BUSINESS

EU court verdict on OPAP not as bad as it sounds

Criticism over use of monopoly offset by right to change terms By Vangelis Mandravelis

The European Union’s Court of Justice (ECJ) issued on Thursday a strongly critical verdict on the way that the country uses the monopoly that OPAP holds in Greece, but this will not change anything in the process of the gaming company’s privatization.

The decision by the top EU court was largely expected and within the context of what the ECJ’s Advocate-General Jan Mazak had said during a hearing last September. The Slovak had criticized OPAP’s use of its monopoly, noting that it does not comply with the objectives for which it was conceded, such as beating crime related to gambling and following a policy to contain the expansion of games of chance.

So while the decision issued yesterday was critical of the Greek state’s and OPAP’s exploitation of the firm’s monopoly status, it did reiterate that it is up to the member state either to make the operation of that monopoly comply with the objectives for which it was conceded or, if these objectives are not met, the Greek government should open up the local market.

However, the court went a step further, which exceeded even the government’s and OPAP’s aspirations: Point 46 of the decision says that even if Greek legislation was not compatible with the European Union framework in the past, “member states continue to have the capacity to reform the existing monopoly in order to render it compatible with the treaty’s clauses.” What this point of the verdict does is to offer the Greek state a great opportunity to safeguard OPAP’s monopoly even if it ultimately loses the ongoing case at the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court.

The government and the state privatization fund (TAIPED) chose not to make any statements on the issue on Thursday. TAIPED officials said they were in the process of assessing the verdict, but that nothing was seen changing in OPAP’s privatization process. TAIPED’s board will visit Brussels on Friday to discuss other compliance issues, but its agenda will now include OPAP as well.

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