EU court confirms Olympic has to return half a billion euros

BRUSSELS – The court of the European Union demanded yesterday that Olympic Airways return just under half a billion euros to the Greek state, which has been deemed to comprise an illegal subsidy to the airline in the 2002-2004 period. Commenting on the decision, the European Commission reiterated its view that the only possible solution was the liquidation of the company as soon as possible, «for the benefit of the European air transport sector, the Greek consumers and taxpayers as well as the employees of Olympic.» «The decision confirms the urgent need for a viable and legally strong solution,» said EU Transport Commissioner Jacques Barrot. «If there is no rapid compliance, I will have to propose to the Commission to resort anew to the court, asking for the imposition of fines.» The court decided that Greece did not «ensure an immediate and effective implementation of the decision» of the return of the funds which are estimated at -493.5 million. This in fact is an arbitrary calculation of the sum, as no one, at least in Europe, has managed to obtain precise data on the finances of Olympic. Greece had claimed that this inability to discover the exact amount to be returned prevented Olympic from implementing the decision, but the court said that those sums are «to a sufficient degree specific and there is no clause in EU law requiring the Commission to determine the exact amount of the subsidy that must be returned.» The decision is final and is in addition to an earlier one for the return of funds reaching -130 million for the 1998-2002 period, for which Greece is threatened with the imposition of very heavy fines on a daily basis. There is also a new investigation taking place into possible illegal state subsidies to Greece’s national airline from the end of 2004 onward. The government dubbed the decision an expected one. «It undoubtedly is an unpleasant decision, but gives an answer to those who continue to claim Olympic is not facing any problems,» said Transport Minister Costis Hatzidakis.