Η ΠΑΡΑΚΜΗ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΙΝΟΒΟΥΛΕΥΤΙΣΜΟΥ

                                    Η ΠΑΡΑΚΜΗ ΤΟΥ ΚΟΙΝΟΒΟΥΛΕΥΤΙΣΜΟΥ

Oι βουλευτές στην Ελλάδα έχουν μετατραπεί σε διακοσμητικό ουσιαστικά στοιχείο. Στις ερωτήσεις τους οι υπουργοί σπάνια απαντούν. Και συνήθως το πράγμα ξεχνιέται. O πρώην βουλευτής Ψαχαρόπουλος έχει ετοιμάσει ένα ενδιαφέρον βιβλίο με τίτλο «Oι Bουλευτές Eρωτούν και οι Yπουργοί δεν Aπαντούν».

Eπίσης συχνά οι απαντήσεις είναι ανεπαρκέστατες. Eνσωματώνουν τον σχολιασμό κάποιου προέδρου φορέα, και ούτε γάτα ούτε ζημιά. Mε τον προηγούμενο κανονισμό αν ο υπουργός δεν απαντούσε σε 15 ημέρες, τότε η ερώτηση μετατρεπόταν αυτόματα σε επερώτηση και πήγαινε κατ ευθείαν σε συζήτηση στη Bουλή. Tώρα κι αυτό καταργήθηκε.

Mόνο οι επίκαιρες ερωτήσεις έχουν ελπίδα να ακουσθούν, αλλά μόνο αν τις εγκρίνουν τα κόμματα και η περίφημη «Διάσκεψη των Προέδρων». Kαθαρά ελληνοβαλκανικής έπνευσης θεσμός η «Διάσκεψη» αποφασίζει σε πόσες συνεδριάσεις της αρμόδιας Eπιτροπής και της Oλομέλειας της Bουλής (σπανιότατα σε παραπάνω από 3 συνεδριάσεις) θα συζητηθεί κάποιο νομοσχέδιο. Για το οποίο ενδεχόμενα έχουν εργασθεί ειδικοί επιστήμονες για μήνες ολόκληρους! Και οι βουλευτές τελικά το «επεξεργάζονται» σε δύο η τρείς μοναχά συνεδριάσεις!! Eχουμε επίσης έτσι το απίθανο φαινόμενο να εγγράφονται βουλευτές επί της Aρχής του νομοσχεδίου και, λόγω έλλειψης χρόνου, να παίρνουν τον λόγο και να ομιλούν για ένα σχέδιο αφού έχει ήδη κατ’ αρχήν ψηφισθεί. Αλλά και με τα μισά του άρθρα ήδη ψηφισμένα..

Eπίσης η Διάσκεψη αποφασίζει ποιες επερωτήσεις θα συζητηθούν -δεν πάνε δηλ. με σειρά κατάθεσης όπως παλιά, αλλά με βάση τις θελήσεις της κομματικής νομενκλατούρας- και ποιες επίκαιρες ερωτήσεις. Aλλά και στις επίκαιρες ακόμη η διαδικασία εξοντώνει τον βουλευτή.

O πρόεδρος διαβάζει το κείμενο της ερώτησης (ο βουλευτής δηλ. δεν παίρνει τον λόγο), ο υπουργός απαντά για 2 λεπτά, ο βουλευτής παίρνει τον λόγο για άλλα 2 λεπτά, και κλείνει βέβαια ο υπουργός με 2 ακόμη λεπτά, που συνήθως με την ανοχή του προεδρείου παραβιάζει. Eνας απλός βουλευτής που δεν χαίρει της υποστήριξης - και της προστασίας - της κομματικής ιεραρχίας είναι σχεδόν απόλυτα φιμωμένος.

Eκεί όμως που το πράγμα είναι σχεδόν τραγικό, είναι στις μοναδικές πια σήμερα ενδιαφέρουσες συζητήσεις της Bουλής, αυτές επί επιπέδου αρχηγών κομμάτων.

Oι βουλευτές εκεί επιτρέπεται μοναχά να ακούν και να χειροκροτούν. Σαν γλάστρες σε τηλεοπτική εκπομπή. Aπαγορεύεται να αποδοκιμάσουν, να ερωτήσουν ή να μιλήσουν. Mόνο να χειροκροτήσουν επιδοκιμαστικά μπορούν. Aλλα και στα νομοσχέδια οι δυνατότητές τους είναι απελπιστικά περιορισμένες με βάση τον κομματοβαρή κανονισμό του κ. Kακλαμάνη που όμως χαϊδεύει και η NΔ.

Πέραν των όσων ανέφερα για τον περιορισμό των ωρών συνεδριάσεων, αν ένας βουλευτής τύχει να εγγραφεί (ηλεκτρονικά πάντα) σε κάπως καλή σειρά (να μη μιλήσει δηλ. μεταξύ 12 - 3 τα ξημερώματα) οφείλει να ακολουθήσει τους εισηγητές των κομμάτων, τους όποιους ειδικούς αγορητές αυτά αποφασίσουν να ορίσουν, τους κοινοβουλευτικούς εκπροσώπους και ενδεχόμενα όποιους υπουργούς αποφασίσουν να εμπλακούν στη συζήτηση και τις ανταπαντήσεις των κοινοβουλευτικών εκπροσώπων. Δηλ. ο «τυχερός» βουλευτής θα μιλήσει γύρω στις 10-11μ.μ. σε κενό συνήθως ακροατήριο, ενώ και οι περίπου 300 θα έχουν υπογράψει πως είναι παρόντες!.. Tραγελαφικές καταστάσεις, δηλαδή.

Για αυτό ίσως τους θέλουν τους βουλευτές κι’ ανεπάγγελτους. Για να μην μπορούν να διαμαρτύρονται, να είναι ουσιαστικά υπάλληλοι των κομμάτων και να ελπίζουν στην επανεκλογή τους για να εξασφαλίζουν τα προς το ζήν. Κάποιοι βέβαια εξασφαλίζουν περιέργως άνετη διαβίωση και πλούσιες προεκλογικές δαπάνες. Μαγική εικόνα. Ποιός θα την ξεδιαλύνει;


 

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Distorted Competition - Αn Impediment to Growth

                 Distorted Competition - Αn Impediment to Growth

GENERAL GUIDELINS

Competition is the economic foundation of market economies.
Competition is regulated by antitrust or competition law.

Ultimate goal of antitrust and competition law is to protect consumer welfare through protecting competition (and not the competitors).

This allows choices, low prices, increased output, high quality, and enhanced innovation for consumer welfare. Economic efficiencies supporting consumer welfare are favored.

U.S. “Free and fair competition” (FTC Act).

E.U. “A single market where competition is free and
undistorted” (Draft EU Constitution).


Principal Areas of Competition Distortion
- Conspiracies (i.e. plots) and agreements to restrain trade or competition, such as cartels (typically price-fixing and market allocation schemes) are prohibited.
- Abuses of dominant position or market power, such as bundling or tying products, are prohibited.
- Concentrations through mergers and acquisitions likely leading to dominance are regulated
- Position and Powers of monopolistic Natural Monopolies
- State Aids (Public Subsidies)


Comments

It is essential for any ambitious policy of economic growth to establish firm rules of free and unhindered competition in the workings of its markets. The full development of market forces and the realization of all possible benefits of an open economy rely to a substantial extent upon the application of free competition practices. It is beyond ideological inflexibility and preconceived socio-economic dogma to assert that the benefit of consumers and the fulfillment of a viable and stable socioeconomic order can most certainly achieved through the implementation of policies that encompass a really open and free competition regime.

The ultimate objective of all economic policies is the welfare of a country’s citizens. And this can be realized only by means of guaranteeing popular satisfaction with the condition of the economy, with the transparency of the state’s (and, consequently, the taxpayers’) finance, with hopeful prospects and expectations for a prosperous future.

Within the context of a modern economy, obliged to compete in an environment of an essentially globalized worldwide open market, there are several options to be followed for success to be ultimately attained. The economy has to be open. So that investment can flow in, new technologies attained, modern projects initiated and the market forces achieve a balanced level of activities. The private sector of the economy has to be enlarged thorough privatization and the reduction of state monopolies. This policy enhances the possibilities of more vigorous economic action, expands the state’s finances by means of extending the available tax basis and opens more possibilities for new initiatives, innovation and modern entrepreneurial practices which add dynamism and tremendous potentiality to the furthering of growth and economic development. Productivity levels finally have to be raised. So that the country should be able to compete efficiently on the international economic arena at almost every level of financial endeavor. High productivity is the measure on the basis of which countries achieve satisfactory levels of growth and attain rapid rhythms of development.

To attain however high productivity levels it is more than essential for an economic regime to establish free and open competition practices. Any disruption of competition rules and any violation of its root concepts and characteristics undermines the smooth working of the market and diminishes the prospects of high productivity results. It is therefore imperative that competition rules should be clear, all encompassing, universally – within the context of a national economy of course - applicable and with as few as possible exceptions tolerated. And by means of exceptions an overtly open and sincere competition concept should consider all state policies that undermine free marker procedures, offer protection to specific segments of the economy, allows for unwarranted state intrusions to the functions of the market and hinder unobstructed competition policies.

It is therefore important to ensure competition in the domestic market. In theory, competition expels inefficient enterprises from the market, helps remaining enterprises increase their efficiency and competitiveness, and, as a result, contributes to achieving economic growth. In practice, industries facing vigorous competition in domestic market are more successful than those protected by regulations. Some may still believe that, e.g., Japan achieved a dramatic growth in the post-war period because the government and enterprises worked together as "Japan Inc." in promoting industrial policy. Contrary to the belief, however, there has been severe competition among domestic enterprises in the automobile, semiconductor and some other industries that were the driving force behind the economic growth. Conversely, inefficient enterprises have been protected in Japan by regulators and have lost their competitiveness during recession in areas such as financial and transportation services. The government did restrict competition in some industrial fields by introducing exemptions from competition law enforcement. Yet it did so in declining industrial fields that lost international competitiveness, such as textile, fertilizer and sugar.
It has also been noted that state monopoly, state-owned enterprises and conglomerates tend to become inefficient because of irresponsible management and the lack of competition. One might argue that domestic situations of each economy be taken into account in discussing whether they should be retained. It has been widely recognized, in particular, that state-owned enterprises are vital to build infrastructure such as transportation and communication network and public utility. Governments have traditionally played a leading role in building infrastructure because of its public nature and economic scale. Sometimes the duplication of investments in plants and equipment or other market failures have also prompted the government's role. However, due to the recent technological innovation and economic globalization, it has become feasible, even imperative, to introduce competition in this area as well.
Political and social impact of competition policy.
It is claimed that competition policy could lead to increased unemployment and endanger incumbent industries and enterprises, including regional small and medium-sized ones and that political and social context generated by competition policy cannot be ignored.
Since competition policy expels inefficient enterprises from the market, bankruptcy and unemployment would most likely occur. Such costs of competition policy cannot be ignored in a political and social context. This is true not only in developing economies but also in developed economies. However, it should also be noted that anti-competitive practices, if overlooked, would raise prices, thereby impose excessive burdens on consumers and user industries and ultimately hamper the growth of national economic welfare.
As for the political and social impacts of competition policy one can arrive to the following observations. A desirable approach would be to increase national economic welfare by actively implementing competition policy on the one hand and to minimize its negative impact on the other, by creating new industries, promoting job mobility and providing relief measures for the unemployed as well as taking income reallocation policies to the extent permitted by social consensus. In doing so, the government should explain to the business circles and the general public to deepen their understanding on that competition policy would produce more economic advantage than disadvantage in the long run, and that the short-run cost of competition policy could be compensated by taking appropriate counter-measures without suspending competition policy.
Some would say that competition policy should be implemented after achieving economic growth through industrial policy. Others who are more liberal would argue that competition policy should be introduced after trade liberalization, which would realize economic growth. The former view, "first development by industrial policy, then competition policy", attaches priority to the promotion of domestic capital rather than the introduction of foreign capital as a means to economic growth. Behind this view lies not only the desire to have domestic enterprises that they can boast of to the world, but also distrust against foreign enterprises. In other words, they believe that domestic enterprises commit themselves to the economic growth of the country, while multinational enterprises from developed economies could contribute to it to some extent but withdraw from the market once they regard it unfavourable.
The latter view of "first trade liberalization, then competition policy", it seems to be based on a thinking that trade liberalization would increase players in the domestic market and leave less room for anti-competitive practices, thereby playing an alternative role to competition policy.
In response to them, one should explain the relationship between competition policy and industrial policy and that between competition policy and trade liberalization policy. Further, import restriction policy should be mentioned, export promotion policy and government regulations in light of their relevance to competition policy, respectively.

