculated that, by enhancing productivity in particular sectors, they had boosted Australia’s GDP by about 2.5% above levels that would have otherwise prevailed. Increased competition in the Greek economy resulting from our recommendations can arise in several different ways, such as:
  • removal of barriers to competition between existing suppliers;
  • removal of constraints upon the ability of existing suppliers to compete;
  • removal of restrictions on the entry of new suppliers, or innovative forms of supply; and
  • reduction of costs that are particularly likely to hinder competition, for example because they make it harder to advertise, or impose heavy costs on smaller or newer suppliers in the market.
However, to ensure that these benefits will eventually benefit the Greek consumers, it is important that the suggested measures are fully implemented. Partial lifting of restrictions will yield only partial results. Moreover, this should be seen as only the first part of a much longer process. The OECD Competition Assessment project carried out an ex post assessment of existing legislation and found valuable and meaningful results. To safeguard these results for the future, regulatory impact assessment (RIA), with a particular focus on competition impact assessment of new legislation at the drafting stage, should become an integral part of the policy-making process. 
  1. 1. In 186 cases we make no recommendation. In these cases the restriction was found to be proportional to the policy objective, or the restriction stems from harmonised EU legislation. In some cases, the restrictive provision was abolished during the course of the investigation, and hence no recommendation was made in the final report. All cases are clearly signalled in Annex B.
  2. 2. These regulations do not have a direct bearing on competition; nonetheless, they constitute burdens on businesses and clearly affect the business environment. The OECD is undertaking a joint project with the Greek Ministry of Administrative Reform and e-Government to measure and reduce the administrative burden in 13 sectors. The restrictions identified were passed on to the Greek government. 
(extract) ...Despite some undisputable improvements in the business environment over the past few years, SMEs in Greece are still faced with a number of chronic problems that hold up their unrestrained development. The most important of these problems include:
• difficult access to outside financing
• complicated and time-consuming procedures to establish a firm
• excessive regulation and “red tape”, that create a disproportionate administrative burden on small firms as compared to larger firms
• a complicated and unfair taxation system that discriminates against entrepreneurial activities 4
• an ineffective public administration
• unfair competition, exacerbated by regulated markets, illicit trade and the persistence of a number of “closed professions”, where free access is denied (e.g. lawyers, notaries, accountants, pharmacists, etc.)
• a low-skilled workforce (only 1.2% of the adult labour force participates in lifelong learning)
• excessive non-wage labour costs due to high employers’ social security contributions (43,9% of the wage bill, one of the highest proportions in the EU)
• lack of technical support from the state authorities
• social security problems (low pensions, inadequate coverage, sustainability problems).

Gov't strives for a deal with troika amid persisting rifts

Marathon talks between government officials and troika envoys over the weekend made progress in some areas but the two sides remained far from an agreement, sources indicated on Monday, stressing however that the goal remained to reach a deal before next Monday’s Eurogroup summit.
“It’s a tough situation,” a senior government official told Kathimerini on Monday following talks that began on Sunday at 8 p.m. and finished in the early hours of Clean Monday. “We’ve still got a long road ahead,” the official said, adding that all technical-level proposals by the Greek side had been exhausted and it was time “for a political decision.”....

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Greek Reporter 5 March 2014:  
Samaras, Venizelos Meet On Troika Rift
As a logjam over unresolved reforms remains with international lenders,  Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is set to meet with his Deputy Premier, PASOK Socialist leader Evangelos Venizelos, on March 5 to try to find a way to break it before Eurozone finance chiefs meet next week over whether to okay release of a pending nine billion euro installment.
The government has committed to 80% of 153 undone reforms recommended in a so-called Toolkit from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) but that hasn’t satisfied the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB).
Also on the table is a dispute over how much more money Greek banks need on top of the €50 billion from $325 billion in two bailouts. The estimates range from €5-20 billion and are holding up a resolution on the talks and as the Bank of Greece this week is set to reveal the results of stress tests on state financial institutions.
Samaras and Venizelos are scheduled to talk a day after intense negotiations between the Troika’s envoys and Greek ministers, led by finance chief Yannis Stournaras, who also briefed the Premier.
After all the major structural reforms that have been plodded through, the negotiators are also down to minutiae as well, including lender demands to extend the shelf life of milk – essentially to allow sales of expired products – and to let supermarkets sell non-prescription drugs, an idea fiercely fought by pharmacists who want to keep a monopoly.

