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Shoppers to get own price lists February 25, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Shopping.
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Consumers will be able to go shopping next month armed with a price list for the 50 most commonly bought items, in a move aimed at helping shoppers better identify retailers who unfairly inflate their prices.

The Development Ministry will put together the daily list in an attempt to better inform consumers as some 30 companies have hiked prices by up to 15 percent since the start of the year. The move is aimed at helping fight Greece’s rising inflation, which remains one of the highest in the eurozone, at just below 4 percent last month.

In the event of companies going overboard with their price hikes or fiddling with price data handed to the Development Ministry, the offenders will be put on a black list that will then be published, according to the Ministry.

In the next few weeks, the Ministry also plans to prepare a list of goods comparing prices available in Greece with those offered in other European cities.


Greek design for anniversary coin February 25, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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The design submitted by the Bank of Greece mint, the work of sculptor George Stamatopoulos, has been chosen for a commemorative two-euro coin to be issued by all Eurozone countries in 2009 to mark 10 years since the circulation of the euro. The winning design was announced by the European Commission on Monday and was chosen by EU citizens through an Internet vote.

25-02-08_coin.jpg  The anniversary coin will go into circulation in January 2009 and was chosen by voters among five finalist designs selected by the directors of European mints among 42 designs originally submitted. The winning design received 41,48 percent of the vote, in which more than 141,500 people took part.

According to a Commission announcement, the commemorative coin for the 10th anniversary since the creation of the euro symbolises the long history of trade, from pre-historic barter – evoked by the deliberately primitive design – to Economic and Monetary Union, while roughly 90 million copies of the coin will be minted.

Watchdog may need to study Microsoft’s Greek deal February 7, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Internet & Web.
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The Competition Commission will intervene and cancel the contract Greece has signed with Microsoft if it is found to be in breach of European Union legislation on competition, the commission’s president, Spyros Zisimopoulos, told a parliamentary committee yesterday.

He was asked by deputies who are Institution and Transparency Committee members whether the agreement ratified recently by Parliament had a monopolistic character. However, New Democracy Deputy Manolis Kefaloyiannis stated that the contract does not exclude rival software companies.

Zisimopoulos stressed that this is a hard case which the Commission may need to examine: “If the legislation concerns only the national competition law, then the national commission does not have the right to intervene,” he said.

Cheesy tricks buying time for fake feta cheese February 6, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Greece.
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Three months or more after the irrevocable decision in Greece’s favor for the use of the name feta, an unorthodox war continues to rage on the shelves of Europe’s supermarkets.

The object of that war is the survival of fake “feta”, using all kinds of tricks to tell consumers that “this is feta” without actually saying it. Therefore, the packaging may carry the description “white cheese”, but on the supermarket shelf there may be a small label that reads “feta.” Another trick is the use of the word “feta”, which in various languages, such as Italian, means “slice,” to introduce a piece of white cheese as “feta” in reference to the slice on sale.

Although it is the European Commission that has imposed the law that only allows Greek goat cheese to be called feta since October 16, 2007, it is down to member states, in this case Greece, to follow up on the proper application of the law and report any violations.

Following a question by a Greek European Parliament member, the Commission stated that there has not been a single complaint from Athens on this matter, so no process can yet begin to root out Europe’s feta imposters.

Plans for new EU telecom body to be stationed in Greece November 12, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Telecoms.
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Viviane Reding has asked both Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Transport and Communications Minister Costis Hatzidakis to give their support to the telecom market measures she is to propose on November 13 for discussion and approval by the Commission.

Viviane Reding, the EU commissioner for information society and media, has asked the Greek government to back the new measures she is to recommend to the College of Commissioners. Reding asked both Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Transport and Communications Minister Costis Hatzidakis to back the telecom market measures she is to propose on November 13 for discussion and approval by the Commission.

The measures include the functional separation of primary telecommunications providers and the creation of the European Commission for Telecommunications Regulation, a plan that could force some former phone monopolies in Europe to open their networks to greater competition.

The measure relating to the functional separation, though objected to by the large telecoms organizations’ lobby, is believed to be an easier one to be passed by the Commission. According to the current planning, it would be up to the National Regulatory Authorities to implement the functional separation, as an instrument to enhance competition across the telecoms market, as well as to overcome the main network access bottlenecks when standard remedies have failed.

National governments, unlike main telecom providers, have no reason to object to the measure, since it does not involve ceding any of their rights to Brussels. On the contrary, Reding has met strong resistance to the creation of the European Telecom Market Authority (ETMA), which certainly means ceding some rights to a central telecom market regulatory agency. Tough opposition to creating ETMA has already come from Britain, with many other governments expected to follow suit.

Reding’s measures are largely seen as a step toward further Brussels bureaucracy, but she insists on pointing to the absence of a single telecom market in the EU. She believes the fact that each member state has its own regulatory framework poses certain advantages to some and disadvantages to others.