First, there is a fundamental question of how far the government support for domestic enterprises would help economic growth. Such a policy may contribute to the expansion of the scale of an enterprise and enhance the national prestige. However, the scale is not directly related to profitability or growth of the enterprise. They have little incentive for efficient management unless they are exposed to competition in the domestic market. Therefore, large enterprises are not necessarily competitive in the export market, either. Nor do they contribute to economic growth or inflow of foreign capital.
The relationship also between competition policy and trade liberalization is important. There is no doubt that an increasing number of players brought about by trade liberalization reduce the room for anti-competitive practices in the market. In this sense, trade liberalization complements competition policy. However, because successive trade liberalization has diminished tariffs and other border measures, anti-competitive activities across the national border are increasing, and activities in foreign economies sometimes affect one's own market. Furthermore, it should be noted that non-tradable goods or tradable goods with high transportation costs would face no real competition with imports. And even the competition of tradable goods could be affected by existing government measures such as regulations, standards and license requirements. For these reasons, it is obviously not true the assertion that trade liberalization can justify the moratorium on competition policy.
The promotion of competition policy in domestic market should likewise be considered separately from the diminishing of trade barriers. In other words, removal of anti-competitive practices and expansion of the coverage of competition laws are two separate issues. In fact, competition policy becomes more important for economic growth in closed markets that cannot have the benefit of trade liberalization. Therefore, it is necessary to make efforts to implement competition policy regardless of the degree of trade liberalization.
The relationship between competition policy and export promotion policy including export subsidies is also very important. Export promotion policy would help domestic export-oriented enterprises grow by expanding their market. At the same time, to improve the ability to negotiate with their trading partners on the sale of their goods, such enterprises may be tempted to realize concentration. If they are successful in increasing the volume of their exports, they might be obliged to take measures to restrict competition in export markets, by forming an export cartel or by imposing a voluntary export restraint in order to avoid friction with the importing economies. Furthermore, domestic enterprises could collude to keep the export price significantly lower than the domestic price in order to promote their exports. Such practices apparently run counter to competition law and policy.
Finally, it is desirable that government regulations be constantly reviewed because they limit the scope of the domestic market and the number of players, domestic or foreign. As was widely recognized in the WTO working group on trade and competition, advocacy of competition policy could play a major role in regulatory reform in developing economies.









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REMARKS BY ANDREAS ANDRIANOPOULOS

                    Competition Takes Root in Russian Economy

Opening Remarks By Andreas Andrianopoulos
MP, Former Minister of Industry and Energy, Greek Republic
Team Leader, Competition Project, Tacis Program in Russia

It is essential for any ambitious policy of economic growth to establish firm rules of free and unhindered competition in the workings of its markets. The full development of market forces and the realization of all possible benefits of an open economy rely to a substantial extent upon the application of free competition practices. It is beyond ideological inflexibility and preconceived socio-economic dogma to assert that the benefit of consumers and the fulfillment of a viable and stable socioeconomic order can most certainly achieved through the implementation of policies that encompass a really open and free competition regime.

The ultimate objective of all economic policies is the welfare of a country’s citizens. And this can be realized only by means of guaranteeing popular satisfaction with the condition of the economy, with the transparency of the state’s (and, consequently, the taxpayers’) finance, with hopeful prospects and expectations for a prosperous future.

Within the context of a modern economy, obliged to compete in an environment of an essentially globalized worldwide open market, there are several options to be followed for success to be ultimately attained. The economy has to be open. So that investment can flow in, new technologies attained, modern projects initiated and the market forces achieve a balanced level of activities. The private sector of the economy has to be enlarged thorough privatization and the reduction of state monopolies. This policy enhances the possibilities of more vigorous economic action, expands the state’s finances by means of extending the available tax basis and opens more possibilities for new initiatives, innovation and modern entrepreneurial practices which add dynamism and tremendous potentiality to the furthering of growth and economic development. Productivity levels finally have to be raised. So that the country should be able to compete efficiently on the international economic arena at almost every level of financial endeavor. High productivity is the measure on the basis of which countries achieve satisfactory levels of growth and attain rapid rhythms of development.

To attain however high productivity levels it is more than essential for an economic regime to establish free and open competition practices. Any disruption of competition rules and any violation of its root concepts and characteristics undermines the smooth working of the market and diminishes the prospects of high productivity results. It is therefore imperative that competition rules should be clear, all encompassing, universally – within the context of a national economy of course - applicable and with as few as possible exceptions tolerated. And by means of exceptions an overtly open and sincere competition concept should consider all state policies that undermine free marker procedures, offer protection to specific segments of the economy, allows for unwarranted state intrusions to the functions of the market and hinder unobstructed competition policies.

It is with great satisfaction that one can observe the appropriate administrative departments of the Russian Federation to have embarked upon a process of adopting vigorous competition principles and embodying them in their legal state framework. During the past year the official competition public watchdog, the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service (FAS), have initiated a number of steps which aim at harmonizing the Russian market reality with the European Union competition rules and practices. Although one should not overlook the inherent difficulties in attempting to bring the realities of a transition economy to the practices of a large union of mature market economies, it is nevertheless not less than impressive the progress that has been made in altering the Russian legal framework by means of the new competition law introduced by FAS and voted by the Duma.

For the first time stern measures controlling state aids have been introduced. The natural monopolies have been placed in close observation by the anti-monopoly agency while steps have been taken and the discussion has started for the introduction of independent Regulatory bodies. Likewise, the possibility for introduction of block exemptions has been initiated while various measures are foreseen to tackle violations of competition law by executive bodies and to introduce more comprehensive rules as to the inspection of mergers and acquisitions and the safeguard of smooth marker functioning.

It is evidence of the progress herewith achieved that the Russian market has proceeded during the last year in a robust and healthy march and that foreign investment appears to have started strongly to enter the economy. This year has witnessed the largest inflow of foreign investment in the country, despite the problems that still exist, especially in the energy sector. Foreign direct investment in Russia rose to $64.1 billion in 2006, up 4.4 percent year-on-year, Russia's Federal Statistics Service said Nov. 20. Accrued foreign investment for 2006 reached $130 billion, up 34.8 percent year-on-year.

To a large extent the eagerness that FAS has shown to tackle existing and arising problems in market concentrations and monopoly formations has contributed to some extent in the process. Many observers were pleasantly surprised by the determination shown by the FAS leadership to intervene and closely inspect major movements that stir up the market. A case in hand has been the statement by the FAS Head Mr. Igor Artemyev concerning the proposed merger between RusAL and SUAL that "The process will not be a fast one," and that "An application will be examined in accordance with the new law."
Likewise, Russia is earning a very positive reputation among international economic circles as far as its economic potential is concerned. It is not accidental that the reputable Goldman Sachs international firm of consultants and investment bankers went out of their way to deny a relatively negative exposure of Russia’ economic potential in a FT article by insisting that if (the country) “can use its current wealth to diversify its future, and move to reduce inflation gradually …its economic future may be brighter than many perceive” (FT Dec. 6, 2006).

All these positive outcomes have not emerged naturally from competition policy alone. But the implementation of new competition rules enables the economy to drive energetically forward and clears the market environment for serious investment edeavours. Thus emanates the optimism for an even better outcome in the future.

                             Lessons Learned from the Project

Andreas Andrianopoulos

Consulting the government of the Russian Federation on critical economic issues has been a rewarding and mind enhancing experience. It has been rewarding because it is not common to be present, close to decision making mechanisms, during a society’s rapid change. The duration of the project coincided with Russia’s transformation from a disaster prone and unstable economy and society to a robust state, consolidating power and accumulating economic strength. Russia became a world power again exploiting its immense natural resources and becoming pivotal for sustaining global energy security. Within this context discovering the internal workings of the Russian administration, understanding processes and power sharing and implementation mechanisms and unearthing the real procedures behind rule making and adjudication has been of paramount importance.

The Russian government operates essentially on three parallel levels. The cabinet deals with all major issues related to the Ministries under direct Prime Minister control. There are also certain government departments, mainly the ones dealing with security, foreign policy and the armed forces that fall directly under central Kremlin control. Finally, all decisions pertaining to legal initiatives, before they are sent to the Duma for debate and final vote, need to earn the approval of the Presidential Administration. It is therefore a lengthy process, touching upon many agencies and departments, before a proposal or legal initiative is presented in Parliament (Duma) and becomes federal law.

Likewise, the process of working in Russia and coming in contact with people and institutions was a knowledge enhancing experience. Getting acquainted with a new and, for many of us in the West, different culture made us realize that processes and institutions do not go hand in hand with overall economic development. There is an overall lack of trust not only towards foreigners and strangers but also among Russians, of various political and social standing, themselves. Earning the trust of institutional representatives is not a light experience. After an atmosphere of confidence has been established however things run very smoothly and Russians, members of the administrative machine or representatives of the private sector, are open and very cooperative.

Working in the Russian provinces projects a substantial difference as far as peoples’ attitudes are concerned. Life there is less intense, substantial opportunities exist for more relaxed discussions on issues of major importance and pundits are more disposed to unveil their views on existing problems and on what must be done about them. Laws can be enacted but implementation relies to a very large extent on regional authorities and individual local bureaucrats. The more informed therefore cadres are in the regions the more possible reform can be materialized. This lesson we drew from the project application appears to be valid for far beyond the borders of the Russian Federation.



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COMPETITION, GROWTH AND THE PROSPECTS OF THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY

COMPETITION, GROWTH AND THE PROSPECTS OF THE RUSSIAN ECONOMY

It is essential for any ambitious policy of economic growth to establish firm rules of free and unhindered competition in the workings of its markets. The full development of market forces and the realization of all possible benefits of an open economy rely to a substantial extent upon the application of free competition practices. It is beyond ideological inflexibility and preconceived socio-economic dogma to assert that the benefit of consumers and the fulfillment of a viable and stable socioeconomic order can most certainly be achieved through the implementation of policies that encompass a really open and free competition regime.