Kathimerini editorial 4 March 2014:
A country of vested interests
Certain Greek politicians are finally willing to talk about a fact that previously was never mentioned in public dialogue. This is a country of comfortably entrenched vested interests that are battling to make sure that absolutely nothing ever changes. The only thing they are interested in is maintaining the kind of privileges they gained under particularly nontransparent circumstances. We, the consumers, however – people who end up paying hefty prices for numerous consumer goods in order to keep these vested interests and privileges alive – have proved incapable of developing our own, efficient anti-vested interest network. That is why, on the one hand, we allow all the various lobbies representing the vested interests to monopolise public dialogue, while on the other we fail to provide sufficient support to those very few politicians who are willing to make the kind of difference that would prove beneficial to us all.
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Lin phoned. I was enjoying Lurleen's sweet and savoury pancakes at Livingstone Road Allotments clubhouse and nattering to Denise.
Lurleen cooks pancakes at Livingstone Allotments

When was I coming home, she wanted to know.
"In about half an hour....So?"
She'd been to Good Hope for Amy's latest scan
"A girl" I don't think Lin was surprised. She knew already.
A grand-daughter in July

I shared the news with the lunch club.
"I don't mind if it's boy or girl, but I like the idea of a pigeon pair"
Later talking to Rob in the club I asked him if anyone was planting.
"No-one. Put potatoes in now they'll rot."
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On Tuesday we were babysitting Oliver. When it was my turn we - Oliver, Oscar and I - went to the park and looked at trees, birds and lots of damp grass. I watched Oliver inspecting puddles, tramping up and down in shallow muddy pools, unwilling to catch up, so we could go to the playground before walking home.
Oliver enjoying paddling in Handsworth Park

We dropped in on John Rose's house - three down from ours. Cup of tea and chat, Oscar and Dieter, best of friends, wandering in and out of the garden. A neighbour, George, came round - a bit shaky, just out of hospital. A beer for him and then one for me. Oliver picked biscuits from a pile John had put on the table and fed the dogs, wandered around interesting himself as we talked about the scourge of high cost short term lending. John has been part of the new Archbishop of Canterbury's campaign to help show how private loan companies work. He and others have been mystery shopping for loans, swimming with sharks, and reporting back on the results.
"As financial regulations have tightened in the US, these companies have migrated here"
The archbishop, Justin Welby, worked in the oil industry; he understands finance; has an informed headstart in pressing for tighter financial controls over payday loan companies preying on the poor; rules that come in this April with stricter regulation which should level the ground for Credit Unions to offer similar loans at far lower interest.
It was a pleasant interval, Oliver amusing himself as John, I and George, put the world to rights.
"A pretty pass we've come to making fun of the poor"
"Like going to Bedlam to mock the mad. A spectacle. Poverty porn - and all in the best possible taste"
"It's not as if we don't see people here who are poor, see them in their variety, some dead souls, others hustling, others in quiet retreat. Meantime the very rich have done a swell job getting the surviving poor to hate the one's that struggle and fall"
I had in mind my dialogue with Jan Didrichsen, continuing....a letter last Spring:
Dear J. I suspect that as April's welfare reforms begin to bite, we will encounter, even more than usual, the ugly habit of demonising the poor - about which I know no better remark than this - from the great American writer, Herman Melville, who spent time on a US warship in the 19th century and encountered the justification of the officer class for flogging the lower deck. Such cruelty was essential given the dangerous and depraved behaviour such punishments were designed to quell.
‘Depravity in the oppressed is no apology for the oppressor; but rather an additional stigma to him, as being in large degree, the effect, and not the cause and justification of oppression’ Chap 14 ‘White Jacket’
"The trouble is that there's no narrative, no story robust enough, John. There's the Marxist stuff. Private Eye is better; articulate, wry, researched. The story being told at the moment is the one that says being poor is your own fault. But on top of that is a layer of ironic cruelty. Poverty is now an entertainment. It's like that ground breaking Tiger in your tank ad for petrol, The punters did the advertising. They paid for it. That was a famous first. Now the punters confess in entertaining ways that their condition is of their own creation. It's brilliant. We take punters being billboards for granted now. So the obscene gap between the rich and the poor.  It makes the story of fault so much more convincing! The fib - a good semi-truth - has such currency among us, yet composed and recomposed in places with spotless floors and high views, disseminated assiduously by the media of the mighty. Poverty is panem. Povery is the circus. Hunger games."

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Why I like/dislike Facebook - there's so much work to be done...

Simon Baddeley added 2 new photos.
Just watched 'Ikuru' filmed in 1952 - a Japanese film that reminded me of 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946) - a reminder that there are better things to do than take to making blue crystal meth when you get terminal cancer - much as we enjoyed 'Breaking Bad'
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