ECONOMY

EU takes spate of legal action against Athens

BRUSSELS – The political and bureaucratic dysfunctions that have marked Greece’s long period of adjustment to European Union realities keep coming to the fore. The European Commission yesterday announced its intention to take legal action against Athens on no less than nine issues, including protection of the environment, recognition of professional qualifications, public contracts and aspects of company law. Concerning environmental protection, the Commission has referred Greece to the European Court for absence of integrated sewage networks and biological treatment plants in many areas of the country, including some top tourist resorts that should have already had them in place since 2000. The areas in question include Zakynthos, Iraklion, Thessaloniki’s tourist zone, Kalymnos, Mallia, Igoumenitsa, Tripolis, Katerini, Preveza, and, in Attica, Rafina, Loutsa, Nea Makri, Koropi and Megara. The Commission is also referring Greece (and four more countries) to the court for shortcomings in the infrastructure for the reception and safe management of waste from vessels of all kinds in all the country’s ports. These should have already been in place since 2002. The most serious case regarding public contracts concerns procurement of medical equipment by public hospitals. «There seems to be a widespread practice in Greece among hospitals to reject offers of products based on an alleged issue with the security level of the product, despite the fact that the latter bears the [safety] marking ‘CE.’» Greece is also being referred for ministerial decisions envisaging direct assignment for the procurement of medical equipment in case there are no comparable products so that a normal tender may be issued. The Commission points out that ministerial decisions put all the materials mentioned in a particular bill in different categories but handled them all as non-comparative, annulling the need for tenders. Three reasoned opinions Furthermore, Greece received three reasoned opinions, the last stage before referral to the court: one, for deficient public service contracts without proper tenders concerning a study for the building and electromechanical equipment for the Thriassio railway hub west of Athens. Also, the Commission notes that the Public Power Corporation never issued tenders for the design, commission and operation of two similar steam electric stations and ancillary equipment for a power station in Atherinolakkos, Crete. The Commission also decided to send Greece a reasoned opinion for its failure to take the required steps for harmonizing its legislation on the opening of optician’s outlets, after a European Court decision on April 21, 2005. «The new Greek legislation continues to allow only registered opticians to own such shops. As a result, the freedom of establishment in Greece of firms from other countries continues to be restricted on the grounds that such firms can never be sole owners of an optician outlet,» said the Commission. A third reasoned opinion received by Greece concerns non-compliance with Directive 93/16/EEC on the mutual recognition of diplomas of doctors. According to the directive, since January 1, 1995, doctors who wish to practice as general practitioners under a national social security scheme must provide a diploma attesting to specific training in general medicine. «Greece, however, issues doctors benefiting from acquired rights with a diploma attesting to specific training in general medicine without their having attended the corresponding training,» the Commission noted.