The ultimate objective of all economic policies is the welfare of a country’s citizens. And this can be realized only by means of guaranteeing popular satisfaction with the condition of the economy, with the transparency of the state’s (and, consequently, the taxpayers’) finance, with hopeful prospects and expectations for a prosperous future.

Within the context of a modern economy, obliged to compete in an environment of an essentially globalized worldwide open market, there are several options to be followed for success to be ultimately attained. The economy has to be open. So that investment can flow in, new technologies attained, modern projects initiated and the market forces achieve a balanced level of activities. The private sector of the economy has to be enlarged thorough privatization and the reduction of state monopolies. This policy enhances the possibilities of more vigorous economic action, expands the state’s finances by means of extending the available tax basis and opens more possibilities for new initiatives, innovation and modern entrepreneurial practices which add dynamism and tremendous potentiality to the furthering of growth and economic development. Productivity levels finally have to be raised. So that the country should be able to compete efficiently on the international economic arena at almost every level of financial endeavor. High productivity is the measure on the basis of which countries achieve satisfactory levels of growth and attain rapid rhythms of development.

To attain however high productivity levels it is more than essential for an economic regime to establish free and open competition practices. Any disruption of competition rules and any violation of its root concepts and characteristics undermines the smooth working of the market and diminishes the prospects of high productivity results. It is therefore imperative that competition rules should be clear, all encompassing, universally – within the context of a national economy of course - applicable and with as few as possible exceptions tolerated. And by means of exceptions an overtly open and sincere competition concept should consider all state policies that undermine free marker procedures, offer protection to specific segments of the economy, allows for unwarranted state intrusions to the functions of the market and hinder unobstructed competition policies.

Henceforth, it is not surprising that the European Union has established rules that extend the application of competition obligations to companies that operate within the Union’s market confines but have their ownership established on foreign soil. US enterprises are therefore obliged to adhere to EU competition rules during their operations there. And face the economic consequences of any violation that they have exercised. Heavy fines may be adjudicated and the companies are obliged to pay if they wish to continue doing business within the Union’s economic space.

Likewise, Russian companies for example, are bound by European Union guidelines if they establish enterpreneurial operations there. The rules that apply to indigenous EU companies will inevitably be exercised to all foreign enterprises, irrespective of the established norms at their country of origin. Vertical integration of business activities will not easily be tolerated while monopolizing the supply of goods and dominating distribution markets will be heavily penalized. It is indicative of the described process the position recently disclosed of the Belgian energy regulator Commission de Regulation de l' Electricite et du Gaz (CREG) opposing a plan by Belgian energy company Fluxys and Russian state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom to build a 500 million cubic meter underground natural gas storage site at Poederlee for the distribution of Russian natural gas to Belgium and neighboring countries. CREG has advised the companies to restart project negotiations, offering some of the capacity to Belgium's four other operators that supply natural gas to residences. Following this advice, Gazprom and Fluxys made a new proposal to the Belgian energy minister, under which 25 percent of the capacity would be available to third parties. CREG believes the facilities should be used for domestic residential consumption rather than for export. Gazprom currently exports less than 1 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Belgium, and that only began in 2006. This is the way – fostering competition - that the EU aims to expand the dynamism of its economy and adhere to a really free market regime. It is widely believed that any obstacle to real competition may hinder the region’s efforts for sustained economic growth.

Practices of Competition Distortion

Within the above described context there are many government activities in the Russian economy that directly or indirectly impede the full application of an absolutely free competition environment. And thus contribute to the development of economic dysfunctions, growth impediments and difficulties for really antagonistic trade and business practices to emerge and flourish. As a result the final pursuit of rapid growth, not boosted by high oil prices , remains illusive and unattainable and the society’s ills and miseries are not banished nor radically curtailed.

It is customary under similar circumstances, i.e when a limited share of economic activity is left to the market and there are serious obstacles to the application of genuine and free competition practices, the blame of the unsatisfactory end results to be attributes to the, so called, open economy. While it is exactly the obstacles imposed upon its functions by overt or covert state intervention procedures that contribute to the unwelcome outcome.

To formulate therefore an efficient competition policy concept we should at first attempt to specify existing market dysfunctions that today hinder the process of growth and are holding the economy back from a rapid expansion. Then we should address a number of policy initiatives that impose problems upon a really free competition regime. And finally, we will proceed to recommend a number of policy initiatives that will most probably encourage the full and unobtrusive application of real competition rules in the economy.

Without getting into specific details there can be acute observations that locate problems and deficiencies that badly influence free competition. In the case of the Russian Federation many decades of strict central control of the economy and a heavy legacy of state planning and non-existent free market mechanisms had left a heavy burden of competition distortion practices. Overlooking the problems imposed by such realities renders it almost impossible for a truly free competition regime to be installed. The main areas where such distortions of competition are observed are almost all of them related to the functioning of the state. Taxation avoidance or granted exceptions , direct or indirect subsidization, bureaucratic hustle, illegal imports, toleration of fake products, unfair procurement allocations and purposeful harassment by various state agencies are some of the most important cases that lead to serious competition distortion.

When government decides to subsidize some public, semi-private and private firms and not their competitors intervenes in the workings of the market and hampers competition. This usually happens on the justification of alleviating social problems which would endure if an enterprise – usually gigantic and dominating the economy of a region or a
local community – is threatened with bankruptcy and closure. The spectre of local or
regional unemployment forces government agencies to intervene and discover ways to
salvage the firm. Smaller healthy firms however cannot under similar circumstances efficiently compete and survive under pure market terms.

This process of subsidization can take various forms. It is not always necessary for public money to directly fill the coffers of the troubled enterprise. Not paying taxes without the consequences of direct state sanctions is an indirect way of financial support. The case of the confrontation between Rosneft and Nenets governor Alexei Barinov, over the state-owned oil major’s outright refusal to pay a 900 million ruble tax debt, is indicative of situations such as this. A similar case is the abrupt reduction of Yuganskneftegaz’s tax bill by a Moscow court in April 2006. Yuganskneftegaz is a production unit recently acquired by state owned Rosneft from troubled Yukos. The back taxes this company owed while belonging to Yukos were reaching $4.7 billion dollars. This tax bill was reduced, according to a statement from Rosneft, by the Russian court to about $700,000 !!

Another means of assistance is the provision of electrical power by the local or regional electrical company – usually controlled by the Local Government body. And bartering (for purchase of raw materials or settling electrical, water and gas bills) by means of unjustifiably overvalued goods produced by the local firm, still in some (rare) cases comprises a way of keeping an essentially bankrupt enterprise in business.
In a similar way competition is distorted when – usually – local and regional governments offer contracts to some enterprises and not to others. Competitors are driven out of the market and prices are formed in an unnatural way when costs are soaring and the state appears to believe that direct control of drilling and distributive activities will provide higher returns for the Russian economy than the ones envisaged from foreign investors now involved in the aforementioned projects (in Sakhalin-1 and Skahalin-2, predominantly). However, the Russian mastermind of the PSA concept, Mikhail Subbotin, who is currently the director of the CRP-Ekspertiza consulting company in Moscow, reiterated in an article at the economic newspaper Vedomosti (reproduced in Moscow Times, October 25, 2006) that similar arguments are at least absurd and contribute, in the final analysis, to “an unscrupulous approach to competition”.

Likewise, it is to the detriment of free competition when bureaucratic hurdles are raised to prohibit firms from achieving their goals while making life easier for their competitors. There is an unfair advantage for businesses that are facilitated in their way around red tape while their competitors are struck down by bureaucratic inefficiency or purposeful feet dragging. There can never be a regime of genuine competition unless the rules of the game are the same for all entrants, corruption is cut to a minimum and regulations (inspections, permits, certificates) are limited to a level where bureaucratic involvement is minimal.

A serious issue of competition violation is the toleration of lots of various legal or semi-legal commercial outlets. By avoiding the taxman and by sometimes providing customers with counterfeit, fake or unlicensed products these semi-clandestine operators undermine the ability of well-organized and legitimate competitors to survive profitably in the market. It is impossible, for example, for a serious food chain to compete in a market where hundreds of street or borough vendors operate outside the tax collecting system, without product quality control or health provisions and free of import duty obligations. The same is true in cases of publication copyright infringements or intellectual property violations when legitimate competitors have to function under conditions of strict adherence to the law. In all these circumstances competition is violently disregarded undermining overall productivity and creating an inefficient and demand then few resources are able to move to the private sector while bottlenecks and shortages are created in the public sector. Moving half way from a centrally controlled command economy – through partial and hesitant reform – to a proper market economy usually produces economic dysfunctions and sometimes leads to the collapse of output. dysfunctional market.

De-Politicization of the Economy

It is quite clear that all the above competition distortions are not related directly to the content and jurisdiction of the existing or under review competition legislation. They are merely byproducts or end results of existing political and social conditions. It is inevitable however that one must take these conditions under consideration when discussing competition issues in the Russian Federation. Politics is an essential ingredient for the functioning of all legislative regimes as well as for the character shown by national markets. Politicization of the economy , for example, is a common feature in situations in which competition is distorted and markets operate under conditions of unfairness and burdensome state involvement. It is inevitable, ie, that when public agencies set prices for the services rendered or products provided by state monopolies (or official prices between state firms) with little respect to market forces and consumer preferences few resources move to the private sector. And when they do bottlenecks are created and shortages appear in the public sector. When the transition from a centrally controlled command economy to open markets is hesitant and half hearted the final result is usually dysfunction and collapse of output.

The essential problem is to devise ways in which politicians can no longer influence the economy and are able to impose practices that favor their constituencies over the health of the economy as a whole. One step to this direction is rapid and widespread privatization. Limiting the role of the state in the owning of economic assets and playing a role in market behavior makes it much more expensive for politicians to influence firms. Privatization reduces the amount of inefficiency that firms accept to satisfy political desires but, nevertheless, it does not make by itself firms fully efficient.

By creating product market competition corporate governance is improved and political control is almost entirely diminished. When, for example, private firms continue to receive subsidies in exchange for sustaining employment they are pursuing political and not profit enhancing objectives. With product market competition de-politicization evolves rapidly. When firms face efficient rivals they either have to become efficient themselves or face the prospect of bankruptcy. Because, to keep an inefficient private firm afloat by means of state subsidies is much more expensive than sustaining by means of state aids an inefficient monopoly that can waste large monopoly rents and assets before it begins to lose money heavily.

However, political notables realize that product market competition raises the cost of exerting influence in the economy and they directly or indirectly intervene to restrict
competition by political action. The most common way of political intervention to restrict competition is through the justification of protecting national, and long established, firms from domestic and foreign competition. This extends frequently to bankruptcy procedures which become politicized leading to the “rehabilitation” of incompetent enterprises rather than being allowed to “go under”.

Great strides towards the complete de-politicization of the economy can be achieved by means of opening up the market to a genuine competition regime. This can be achieved by encouraging domestic competition at every level of economic activity and by opening up the economy to the winds of international trade.

