Ragnheiður Elín Árnadóttir, iðnaðar- og viðskiptaráðherra og Angel Gurría framkvæmdastjóri Efnahags- og framfarastofnunarinnar (OECD) eru á meðal ræðumanna á ráðstefnunni „The Future Ain´t What it Used to Be“ – 20 years of Competition Law and the Challenges Ahead, sem haldin er í dag á Radisson Hótel Sögu.
Ráðstefnan er haldin að tilhlutan Samkeppniseftirlitsins, atvinnuvega- og nýsköpunarráðuneytisins og áfrýjunarnefndar samkeppnismála.
Aðalfyrirlesari ráðstefnunnar er Angel Gurría framkvæmdastjóri Efnahags- og framfarastofnunarinnar (OECD). Angel Gurría hefur stýrt Efnahags- og framfarastofnuninni frá árinu 2006 en hann var áður utanríkisráðherra og fjármálaráðherra Mexikó.
Í ræðu sinni fjallaði Ragnheiður Elín m.a. um mikilvægi þess að nota samkeppnissjónarmið í opinberum rekstri.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to address you here today as the Minister responsible for competition. This high-level conference is held to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Competition Act. The theme makes sure to get our attention: “The Future Ain't What it Used to Be.” And I think those words contain a great deal of truth.
But it is also true that the present isn't what we expected it to be 20 years ago.
In those days, the initial days of the Competition Authority, the debate centered largely around how we could reduce the States' involvement in areas where competition could well thrive. We had a state owned printing company, pharmacy, fishmeal producer and a shipping company…and the list goes on.
It's good to know that we have made progress in 20 years, and that the challenges of today are in many ways completely different than they were.
I am a firm believer in competition and I believe it is one of the most powerful tools that we have to ensure economic progress, not least in a small economy such as Iceland. With free competition we can build up a strong economy, which of course is the foundation of the welfare society we all want to live in.
Competition encourages companies to innovate and improve. Competition is the best way to guarantee that we, the consumers, receive our products and services at the lowest price and in the greatest variety possible.
With all this in mind, it is clear that ensuring healthy competition is not the sole concern of a few, but an urgent matter of interests to society as a whole, and a task which we must all pursue together.
There is, however, one basic defect in the rules of competition – and that is that it can be tempting to bend the rules. It is an old truth that has been pointed out by many, including Adam Smith himself, who emphasized that the invisible hand needed to be subject to visible monitoring.
And that is why we have the Competition Authority.
And if the Competition Authority was important before the banking crisis in 2008, it can be argued that it is even more important now.
The financial crisis had, and continues to have, a wide-reaching effect on competition in Iceland. In its aftermath a large proportion of businesses found themselves in financial difficulties, many of which were kept afloat by being taken over by financial institutions. It goes without saying that when privately run companies are competing in the same market as those backed and financed by financial institutions, their competitive position is at the risk of being neither equal nor fair.
Desperate times call for desperate measures – and the financial crisis was of such a magnitude that during a time at its height it was not certain that Iceland would maintain its economic independence. But let's not dwell on the past and what has been done. What needs to be done now is to repair the damaged market we have been dealing with since the financial crisis.
And the obvious question is: What can be done and what should we do?
I believe the message is clear. The way forward lies not in restrictions and protectionism. Quite the opposite – we must strengthen the competitive environment, open up markets, break down barriers and reduce restrictions.
It is also important to keep in mind that if active competition is important when things are going well, it is even more vital when times are tough. It is precisely then that we must be sure to reverse the trends, and promote courage, competition and achievement.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When discussing the importance of securing healthy competition, the emphasis is most often solely on the private sector and its regulatory environment.
But there is another discussion that needs to be taken, of no lesser urgency. We must ask how and in what areas of the public sector we can apply the principles and ideology of competition?
I specifically want to mention the two areas which receive the largest shares of public funds in this country: The health and education sectors. My objectives for these two sectors are clear - I want to safeguard and improve our excellent health care system; and I have the aspiration that the Icelandic educational system should be one of the best in the world.
Why is competition not – or almost not – an option in the health and education sectors here in Iceland? Why has it almost been such a taboo to even mention increasing competition in these sectors?
I believe that the challenge is not a matter of whether, but of how we can maximise the return on our funding – not just in economic terms but also in the quality of the service provided. I think we should look into how healthy competition can benefit us in these sectors, as well as increased personal choice.
This is the approach being applied in Sweden – and certainly without undermining the pillars of the welfare system. It is a question of making better use of funds – for the good of all. And we must have the maturity to engage in this debate without falling into the pits of a trench warfare along the left/right fault line of traditional politics. Since our Swedish cousins – the flag bearers of the Scandinavian welfare state – could reach an agreement on this solution, we must surely be able to give it our full consideration.
The fact is that the world population is growing older, and our welfare systems will have to be sustained by an increasingly smaller proportion of the population. And that is why it is absolutely vital to seek out new solutions.
I am convinced that healthy competition will yield valuable economic benefits to these public sectors as it does elsewhere, to the benefit of us all. Some go so far as to say that this is the only way for the Nordic countries to ensure the sustainability of the Scandinavian welfare systems, in which they take such pride.
It is also an exciting challenge to try out the principles of competition, for instance in the context of reducing public spending, the abolition of capital controls, how best to attract foreign direct investment, and so on.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The platform of the new coalition Government places great emphasis on building up a strong and robust economy in Iceland – and we realise that this objective cannot be achieved without free and fair competition. We are currently reviewing all rules and regulations, with the aim of cutting red tape and ensuring that the regulatory framework will be both simple and clear.
The Competition Authority is a small but effective body with highly qualified staff on board. I am proud of their work as it is especially important in a small economy like ours to monitor competition effectively. The Competition Authority also performs the role of educating businesses about competition. I am very pleased with the Competition Authority's decision to launch a campaign to present the rules of competition to managers of businesses.
Since I entered office as the Minister responsible for competion I have heard complaints from the business community that cases handled by the Competition Authority are taking too long time to be handled and concluded. Of course we know that certain cases can be very complex and that it is time consuming to examine all evidence thoroughly. However, it is of outmost importance, for all parties involved, to strive to resolve all cases as speedily as possible. There is room for improvement there and I will do what I can do to make it possible for the Competition Authority to speed up the case handling.
I have also felt an eagerness from the business community to increase their cooperation and conversation with the competition authorities in the broad term. The Iceland Chamber of Commerce has for instance proposed to set up a kind of a standing committee with representatives from the Ministry, the Competition Authority and the Chamber on behalf of the business community. The task of the committee would be to discuss ways of enhancing competition in Iceland and thereby increasing productivity in the economy as a whole. I welcome this initiative and I look forward to cooperate with the business sector on this important matter.
The status of competition in each country is like a certificate of health, or a barometer, for the business environment of that country. And to receive a seal of quality is a prize worth having – but it is a prize that has to be worked for.
In conclusion, I want to emphasize again that competition is not just the concern of the Competition Authority, or the Ministry for competition: All government authorities and private businesses must contribute to establish the conditions for active competition here in Iceland. Only in that way will we achieve results.
Ladies and Gentlemen
I have the honour to welcome the next speaker Mr. Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD. Mr. Gurría came to the OECD in 2006 but prior to that he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Finance and Public Credit in Mexico in the 1990s. Mr. Gurría - welcome to the podium.