Greece’s backing of Reding’s plans is believed to be to the country’s benefit. At her recent meeting with Karamanlis and Hatzidakis in Greece, Reding proposed that ETMA’s role be assumed by the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), which is headquartered in Iraklion, Crete.

She noted that the role of the existing agency would have to change, without however giving up its task of overseeing the security of electronic communications. Reding also promised that she would recommend to the Commission that ENISA’s operation, ending 2009, be extended for two more years. Many EU member state governments and agencies are against the plan, arguing that its location in Iraklion makes the agency especially hard to access.

EU nations endorse expansion of the borderless travel zone November 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Living, Tourism.
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Citizens from nine new EU member nations, most in Eastern Europe, will be able to travel passport-free to most other countries in the bloc as of December 21, after EU Justice and Interior Ministers yesterday endorsed landmark plans to lift border checks.

The decision follows through on a longstanding commitment to the nine EU countries that joined in 2004 that their citizens be allowed to take up full EU rights of free movement across the European Union without having to show identity papers at national borders.

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaueble said the decision also fulfills the dream of establishing a united Europe after the 1989 fall of the Iron Curtain. “It is of great importance to the new member states that the Iron Curtain is gone and that controls are abolished,” Schaueble said before the EU Ministers talks.

EU officials said the opening of the borders with the nine countries, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic and Malta, will be marked with ceremonies at various old border crossings one minute after midnight on December 21. The so-called Schengen borderless travel zone is one of the most popular EU policies, directly benefiting Europeans by allowing them to travel without having to stop at national borders.

Preparations have been under way for years for each of the nine nations that joined the bloc in 2004, to ensure their customs and border checks with non-European Union countries are in line with EU standards. The EU Ministers agreed that all nine applicants had met all EU conditions to join the zone. Border checks at airports would be dropped in March.

Several older members, including Austria, had insisted on keeping checks along its border with an area that extends from the Czech Republic in the north to Slovenia in the south, fearing the zone’s new eastern frontier will not meet EU standards in time. Joining the borderless travel area is important to the new EU members, most of them former communist nations, which see the freedom of movement within the Union as one of the basic liberties stemming from EU membership.

Cyprus, the 10th nation to join the EU, in 2004, has opted to keep some border checks and will stay out of the zone, along with the island nations of Britain and Ireland.

To expand the passport-free zone, the EU has had to revamp its border security system, which is run through a common EU computer database that allows participating states to share passport data on non-EU citizens who enter the Schengen zone.

The current Schengen countries are EU-members Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and non-EU members Iceland and Norway. Switzerland, which remains outside the EU bloc, is also set to join Schengen next year.

Minimum income proposed November 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy.
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Think-tank study puts initial cost of measure at around 500 million euros a year

Greece is the only country among the 15 European Union member states before enlargement that does not have a minimum guaranteed income (MGI), viewed as the most effective way of battling extreme poverty, although this is perfectly feasible, a think-tank report unveiled yesterday said.

The independent Centre for Planning and Economic Research (KEPE) is proposing the introduction of minimum guaranteed incomes of 330 euros for single people, which will rise to 990 euros for a family of four, as a basic tool of supporting the estimated 575,000 Greeks, or 5.4 percent of the population, who live under conditions of dire poverty.

“There is no doubt that the application of a minimum guaranteed income program is fully feasible in this country, possibly with limited cover and at a relatively low level initially,” said the report authored by Athanassios Balfousias and Constantinos Kotsis.

KEPE proposes that the basis for calculating MGI should be the basic pension for farmers, which will be 330 euros in 2008, called reference income. A couple will receive 660 euros, a family of three 835 euros and a family of four 990 euros.

In order for MGI not to work as a disincentive for work, the authors propose that 20 percent of income from work should not be calculated in the reference income. For instance, if the total income from work of a four-member family is 800 euros, for the purposes of granting the MGI supplement, it would be calculated as 20 percent lower, that is 640 euros, requiring an addition of 350 euros to reach the reference income of 990 euros.

The authors note that there is a problem in calculating real incomes because of extensive tax evasion, but also due to the fact that the people for whom such a program is designed do not submit annual income declarations to tax authorities. This applies to the majority of farmers, for instance.

The report proposes that initially those entitled to the MGI supplement should be permanent residents of Greece and be citizens of an EU member country. Immigrants with residence and work permits may be included later.

Those receiving the MGI supplement should be available to work whenever asked, if the place of work is reasonably near their residence and the type of work compatible with their skills. If for any reason it is not possible for recipients to be absorbed in some type of occupation or a training program, they would be placed in social work programs run by municipal authorities or other agencies.

The cost of the MGI program to the state budget is estimated at about 450 to 550 million, at 2006 prices. The sources of funding would include the state budget and European Union funds, but it could also be financed from a partial restructuring of social spending, the abolition of tax privileges and exemptions, and the imposition of some other levy on high incomes.

The two researchers argue that the MGI program would strengthen the social safety net which is currently full of holes, should be combined with active employment policies and aim at the eventual financial independence of the recipients.