Excessive Concentration of Economic Strength Under the State

Within the context of serious distortions to the competition policy pivotal role is played of course by any steps taken to enlarge the involvement of the state in controlling significant segments of the economy. De-politicization cannot really be effected nor state intervention in the market can be minimized when huge business concerns fall back in the hands of the government. The state instead of being rolled back from getting involved in the economy there are signs that extends its implication in the market place. There are of course defensible political justifications for such political initiatives. The restoration of the power of a crumbling state machine, the strengthening of a weakened public image and the re-concentration in the hands of the public sector of the control of the most important national resources.

Nevertheless, from the view point of enhancing productivity and achieving rapid rates of economic growth such policies do not contribute to the desired final goal. The exclusion of foreign involvement in segments of the market, the maintenance of semi-private or public monopolies in vital sectors of the economy and the designing of entrepreneurial schemes that lead to the concentration under the control of the state of crucial heavy industries in the fields of energy, gas and metallurgy have serious negative effects. Such policies have the undesirable result to stifle competition, impair the flow of foreign investment and to undermine the future competitive efficiency of the concerned firms.

Gas

There are many cases that prove the above point. The giant monopoly gas company Gazprom has been suggested that may face serious shortages in its production output in the not so far future. According to the views of the executive director of the International Energy Agency Gazprom may be unable to meet its supply commitments by the end of the decade because of a lack of investment. Based on the IEA data its leadership maintains that “in the coming years Gazprom will not have enough gas to supply even their existing customers and existing contracts”. And this is because, “Gazprom is not investing enough”. Former Russian deputy energy minister Vladimir Milov has also insisted that there exists inefficiency in the company which would lead Russia to be short of about 100 billion cubic meters of gas by 2010. The problem for Russia is that new projects such as the Shtokman field in the Arctic has been repeatedly delayed, Milov said, and Gazprom’s policy to lock in extra supplies from Central Asia is impossible to cover the emerging gap. As a result, the maintenance of strict state monopoly over gas leads to reduced investment, inefficient productivity performance and, finally, to serious production drawbacks. Even Gazprom’s own think tank NIIGazekonomika (Research Institute for the Economics of the Gas Industry), has recently warned, in a study concluded at the end of 2005, that in a few years the volumes of gas consumed by Russia itself will so much multiply that deposits available for export will be minimal . Gazprom’s european clients will thus be forced to look to
other energy sources, namely in Central Asia. For Russia, the study insists, the main problem will be a huge loss of needed foreign currency reserves. It is therefore imperative, the NIIgazekonomika study recommends, to encourage the exploration of new gas fields so that production will not stall .
It is indicative that EU energy officials have urged the Russian government to break up Gazprom’s gas export monopoly and to ratify the Energy Charter. If this happens third party access to Russian gas export routes will be allowed and thus new investment will flow into the country while genuine competition will pertain in this field of business activity. However, the prospects for something like this happening are very dim. Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller told the World Gas Congress in Amsterdam recently that his company has no intention of ending its monopoly over Russia's pipeline system, as the EU has demanded, the daily "Kommersant" reported on June 7 of this year. According to the same newspaper’s March 3 issue, energy paragons close to Russian President Vladimir Putin were pressing for the creation of a single, state-owned pipeline company, which would include both oil and gas pipelines and which would be under their control. Analysts have suggested that the immediate goal could be the merger of Transneft with Transnefteprodukt, the state-owned oil-products pipeline company, and SG-Trans, the state-owned Liquid Natural Gas transport company, along with a 24 percent stake in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, a private pipeline that transports oil from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea. The result would be a single state-owned pipeline company.
To add further validity to the above speculation on October 19, 2006, the economic newspaper Kommersant reported that The Federal Energy Agency has proposed an increase in state control over the Chevron-led oil pipeline from Kazakhstan to the Black Sea (CPC) so that the state can get revenues from the project sooner. Such a move would mean that the fees it charges oil firms using the pipeline would be set by the Federal Tariffs Service. Up to now the fees have been set by private shareholders, which also include BP, Royal Dutch Shell, LUKoil and Rosneft. Kommersant said if Russia were to declare the pipeline a monopoly, long litigation would follow, as CPC believes its agreement with Russia precludes such a move. Officials argue the agreement was never ratified by the parliament. So it appears that further difficulties loom in the future for another privately run energy project.
As a result of this climate of opinion it came as no surprise that the Russian President Vladimir Putin signed, a day almost after the G8 meeting in St. Petersburgh where voices urging Russia to end Gazprom’ monopoly over gas pipelines were raised, a law voted by the State Duma safeguarding the giant gas company’s monopoly rights. It appears however that even Russian companies, and not only competition practices and sound economics, face problems with this latest stipulation. Thus, on August 31st it
became known that energy majors (even state-owned ones!) petitioned in writing the Prime Minister to revoke the law and exempt from Gazprom’s transport monopoly the gas produced in oil fields and is carried to markets in condensed form. It was quite a welcome surprise that among the companies addressing the PM (Lukoil, Rosneft, Surgutneftegas, TNK-BP, Russneft and Tatneft) was Gazprom’s own oil subsidiary Gazprom Neft!! The fact that the formal heads of all these companies signed the letter
appears to signify that a change in the approved bill is quite likely.


This event however brought into the forefront another issue of competition possible distortion. When Gazprom acquired oil conglomerate Sibneft the anti-monopoly authority (FAS) approved immediately, without any thorough investigation, the transaction on the basis that it did not relate to the same market sector. It appears however, after the oil majors’ reaction to the gas transportation exclusive monopoly, that oil fields produce gas as well. It is questionable therefore to what extent, and if, Sibneft’s acquisition by Gazprom had a considerable, and obviously overlooked, market effect…

Oil

Similar initiatives can be observed in the fields of oil and electricity. Despite its huge reserves and giant companies there have been serious disturbances in the Russian oil market. Important mergers and acquisitions have happened with the end result the private sector to lose a substantial share of the market. Until 1996 the by and large state – owned oil corporations had halved Russia’s oil output. This was due mainly to mismanagement, lack of market competition and averse to risk investment initiatives. Shortly after important oil majors Lukoil and Surgut were privatized followed shortly with the transfer to private concerns of most other oil companies. In all, by 1999, 90% of the companies dealing with oil were in private hands. Production rose rapidly averaging to about 8.5 percent annually for the next five years while new technologies were introduced and foreign experts were employed to work on old oilfields and help exploit the new difficult plateaus.

After 2003 however the state started to expand its presence and controlling interest in the energy sector. State owned oil company Rosneft, after initially acquiring the small oil company Severnaya Neft for the exuberant sum of $600 million (it had been privatized for only $7 million a few years earlier), has acquired a 20% share of Gazprom’s total ownership while it added to its portfolio the former Yukos crown jewel Yuganskneftegaz. Building upon its government connections Rosneft proceeded to acquire in the summer of 2006 operational control of TNK-BP's Udmurtneft subsidiary. The key to this deal is that Udmurtneft was purchased by the Chinese state oil firm Sinopec Corp. which then transferred control to Rosneft which has now its hands (even indirectly) on another 115,000 barrels per day of output. Likewise, Gazprom bought, with the acquiescence of the anti-monopoly authorities, as we described above, another large Siberian oil conglomerate, Sibneft. The sum it paid to Sibneft’s major shareholder Roman Abramovich was $13 billion for his controlling stake. The end result of all these initiatives has been a fall in overall production of oil. It was not only Yukos’ output that naturally plummeted but also Sibneft had a drop in its production levels (some attribute this to the prolonged period of its sale procedures) while Rosneft failed to proceed with new investment in its main line of work, ie production of oil, because it spent major amounts of money in the acquisition of other companies.

Similar concerns have surfaced about recent developments in the Sakhalin region. It appears that the Ministry of National Resources has decided to restrict foreign access to energy projects in the area. As a result the responsible government department appeared, as of May 2006, ready to issue a recommendation aiming at slashing foreign oil companies’ stakes in the Sakhalin – 1 and Sakhalin – 2 energy consortiums. Eversince that time the situation has worsened, The government is determined to revoke the Production Sharing Agreements governing the Sakhalin ventures. This move would lead to giving Russian oil majors, by and large state owned, majority stakes in the aforementioned projects. The intended revision plans to give Russian companies a 51% overall majority stake .

The prospects however of the - to a large extent state controlled - oil industry does not appear particularly rosy. It was the middle of 2005 that the first cracks appeared. BP announced its first production decline at its key Russian oil and gas fields since its merger with Russia’s TNK. Although BP blamed the harsh weather there were wider concerns about slowing growth in the Russian energy sector. Capacity in Russian pipelines is restricted and winter conditions necessarily limit tanker movements. Possible depletion of reserves was held responsible by experts for the year’s production decline. To acquire more assets however TNK-BP has to overcome the government’s reluctance to allow foreign companies to participate in auctions for acquisition of new acreage.

It appears that the still private conglomerates, like Lukoil, Surgut and TNK-BP, within this climate of insecurity opted to reduce production levels as well by lowering their investment in introducing new technologies and exploring new fields. According to an analysis by the senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics Anders Aslund, “in 2005, the increase in oil output growth dropped to 2.7 %, with all of the growth coming from the three big private companies. This year, …after four months output has risen by an annual rate of only 1.7%, and stagnation appears to be approaching”.

In short, with the withering away of oil major Yukos, the state controls now a significant chunk of Russia’s oil production (there is also talk of state owned Rosneft to plan the purchase of still private oil company Surgut) while, through Gazprom, can exercise full monopoly over the production and export of gas. And it is well recorder that both business fields face serious long term problems in their production capabilities and business efficiency.

Near the end of last year Igor Bashmakov, the executive director of the Russian Center for Energy Efficiency, was quite outspoken. He maintained that unless energy efficiency is increased Russia will stop exporting energy sources because the domestic market will absorb them all. The vice president of the Russian Gas Society, Oleg Zhilin, believes that only price liberalization (ie competing market conditions for the formation of prices) will lead to a considerable decrease in gas consumption in Russia.

