End-of-March deadline for relaunching Olympic Airlines

BREGENZ, Austria (Reuters) – Greece must present a plan this month for a relaunch of Olympic Airlines or face further legal action over hundreds of millions of euros in illegal state aid, the European Commission said yesterday. Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot told reporters at a meeting of transport ministers in Austria that the Greek government had until the end of March to present its plan or he would go back to court to ensure recovery of the illegal aid. The Commission expects a new version of the loss-making airline to be smaller, majority-owned by private investors, and not involve state aid. «I will be strict about these conditions,» Barrot said. Greece said previously it would relaunch the airline by October. Olympic Airlines is under pressure from the European Union executive to pay back as much as 540 million euros ($630 million) in illegal state aid that the Commission declared distorted competition in the sector. Greek Deputy Finance Minister Petros Doukas told Reuters in January the state would retain a 20-35 percent stake in a relaunched airline. The deputy minister said then that he was optimistic of getting EU approval on the back of a sound business plan, private ownership, and no government subsidies.