BUSINESS

Brussels adamant on state subsidy issues

Greece’s state subsidy issues remain open, despite European Commissioner for Competition Joaquin Almunia’s kind words regarding the adjustment of the Greek economy in Athens on Thursday. Sources say that the Spaniard, also a Commission vice president, insists that all state subsidy cases for Greek subsidiaries, even those in the privatization process and those already sold off, must undergo an in-depth examination.

A case in point is gaming company OPAP. The government is pushing for OPAP to have the exclusive rights for Internet betting in Greece, but the Commission appears to be resisting that pressure. Finance Minister Yannis Stournaras is said to be caught in a battle between Athens and Brussels on the issue: The prime minister’s office is pressing for the regulations that will hand over the monopoly on Internet betting to OPAP to be tabled in Parliament, while the European Union’s executive branch keeps asking for explanations regarding when and how much OPAP paid to acquire such a right.

Sources said on Thursday that Almunia advised Stournaras against bringing the regulations to the House without a prior forwarding to the Commission.

The Greek side had obtained an extension to supplying the necessary explanations on the subject through a letter received from Brussels in March 2013.

This was also the message that Almunia formally sent on Thursday to everyone concerned: Addressing an event in Athens on the European Day of Competition, he said that the Commission is assisting the Greek government in its reform of the credit sector and the implementation of the privatizations program, and that it is making sure those actions adhere to the directives on state subsidies.

In the case of banks, the European commissioner said the main objective in negotiations is to ensure that the bulk of the aid which Greek lenders have received will be used for the funding of real economy.

“We will be very cautious in the procedures of state subsidizing so that this aid gets to reach the real economy,” said Almunia.

Referring to the sell-off program, he noted that talks are under way for a number of state enterprises and infrastructure projects which in the past have received state subsidies and are now in the process of privatization.

He also hailed the creation of a special department at the Finance Ministry to deal with state subsidy issues. “I take note of that decision. It renders application easier, helps coordination with [public] administration, and should produce a more balanced distribution of public resources.”

Online