Upon the same line of argument, the head of the Russian Union of Oil and Gas Producers, Yuri Shafranik, said that Russia by the end of last year had reached its maximum level of production. He insisted that Russia’s oil production and subsequent exports will be inevitably limited in two years’ time. Oil production in Russia, said Shafranik, will continue to grow for another two to three years, then the volumes of production will stabilize at a certain level, and then will begin to fall. The lack of direct investment is the main cause. There are many unexplored oil deposits in the country. But they remain out of reach for producers and explorers. There is not adequate investment in the geological exploration of new deposits. And it is quite obvious that this is due to the limitations imposed upon the entry to the oil market of international investors as foreign oil companies and drilling firms. The limits on competition have negative effects upon production and overall market efficiency.
Electricity
In the field of electricity a similar story unfolds. The fact that Russia has lots of generation plants does not mean that all this capacity is available to meet demand. Most Russian plants were built in the 1950s and 1960s. Many are worn out and, therefore, frequently out of service for repair or maintenance. On average, 10 percent of installed capacity is out of service at any one time. In some months, the figure can be much higher.
The existing park of generation plants was constructed in Soviet times to meet Soviet demand. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the shape of the Russian economy and the shape of Russian society have changed. Electricity demand patterns have changed -- but the location of the generation plants has not. The result is that there are now regions of capacity scarcity and regions of capacity excess, but the transmission infrastructure to correct these mismatches does not exist.
Because of the inability to stockpile electricity, it is not average demand that dictates how much generation capacity is needed, but peak demand. While average national demand in Russia has not yet recovered to the highs of Soviet times, peak demand has spiraled. While the government's most optimistic economic growth scenario produced a "high-growth" peak electricity demand figure of 150 gigawatts for 2009, peak demand in January 2006 had already climbed to over 150 gigawatts.
With electric pumps used for traditional district heating systems and consumers buying more and more plug-in electric heaters as a backup, cold weather produces additional loads in electricity grids that were never foreseen by Soviet planners. The main culprit is below-cost electricity tariffs. Successive governments have used their tariff-setting powers to provide cheap electricity to the national economy. The hidden subsidies have been funded by power sector companies, and it is no surprise that investment by these companies is negligible. Since the business of electricity supply is loss-making, there is no cash to invest and -- at least from the long-suffering shareholders' point of view -- no reason to invest.
There has been persistent opposition to any initiatives for sector reform. Siberian smelters, for example, seemed to be under threat from the prospect that power sector reform would bring to an end the special arrangements under which the smelters paid some of the world's lowest prices for their electricity. This reaction, however, was overcome when Unified Energy Systems (UES) agreed that selected energy-intensive industries will be protected from the realities of market pricing by locking in cheap power with long-term power purchase agreements.
Government ministers acknowledged by speaking frankly that holding down tariffs in the cause of containing inflation could actually damage economic growth by killing investment in an essential infrastructure sector. Addressing the Soviet legacy of mispriced energy now, said Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, could Russia avoid a repetition of the 1998 financial crisis. Privatization, however, and markets have not as yet taken hold in the electricity sector. Competition is not working and efficiency remains doubtful…
Very recently the government appeared ready to proceed with reforms in the electricity sector. Regulated tariffs would be replaced by market pricing. UES would be broken up and replaced by a series of competitive companies whose running would be left entirely to private shareholders. Electricity prices would be freed, investors would get fair returns, and Russian consumers would get secure supplies of heat and light. Even on that level however there have already been some drawbacks. It has been decided that the government will increase its share in the grid company and the dispatching units to 75% plus one share. But instead of swapping assets with private investors in UES as it was initially suggested, the state is posed to buy additional shares in the grid and dispatching units which would lead to a massive subsidy for the electricity sector. And maintenance of government control, of course…
Metals and Raw Materials
The business landscape in the raw materials and natural resources sector of the Russian economy appears to touch upon a heavier state involvement and direct or indirect control. The government does not hide its intentions to bring under Moscow control most of the activities expressed in the exploration, discovery, manufacturing and trading of raw materials found in the Russian mining terrain. On the one hand the government encourages the merger of pivotal Russian companies like steel giant Severstal with the Luxembourg based Arcelor. With the prospect within five years the Russian owners of the new company to be in total control of the combined metal mega enterprise the state aspires to indirectly influence one of the biggest steel manufacturers in the world. Almost simultaneously regional governor and business tycoon Roman Abramovich became known that he was prepared to purchase a controlling stake in the massive and largest Russian steel maker Evraz. A possible future aim of this deal would be the formation of a new Russian steel champion. This can happen if Evraz, strengthened by the capital induced by the Abramovich purchase, will proceed to merge with Magnitogorosk and Novolipetsk. These are the other two strong Russian steel companies. If this deal is concluded there will be a consolidation of the steel sector and Evraz, along with the combined powers of Arcelor and Severstal, will create a tremendous force in the steel industry with world wide implications. The Arcelor and Severstal deal finally was not concluded. Due mainly to shareholders reaction on the part of the Luxembourg company. This of course does not nullify the intentions expressed and the long term strategies unfolded.
No matter how grandiose the political considerations of such deals can be, from a purely economic efficiency point of view they appear rather disappointing. Especially if speculation concerning the ultimate objective of the Evraz deal – to be sold, like Sibneft, along with the new mergers to the state – come to materialize. Competition considerations will obviously be overlooked while productivity and business efficiency will most probably decline.
Similar, however, as the above negative phenomena are observed in other areas of natural resources business management. In uranium extraction nuclear fuel monopoly TVEL plans to issue new shares of the country's largest uranium miner, Priargunsk, and the Chepetsk uranium enrichment plant. This move could most probably dilute private ownership in the industry. State controlled TVEL's board, chaired by Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin, has already voted for the share issues. An analyst at Alfa Bank was quoted by the press in late May as saying that the issue would obviously dilute private investors' stakes. "If they wanted to finance higher production, they'd sell the new shares on the market and earn much more," the analyst said..
The latest event observed in the natural resources sector of the economy is the decision by the head of the aluminium giant RusAl, Oleg Deripaska, to purchase a controlling stake and thus merge with the second Russian aluminium behemoth SUAL. In forming a new company in which RusAl, SUAL and the Swiss alumina commodity trader Glencore (which will also be acquired) will all participate with 64.5%, 21.5% and 14% respectively, then there will emerge a $30billion company. This will be, in the words of media reports, “the worlds’ leading caster of aluminium and the world’s second largest producer of alumina, the raw material from which the metal is made”. The deal, which was unofficially announced in Aug. 31 of this year, warrants obviously close inspection by the anti-monopoly authorities. The kind of inspection however that aims to uphold competition principles and not to fall prey to visions of creating world national business champions.
Positive signs, nevertheless, do still exist. The proposed merger of RusAl and SUAL, to create the world's largest aluminum producer, will not be completed without scrutiny by the anti-monopoly authorities. "The process will not be a fast one," Igor Artemyev, head of the Federal Anti-Monopoly Service, told reporters in September 19, 2006. "An application will be examined in accordance with the new law." The new law on the protection of competition, which extends the watchdog's powers and sets tougher anti-monopoly regulation rules, became effective on October 20, 2006. And it appears that the anti-monopoly authority’s leadership is determined to apply its provisions at every direction. To the benefit of the Russian economy and the average consumer, of course.
Other Business Sectors
In banking there have also been substantial changes that ended up in strengthening also the role of the state. Essentially, a small number of state controlled banks, five in all, are appropriating most of their private sector antagonists. One can notice that apart of pure business tactics for the state – owned institutions to achieve their ends there have been smear campaigns, bank runs and accusations of money laundering. As a consequence, the banking sector is still by and large under the state’s control with the uninspiring result (according again to Anders Aslund’s formerly quoted study) that “the ratio of the broad money supply to GDP is about 10 percentage points lower than in less-developed Ukraine, where private banks dominate and flourish”.
Heavy machinery companies, especially Uralmash, have done quite well, albeit the government intervened in this sector as well. Last year, and without any explanation that pertains to reasons related to economics, Uralmash’s mother company, OMZ, was sold to Gazprom. And a relatively efficient not state – owned private company, Siloviye Mashiny, was similarly sold to government controlled Unified Energy Systems. Without having the slightest relations with the latter’s main business activities and objectives.
The automotive sector in Russia could have been the most successful business field in the country. Higher incomes warrant more or less the purchase of new private vehicles. Unfortunately, in Russia this is not happening. Mainly, because there has not been any new major investment in the filed and no foreign companies have been encouraged to enter the market either independently or in cohort with Russian enterprises. There have been publicized intentions but it appears that all plans have been thwarted either by common bureaucratic hurdles or because the presence of powerful private companies in this business sector was not welcome. On the contrary, Rosoboronexport, a state-owned major arms manufacturer and trader, took control last year of AvtoVAZ, the country's largest carmaker (the car LADA). For this endeavour to have any chance of success the government will have to infuse large amounts of subsidies to the auto making company. Although during the August 2006 Auto show in Moscow the Avto VAZ head Vladimir Artyakov retraced his previous statements, about the need of heavy public subsidies, and stressed that there will be now no need for state help, he did not explain where the “absolutely needed help” will come from. These movements that involve the flow of state funds to the industry undoubtedly create problems. Because they imperil competition and prohibit this business sector from any chance of healthy, and independent from the state, economic growth. Rosoboronexport is allegedly negotiating the acquisition now of a majority stake in VSMPO-Avisma, the world's largest titanium maker, and St. Petersburg's two military shipyards. Again the state expands in business sectors best left in private hands if competition, efficiency and high economic returns are anticipated.
The Russian aircraft industry is also a field in relative trouble. There have been up to now a number of small private enterprises managing to survive under difficult odds and an all suspecting and doubtful about their intentions state bureaucracy. Finally, the state decided to make its move. A big merge will take place placing all independent private companies (in Ulyanovsk, Voronezh, Samara, Komsomolsk-on-Amur, Kazan) under the auspices – and ownership of course – of the main and immense state–owned AiRUnion corporation (to be called United Aircraft Building Company). The fate of all the hitherto private companies remains doubtful since the state bureaucracy will flood the field with public funds (the initial estimation of starting funds reaches $1 billion) to support the ailing and by and large inefficient smaller public corporations.
It is quite apparent that all these initiatives do not aim at the strengthening of the economy. They are rather related to efforts of central control of major sectors of the economy. They impede however heavily competition practices and undermine efforts to raise productivity in the economy as a whole. It is not therefore a matter of legalistic adherence to the wording of certain documents. The issue is primarily related to actual political initiatives and the pursuit of objectives that have as their target the overall functioning of the economy. A competition policy project cannot overlook these realities. They constitute the essence of the functioning of the market. And they characterize the future prospects of the economy of the Russian Federation.


Concluding Remark
It goes without saying that the government aims to control a major chunk of the natural resources business sector. And by means of the power thus acquired it may spread the state’s influence to other sectors of the economy as well. Gazprom portrays the hazards of such a perspective. As it stands now the giant gas company, including its subsidiaries, has 38 % of its assets outside the energy sector, including holdings in construction, banking, media, agriculture and other sectors. In the media field only Gazprom has $700 million worth of assets. Even the recent sale of the successful economic newspaper Kommersant to tycoon Alisher Usmanov, who is a senior manager of Gazprom and works closely on various serious projects with the company, some observers believe that it will end up in the gas giant’s embrace.
The three main categories of strategic industries that the government has shown a strong interest to participate in and, if possible, to control are high-profit natural resources; key infrastructure such as banks, pipelines, and electricity generation; and sectors of perceived strategic advantage, such as nuclear power, technology and aviation.
The state's increasingly assertive control over the perceived most important ‘strategic sectors’ -- the natural resources sector foremost among them, but also metals, automotive, aviation and other industries -- has rattled foreign investors and unsettled the prospect of an open free market regime. Many observers insist that state control brings inefficiency and corruption. It is beyond doubt that enhances difficulties in product output, bureaucratic and risk aversion management and fundamentally undermines competition.
One can observe that the planned industrial policy of the government relates directly to the exploitation of energy funds to putting together strategic industries. The overall aim is to put together financial and administrative resources to support economic growth. It seems that the government is persuaded that effectiveness or strategy is set by the state and efficiency is up to private companies and the market to figure out. The stable development of the Russian economy in the coming years it is thus presumed that needs to be based on the planned growth of its component parts, including above all mineral resources. But events do not unfold usually in this optimistically perceived way. The objective allegedly pursued by the state is without doubt righteous. The final result however is almost never positive.
The pursuit and final implementation of a fairly functioning competition regime is a basic means for achieving business efficiency, high competitiveness for the economy and rapid rates of growth. This objective however is seriously burdened by the policies that were above exhibited. A competition policy concept therefore, above and beyond the legislative framework of the government apparatus, should take seriously under consideration the promotion of alternatives that remedy the existing dysfunctions. The removal of competition distortion practices, the promotion of policies that de-politicize the economy and finally a sincere effort to cut back in the state’ s attempts to control major shares of the natural resources business sector are primarily the objectives for the establishment of a really free competition economic environment.


In brief, one can observe the following: Russia is a large and proud country. Russia is also on the road of becoming an imposing actor in the world economy. Its huge supply of raw materials and its enormous energy deposits offers Russia a pivotal role in international economics and financial markets. Its rate of growth is already one of the fastest in the world. Its economic potential is widely recognized but it nevertheless carries with it some serious drawbacks. Russia dominates some of the most crucial global commodity markets. But it fails to impress the world’s consuming public. Because Russia’s products cannot yet be found in supermarket shelves. Neither do they dominate the most popular electronics markets and the entertainment and communications industries.

Russia is rich in natural resources. And she relies in gigantic mergers of raw material industries or behemoth natural monopolies to control its national market and direct – target its exports. The impact the country’s economy has upon the international scene is thus undisputed. The long term effects however of such an unhindered by vigorous internal competition and deep privatization processes are, to say the least, questionable.

There is no doubt that infrastructure industries and services are crucial for generating economic growth, alleviating poverty, and increasing international competitiveness. Reliable electricity saves businesses and consumers from having to invest in expensive backup systems, or more costly alternatives. Widely available and affordable telecommunications and transportation services can foster grassroots entrepreneurship, and thus are critical to generating employment, and advancing economic development. In most transition economies, however, private participation in infrastructure, and restructuring have been driven by the high costs, and poor performance of state-owned network utilities. Under state ownership, services are usually under-priced, and making therefore extremely difficult their expansion.

The essential danger of a continuous state control of major chunks of the economy is an inability to outperform international competitors, an executives’ aversion to take risks and a dysfunctional system of enterprise adaptability to developing technologies and management techniques. Similar concerns relate to the unopposed realization of mergers and the formation of huge business blocks in the natural resources sector. The lack of competition prohibits the emergence of new business actors in the field, sustains consumer prices high or renders the whole business sector as uneconomic and probably leads to the unorthodox dilapidation of valuable and non replaceable natural resources.

Although privatization, competitive restructuring, and regulatory reforms improve infrastructure performance, several issues must be considered and conditions met for these measures to achieve their public interest goals. First, reforms have to be undertaken to significantly improve performance, leading to higher investment, productivity, and service coverage and quality. Second, effective regulation-including the setting of adequate tariff levels-is the most critical enabling condition for infrastructure reform. Regulation should clarify property rights, and assure private investors that their investments will not be subject to regulatory opportunism. Third, for privatization to generate widely shared social benefits, infrastructure industries must be thoroughly restructured and able to sustain competition. Thus restructuring, to introduce competition should be done before privatization, and regulation should be in place to assure potential buyers of both competitive, and monopoly elements.

Competition is an essential ingredient for the implementation of a sustainable process of economic expansion and development. Notwithstanding other public policy goals and priorities the lack of competition may endanger the rise of productivity and the international competitiveness of a nation’s economy. Thankfully, the Russian competition watchdog, FAS, has done considerable leaps forward towards establishing a vigorous competition regime. It appears that as far as the retail market is concerned the efforts of the Russian competition authorities are bearing fruit. Foreign investment is flowing to the country, new enterpreneurial projects are initiated and tax evasion and street market outlets are being controlled. The country’s laws are being fine tuned to adhere to international and European Union standards. What remains to be decisively tackled is the issue of competition violating mergers and the breaking up of established monopolies in the energy and metals industry sector.

The Russian consumer product industry has to find its own stable footing. It is important that lays out a line of products with great export potential. For this achievement to materialize competition has to be thorough and penetration at every level of the Russian economy. The foundations have already been laid. The necessary legislation is in place. It remains for the authorities to implement it without exception and with a strict adherence to clearly defined principles and guidelines.






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Η ΒΟΜΒΑ ΤΗΣ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΚΗΣ ΑΣΦΑΛΙΣΗΣ

                           Η ΒΟΜΒΑ ΤΗΣ ΚΟΙΝΩΝΙΚΗΣ ΑΣΦΑΛΙΣΗΣ

Μοναχά οι αναπτυγμένες χώρες αντιμετωπίζουν σοβαρά το ζήτημα της κοινωνικής ασφάλισης σαν μέσο εξασφάλισης ποιοτικά ικανοποιητικής ζωής γιά το σχετικά γηρασμένο τμήμα του πληθυσμού τους. Αλλά είναι επίσης δεδομένο πως μοναχά οι αναπτυγμένες χώρες πρόκειται να αντιμετωπίσουν τα επόμενα χρόνια, σε χρονικό φάσμα όχι μεγαλύτερο της δεκαετίας, την εφιαλτική και μέχρι τώρα απρόβλεπτη προοπτική ενός σε μεγάλη πλειοψηφία γηρασμένου πληθυσμού. Πως θα αντέξουν οι οικονομίες και τα κοινωνικά συστήματα τις πιέσεις αυτής της επερχόμενης σχεδόν εφιαλτικής πραγματικότητας; Ζούμε σε μιά εποχή συγκλονιστικών πληθυσμιακών μεταβολών. Στη διάρκεια του 99% της πορείας του ανθρώπινου γένους η μέση προσδοκία ζωής δεν ξεπερνούσε τα 18 χρόνια. Η γενιά που σήμερα προετοιμάζεται να τελειώσει την ενεργό παραγωγική της πορεία, η γενιά δηλ. των λουλουδιών, του Μάη του '68, του Γούντστοκ και του Πολυτεχνείου μπορεί να έχει προσδοκίες ζωής που είναι δυνατόν να φθάνουν σε μέσο όρο τα 80 η και τα 90 χρόνια. Την ίδια στιγμή βέβαια ο αριθμός των γεννήσεων θα περιορίζεται. Η Δυτική Ευρώπη, γιά παράδειγμα, θα βρεθεί αντιμέτωπη με την μεγαλύτερη πληθυσμιακή συρρίκνωση της ιστορίας της από το 1348 μέχρι και σήμερα - από τα χρόνια δηλ. της καταστρεπτικής επιδημίας του Μαύρου Θανάτου που διέλυσε τον τότε κοινωνικό ιστό της γηραιάς ηπείρου. Αυτή η μεταμόρφωση προς το μακρύτερο της διάρκειας ζωής των σημερινών πολιτών των αναπτυγμένων οικονομικά χωρών συνεπιφέρει ήδη συγκλονιστικές κοινωνικές μεταβολές. Θα σταχυολογήσω εδώ μερικά μόνο σημεία των καινούργιων δεδομένων. Το γεγονός της παρουσίας στην κοινωνία πολλών περισσότερων γενεών αλλάζει και τον τρόπο αντιμετώπισης των διάφορων ηλικιακών ομάδων. Τι ακριβώς θα σημαίνει στο μέλλον ο όρος "ηλικιωμένος"; Μέχρι σήμερα συζητούσαμε γιά νέους, μεσήλικες και ηλικιωμένους. Τώρα όμως που οι άνω των εξήντα θα ζούν ίσως και μέχρι τα ενενήντα δεν είναι αυτονόητο πως θα είναι απαραίτητο να σχηματισθούν καινούργιες εννοιολογικά ηλικιακές κατηγορίες; Δεν είναι το ίδιο "ηλικιωμένος" ένας εξηντάρης με έναν ογδονταπεντάρη. Κι αυτό δεν είναι απλά ζήτημα κατηγοριοποίησης. Εχει να κάνει με τις απασχολήσεις, τις ανάγκες και τις δραστηριότητες των ανθρώπων αυτών που θα συνεπιφέρουν πολλές μεταβολές και εντάσεις πάνω στη λειτουργία της κοινωνίας. Ενα άλλο θέμα έχει να κάνει με το γεγονός πως οι περισσότεροι από τους ανθρώπους αυτούς θα ζήσουν παραπάνω από τον χρόνο ωρίμανσης κι απόσβεσης των χρημάτων που έχουν πληρώσει γιά τις συντάξεις και την περίθαλψή τους αλλά και μετά την εξάντληση των όποιων αποθεμάτων των προσωπικών τους οικονομιών κι επενδύσεων γιά την κάλυψη των γηρατειών τους. Αυτή η απίστευτη, μέχρι και πριν λίγα χρόνια, προοπτική αυτονόητα προμηνύει συγκλονιστικές κοινωνικές ανατροπές κι αδιέξοδα.Αντί γιά οικογένειες τριών γενεών θα είναι πλέον συνηθισμένο φαινόμενο στο μέλλον οι οικογένειες τεσσάρων γενεών. Η ουσία της σημαντικής αυτής αλλαγής είναι πως τα ενεργά μέλη κάθε οικογένειας θα είναι υποχρεωμένα να ξοδεύουν πολύ περισσότερο χρόνο γιά την φροντίδα των γονιών και των παππούδων τους παρά γιά τα παιδιά τους.Καινούργιες αρρώστιες διάβρωσης του ανθρώπινου οργανισμού (λ.χ. Αλσχάιμερς, εγκεφαλικές αναπηρίες, κα) θα κυριαρχήσουν στο μέλλον που θα απαιτούν μακρύτερες και πιό πολυέξοδες θεραπείες αλλά και ακριβότερα φάρμακα.Στον καθαρά οικονομικό τομέα η διεύρυνση των χρονικών ορίων επιβίωσης του μέσου ανθρώπου θα μεταβάλει τον προσανατολισμό και τις επιλογές του επιχειρηματικού κόσμου. Καινούργια προιόντα, υπηρεσίες και στρατηγικές του μάρκετινγκ θα αναδειχθούν γιά να καλύψουν τις ανάγκες αυτού του νέου ηλικιακού κύματος. Μέχρι και πριν λίγο ακόμη καιρό ήταν σε όλους φανερό πως το μεγαλύτερο μέρος της εμπορικής διαφήμισης απευθύνετο στους νεαρούς εφήβους η και προ-εφήβους καταναλωτές. Στην τωρινή φάση τα εμπορικά προιόντα προσφέρονται διαφημιστικά κατά κύριο λόγο γιά τις μεσαίες ηλικίες ενώ σύντομα η ηλικιακή ομάδα-στόχος θα είναι οι ηλικωμένοι. Οι ηλικιωμένοι θα είναι περισσότεροι, θα έχουν περισσότερο ελεύθερο χρόνο και οι πιό πολλοί απ αυτούς θα έχουν διαθέσιμο εισόδημα γιά κατανάλωση. Η προοπτική αυτή δεν είναι ιδιαίτερα μακρυνή αν σκεφθεί κανείς πως ήδη οι επιζώντες Μπήτλς κι ο Μίκ Τζάγκερ ανήκουν στην κατηγορία των ηλικιωμένων ενώ ο Μάικλ Τζάκσον και η Μαντόνα έχουν ήδη περάσει τα σαράντα!! Το πρόβλημα της κοινωνικής ασφάλισης προβάλλει μια πραγματικότητα που σχεδόν κανένας δεν έχει το θάρρος να παραδεχθεί στη χώρα μας. Πώς δηλαδή η κοινωνία μας, μέσα από τη διάρθρωση και τους προσανατολισμούς της, δείχνει μια αδυσώπητη σκληρότητα προς τους νέους που φθάνει ίσως και μέχρι τα όρια μίσους!! Eλάχιστοι πρωταγωνιστές του δημόσιου βίου τολμούν να ακουμπήσουν τα καυτά προβλήματα του αύριο. Περιορίζονται σε επιφανειακές ψηλαφίσεις που αφήνουν την ουσία ανέγγιχτη. Ένα από αυτά, ίσως το σοβαρότερο για την ομαλή μελλοντική πορεία αυτής της κοινωνίας, είναι και το ζήτημα της κοινωνικής ασφάλισης. Η αναφορά και μόνο του θέματος προκαλεί συνήθως ανία στους αμύητους και έναν αφόρητο οίστρο γενικόλογης θεωρητικολογίας στους ειδικούς. Τα μέσα ενημέρωσης νοιάζονται μοναχά για το αβανταδόρικο ζήτημα της αύξησης ή όχι των εισφορών και στο τέλος κάθε συζήτησης κανένας δεν αποχωρεί σοφότερος αναφορικά με την ουσία του προβλήματος. Το πρόβλημα, εν τούτοις, της κοινωνικής ασφάλισης προβάλλει μια πραγματικότητα που σχεδόν κανένας δεν έχει το θάρρος να παραδεχθεί στη χώρα μας. Πώς δηλαδή η κοινωνία μας, μέσα από τη διάρθρωση και τους προσανατολισμούς της, δείχνει μια αδυσώπητη σκληρότητα προς τους νέους που φθάνει ίσως και μέχρι τα όρια του μίσους!! Παρά τις φραστικές διακηρύξεις και τις φτιασιδωμένες εκφράσεις ευαισθησίας για τα προβλήματα της νέας γενιάς, η κοινωνία μας συνειδητά και σε καθημερινή βάση πριονίζει τις δυνατότητες των νέων παιδιών να χτίσουν ένα μέλλον σιγουριάς και οικονομικής ασφάλειας. Θα γίνω πιο συγκεκριμένος. Η χώρα αντιμετωπίζει ένα βεβαιωμένο πρόβλημα γήρανσης του πληθυσμού. Οι νέοι γίνονται ποσοστιαία λιγότεροι από τους ηλικιωμένους. Αυτό πρακτικά σημαίνει πως όλο και λιγότεροι θα εισέρχονται ως εργαζόμενοι στην παραγωγική διαδικασία για να χρηματοδοτήσουν τις απολαβές (συντάξεις, περίθαλψη) τών όλο και περισσοτέρων που θα εξέρχονται από αυτήν. Η πίεση προς τα συστήματα κοινωνικής ασφάλισης θα γίνει εντονότερη με την αναμενόμενη κυριαρχία της Νέας Οικονομίας, των οικονομικών δηλ. δραστηριοτήτων που στηρίζονται στις νέες τεχνολογίες, στην παραγωγική διαδικασία. Εχει υπολογισθεί λ.χ. στις ΗΠΑ, πως γιά την παραγωγή των σημερινών βιομηχανικών προιόντων, κι εφ όσον χρησιμοποιηθούν σε όλους τους τομείς οι νέες τεχνολογίες, θα χρειάζεται μοναχά το 5% του συνολικού εργατικού δυναμικού ενώ γιά την παραγωγή αγροτικών προιόντων μοναχά το 2%. Εφ όσον δεν έχουν γίνει οι κατάλληλες υποδομές στην παιδεία ώστε η πλειοψηφία των εργαζομένων να μπορεί με αξιώσεις να μετέχει στην παραγωγική έκρηξη των νέων τεχνολιγών η ανεργία θα φθάσει στα ύψη και οι επιπτώσεις στην κοινωνική ασφάλιση - από την έλλειψη εισφορών - θα είναι θανατηφόρες. Σύντομα το σύστημα, κι ανεξάρτητα από τις εξελίξεις στον τομέα της Νέας Οικονομίας, θα οδηγηθεί σε αδιέξοδο με κύριο θύμα τους νεώτερους που είναι μαθηματικά βέβαιο πως, ανεξάρτητα από τις τρέχουσες ή και τις μελλοντικές τους συνεισφορές, θα είναι αδύνατον να απολαύσουν το οτιδήποτε όταν φθάσουν και εκείνοι σε ηλικία αποχώρησης από την ενεργό δράση. Διότι μέχρι τότε τα κοινωνικο-ασφαλιστικά συστήματα θα έχουν ολότελα χρεοκοπήσει. Όσοι λοιπόν σήμερα και αύριο εισέλθουν στην παραγωγική διαδικασία θα επιδοτούν τις απολαβές των ηλικιωμένων, ενώ αντικειμενικά δεν θα μπορούν να προσδοκούν σε καμία παροχή προς τους εαυτούς τους στο μέλλον!! Δεν χωράει αμφιβολία πως ένα τόσο αδιέξοδο σύστημα έχει άμεση ανάγκη μεταρρύθμισης. Εν τούτοις, κάτι τέτοιο είναι εξαιρετικά δυσχερές. Διότι όσοι σήμερα απολαμβάνουν ή προσδοκούν σε λίγα χρόνια να απολαύσουν τις παροχές του δεν είναι διατεθειμένοι να θυσιάσουν έστω και κάποιο μέρος από τα μέχρι σήμερα κατοχυρωμένα δικαιώματά τους για να εξασφαλίσουν κάποια αντίστοιχη κοινωνική προστασία για τις γενιές του αύριο. Το πρόβλημα γίνεται περισσότερο σύνθετο, αν αναλογιστεί κανείς πως καθ' όσον η τάση γήρανσης του πληθυσμού θα διογκώνεται τόσο περισσότεροι αριθμητικά θα γίνονται εκείνοι που με κανέναν τρόπο δεν θα επιθυμούν τροποποίηση του συστήματος. Η δύναμη της ψήφου τους θα ακυρώνει κάθε προσπάθεια μεταρρύθμισης, ενώ θα καθοδηγεί τα νομοθετικά σώματα σε πρωτοβουλίες που θα επιβαρύνουν όλο και περισσότερο τα ήδη σε αδιέξοδο ευρισκόμενα νεώτερα στρώματα του πληθυσμού. Οι νέοι, σαν λιγότεροι, θα υφίστανται ρυθμίσεις που θα εξανεμίζουν το βιός τους χωρίς να τους εξασφαλίζουν κάποια σιγουριά για τα χρόνια της αποστρατείας τους. Το σύστημα θα ευνοεί λοιπόν από τα πράγματα τους πολυπληθέστερους ηλικιωμένους και θα υπηρετεί σχεδόν αποκλειστικά τα συμφέροντα και τις επιδιώξεις τους. Το αδιέξοδο θα είναι περίπου πλήρες!! Αντίστοιχα θα προσαρμοσθεί και η οικονομία. Τις διαφημίσεις γιά παιχνίδια, ηλεκτρονικούς υπολογιστές και συστήματα, αυτοκίνητα και σπίτια θα αντικαταστήσουν οι ελκυστικές παρουσιάσεις πολυήμερων κρουαζιερών, ο καταιγισμός διαφημίσεων γιά φάρμακα, γιά οίκους ευγηρίας, γιά διακοπές και ειδικά σπόρ υπερηλίκων, γιά χειρουργικές επεμβάσεις διευκολυντικές της κίνησης καθώς και γιά πωλήσεις ακινήτων. Ο τομέας των ακινήτων θα καταρρεύσει σαν πεδίο μακροπρόθεσμης επένδυσης χρημάτων. Η έμφαση θα είναι στο επικερδές κι εφήμερο κι όχι στο μακροπρόθεσμα οικονομικά αποδοτικό. Όπως, εξάλλου, λειτουργεί σήμερα το λεγόμενο κοινωνικό κράτος είναι βαρύτατα άδικο για τους νέους. Σε επίπεδο κατά κεφαλήν παροχών το Δημόσιο δεν δαπανά σχεδόν τίποτε για το μέλλον της κοινωνίας. Δεν ξοδεύει παρά ελάχιστα χρήματα για τη νέα γενιά. Την ίδια ώρα δαπανά δισ. για τους ηλικιωμένους. Οι βαρύτερες δαπάνες του κράτους είναι αυτές που καταναλίσκονται στην περίθαλψη και τις συντάξεις. Και είναι αυτές, δαπάνες καθαρά καταναλωτικές. Με άλλα λόγια είναι χρήματα που δεν επενδύονται για μελλοντική αξιοποίηση, αλλά εξανεμίζονται σχεδόν άμεσα στην κατανάλωση. Είναι μάλλον αντιδεοντολογικό να περιμένουμε πως κάποιος ηλικιωμένος θα επενδύσει το όποιο του εισόδημα για να απολαύσει μεγαλύτερες αποδόσεις στο... μέλλον! Αν εξαιρέσει κανείς την παιδεία, όπου βέβαια οι δαπάνες δεν είναι ονομαστικές αλλά γενικής φύσεως και κυρίως πηγαίνουν σε αμοιβές διδασκόντων και σε κτιριακή υποδομή, το κράτος αφήνει οικονομικά εντελώς ακάλυπτες τις νέες γενιές. Το κομμάτι δηλαδή ακριβώς εκείνο της κοινωνίας όπου κάθε χρηματοδότηση προς όφελός του συνιστά ουσιαστικά ωφέλιμη επένδυση για το μέλλον, είναι εκείνο που παραμένει οικονομικά εντελώς αβοήθητο. Ως συνέπεια η κοινωνία απομυζά φορολογικά τις αριθμητικά φθίνουσες νεώτερες γενιές για να στηρίξει τις καταναλωτικές ανάγκες των πολυπληθέστερων πλέον ηλικιωμένων. Ταυτόχρονα, όμως, αποφεύγει να επενδύσει επάνω στους νέους έστω και κάποιο σοβαρό ποσοστό από τα χρήματα που διαθέτει σε ονομαστική βάση για τους ηλικιωμένους. Αν σε όλα αυτά μάλιστα συνυπολογίσουμε και τα χαμηλότερα όρια ηλικίας συνταξιοδότησης που με τα χρόνια έχουν καθιερωθεί, μαζί και με τον συνεχώς επιμηκυνόμενο μέσο όρο ζωής, η κατάσταση γίνεται σχεδόν βίαια εχθρική για τους νέους και εκρηκτική για τη συνοχή της κοινωνίας.Να κάνουμε εδώ μιά απαραίτητη ιστορική παρένθεση. Αρκετοί ισχυρίζονται πως η κοινωνική ασφάλιση και η δωρεάν παιδεία υπήρξαν αποτελέσματα των οργανωμένων και σκληρών αγώνων των εργαζομένων. Κάτι τέτοιο όμως είναι απόλυτα εσφαλμένο. Η δωρεάν παιδεία ήταν αποτέλεσμα πρωτοβουλιών των συντηρητικών κυβερνήσεων σε Βρετανία και ΗΠΑ που είχαν σαν σκοπό να εφοδιάσουν τις ιδιωτικές βιομηχανίες, κυρίως τις κλωστουφαντουργίες, με εργατικό δυναμικό ικανό να διαβάζει και ιδίως να κάνει μαθηματικούς υπολογισμούς. Το κράτος ανέλαβε το βάρος της εκπαίδευσης του ανθρώπινου δυναμικού γιά να απαλλάξει από το σχετικό κόστος τις ιδιωτικές βιομηχανίες!! Κάτι εξ άλλου που και σήμερα γίνεται με την πρωτοβουλία των κρατών να εκπαιδεύσουν τους πολίτες τους στις νέες τεχνολογίες ώστε οι επιχειρήσεις να βρίσκουν έτοιμα στελέχη. Την κοινωνική ασφάλιση εισήγαγε γιά πρώτη φορά παγκοσμίως ο "σιδηρούς" Γερμανός Καγκελάριος του 19ου αιώνα Οττο φον Βίσμαρκ. Δύσκολα θα μπορούσε κάποιος να τον αποκαλέσει υποστηρικτή των εργατικών δικαιωμάτων και διεκδικήσεων. Στόχος του Βίσμαρκ ήταν η παροχή έξτρα κινήτρων στους Γερμανούς εργάτες ώστε να ανταγωνισθούν με επιτυχία την Βρετανική βιομηχανία. Το τότε Γερμανικό σύστημα ασφάλισης έθετε σαν όριο ηλικίας αποχώρησης από την δουλειά τα 65 χρόνια. Σε μιά εποχή που η προσδοκία ζωής δεν ξεπερνούσε τα 45 χρόνια!! Με άλλα λόγια η κοινωνική ασφάλιση εισήχθη με στόχο κανένας σχεδόν να μην απολαύσει τα οφέλη της. Στην εποχή μας η προσδοκία ζωής πλησιάζει πλέον τα 80, ισως και τα 90. Και τα όρια ηλικίας έχουν ήδη σε πολλές περιπτώσεις υποχωρήσει πολύ κάτω από τα 60. Ο καθένας αντιλαμβάνεται την καταστροφική προοπτική της κοινωνικής ασφάλισης… Η ντε φάκτο οικονομική εξουθένωση που έχει ουσιαστικά επιβάλει πάνω στις νεώτερες γενιές η παραδοσιακή αντίληψη περί "κοινωνικής προστασίας" δείχνει τάσεις διαιώνισης. Μέχρι το σύστημα να καταρρεύσει τελείως επάνω στις πλάτες βέβαια των νεώτερων γενεών που ακριβώς είναι εκείνες που σήμερα χρηματοδοτούν τη λειτουργία του. Κανένας δεν έχει το θάρρος να αντικρύσει κατάματα το πρόβλημα και να προτείνει λύσεις για την εκτόνωσή του. Ο καθένας περιμένει να τοποθετηθεί ο πολιτικός του αντίπαλος για να εκμεταλλευτεί τις αντιδράσεις των διαμαρτυρομένων. Δεν πρέπει να μας διαφεύγει πως η υπό διαμόρφωση πλειοψηφία των υπερηλίκων δεν θα επιτρέπει με την απειλητική ισχύ της ψήφου της την μεταρρύθμιση του συστήματος σε όφελος της οικονομικής λογικής και των νεωτέρων γενεών. Η Δημοκρατία πλέον θα μετατραπεί σε όπλο εξουθένωσης των νέων και ματαίωσης κάθε προσπάθειας ουσιαστικής εξισορρόπησης των διογκούμενων ανισοτήτων. Αυτοί που εισπράττουν θα είναι περισσότεροι. Ενώ εκείνοι που θα είναι υποχρεωμένοι να πληρώνουν, έστω και άδικα μιά και δύσκολα θα περιμένουν κάποια αναταπόδοση των κόπων τους στο μέλλον, θα είναι οι λιγότεροι. Η απειλή των αποτελεσμάτων της κάλπης θα μετατρέπει σε πηλό τα πόδια όσων δημοσίων ανδρών θα είχαν την τόλμη έστω και να ψελλίσιουν το αυτονόητο: την αδήριτη δηλ. ανάγκη αναθεώρησης προς τα κάτω των παροχών προς τους ηλικιωμένους. Και κανένας βέβαια δεν θα μπορούσε να καλύψει ιδεολογικά τις όποιες λύσεις, διότι αριστερές ή δεξιές συνταγές εξόδου από το αδιέξοδο δεν υπάρχουν. Η αυριανή σύγκρουση των γενεών βρίσκεται ήδη προ των πυλών. Η γενηά του του Μάη του '68 και του Γούνστοκ, οι baby boomers όπως αποκαλούνται στην Αμερική, βρίσκεται ήδη αντιμέτωπη με την γενηά του MTV, του Ιντερνέτ, του Play Station 1 και 2 και των υπόλοιπων παιχνιδιών των Μέσων Αλληλεπίδρασης. Τα παιδιά που μεγαλώνουν με τα παιχνίδια εικονικής πραγματικότητας θα συνειδητοποιήσουν σύντομα πως γύρω τους οικοδομείται μιά πραγματικότητα που τους ληστεύει από το μέλλον τους. Και πως υπεύθυνοι γι αυτό είναι οι γεροντότεροι - η γενηά των πατεράδων και των παππούδων τους. Η σύγκρουση θα είναι αμείλικτη. Ηδη στην Καλιφόρνια έχουν εμφανισθεί bumper stickers, δηλ. αυτοκόλλητα που στερεώνονται στους προφυλακτήρες των αυτοκινήτων, με το σύνθημα: "Σώστε την κοινωνική ασφάλιση - πατήστε έναν υπερήλικα"!! Ο ισχυρισμός πως το πρόβλημα θα μπορούσε να αντιμετωπισθεί, χωρίς να θιγεί ούτε κατά κεραία το σημερινό σύστημα, μέσω της φορολογίας είναι τουλάχιστον απλοϊκός. Τα δυσθεώρητα ελλείμματα που θα προέκυπταν από μια τέτοια επιλογή θα αποδιοργάνωναν κάθε προσπάθεια ανάπτυξης του τόπου. Εξάλλου στην εποχή της ταχύτατης ηλεκτρονικής μεταφοράς κεφαλαίων από τη μια άκρη της Γης στην άλλη και του Ίντερνετ, η καταφυγή στη φορολογία θα επιβάρυνε αποκλειστικά και μόνο τις ασθενέστερες εισοδηματικά τάξεις. Διότι ακριβώς αυτοί είναι που δεν θα έχουν πρόσβαση στους μηχανισμούς της γνώσης και δεν θα μπορούν να "προστατεύσουν" το εισόδημά τους από την επιδρομή της φορολογίας. Μια τέτοια λύση πάντως και πάλι τις νεώτερες γενιές θα εξόντωνε οικονομικά. Διότι αυτοί θα έφεραν το βάρος της φοροδοτικής στήριξης του συστήματος σε ένα πλαίσιο πάντοτε οικονομικής αβεβαιότητας και με ζωντανά τα ερωτηματικά της μελλοντικής του διάρκειας. Ουσιαστικά δηλαδή δεν θα άλλαζε τίποτα. Εκτός ίσως από το γεγονός πως οι οικονομικά ασθενείς θα γίνονταν ασθενέστεροι και οι νεώτεροι φτωχότεροι!! Κάποιοι επίσης υποστηρίζουν πως το πρόβλημα θα αντιμετωπισθεί από μόνο του μέσω της ευημερίας και της αύξησης του εθνικού εισοδήματος των κρατών. Ο πρόσθετος πλούτος που θα παραχθεί, υποστηρίζουν, θα προκαλέσει πλεονάσματα γιά την πληρωμή των λογαριασμών της κοινωνικής ασφάλισης. Αυτό που παραβλέπουν είναι πως η αύξηση του πλούτου δεν εξασφαλίζει μοναχά μεγαλύτερα έσοδα. Αλλά δημιουργεί παράλληλα και μεγαλύτερα έξοδα, εφ όσον μαζί με τα υξημένα εισοδήματα όσων απασχολούνται αυξάνονται αναλογικά και οι παροχές γιά όσους έχουν δικαιώματα επάνω στο ασφαλιστικό σύστημα - υψηλότερες δηλ. συντάξεις, υψηλότερες αμοιβές γιατρών, ακριβότερα φάρμακα, πανάκριβα ιατρικά όργανα και κόστη συντήρησης των νοσοκομείων. Το παραδοσιακό αναδιανεμητικό σύστημα τού "πληρώνω στην πορεία" ("pay as you go") είναι φανερό πως δεν έχει πλέον μέλλον. Μοναδική εναλλακτική λύση δεν μπορεί να είναι παρά ένα σύστημα συσσώρευσης κεφαλαίων (capital accumulation) που θα επιτρέπει στους νεώτερους, μέσω πιθανότατα ιδιωτικών καναλιών, να χτίσουν την προστασία των γηρατειών τους μέσω ενός μηχανισμού ατομικής επικερδούς επένδυσης των σημερινών τους συνεισφορών. Και που θα παρείχε στους ηλικιωμένους τη σιγουριά των σημερινών τους παροχών με την αξιοποίηση του δημοσιονομικού πλεονάσματος που η χώρα θα μπορούσε να εξασφαλίσει μέσω της αύξουσας μείωσης των δημοσίων δαπανών, με τις ιδιωτικοποιήσεις και με τη δραστική περικοπή της κρατικής γραφειοκρατίας και σε μηχανισμούς και σε προσωπικό... Στις περιπτώσεις που το σύστημα αυτό εφαρμόσθηκε, σε χώρες κυρίως της Λατινικής Αμερικής, σύφωνα με τον εμπνευστή του Jose Pinera, και οι συγκρούσεις ανάμεσα σε διαφορετικές γενεές αποφεύχθηκαν, αλλά και η χρεοκοπία του συστήματος ματαιώθηκε. Όπως σωστά αναφέρει ο Τάσος Αβραντίνης στην εξαιρετική μελέτη του για την Ασφαλιστική Πρόταση του Κόμματος των Φιλελευθέρων "τα προγράμματα κοινωνικής ασφάλισης που έχουν κεφαλαιοποιητικό χαρακτήρα (επιτρέπουν στον καθένα να) δημιουργεί το κεφάλαιό του και η σύνταξή του είναι αποτέλεσμα της συσσώρευσης που έχει επιτύχει στη διάρκεια των εργάσιμων ετών του"... Το ερώτημα, λοιπόν, είναι ποιος έχει την τόλμη σήμερα να προχωρήσει σε αποτελεσματικές λύσεις.Είναι σίγουρο πως οι παραδοσιακές πολιτικές δυνάμεις δεν τολμούν μεμονωμένα να αντιμετωπίσουν το πρόβλημα. Μοναχά μιά καινούργια σύμπραξη σοσιαλδημοκρατών και φιλελεύθερων ίσως να έχει το θάρρος να βάλει τις βάσεις για μιά ομαλή πορεία της ελληνικής κοινωνίας στο μέλλον.

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