NEWS

An EU extravaganza

The cost of Greece’s EU presidency appears to be ballooning out of control, beyond even the most pessimistic estimates, as ministers organize informal meetings on islands and other remote areas in an extravagant effort to impress their EU colleagues and their own constituents. The cost of the six-month presidency will come straight out of the state budget and is likely to cause a political storm when it becomes known. A year ago, Alternate Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis, who is in charge of the EU presidency, said Greece estimated the presidency would have a total cost of 12 billion drachmas (35 million euros). However, a good indication of how costs have risen is the expectation that the EU summit alone next month will cost more than 10 billion drachmas (30 million euros), as it was suddenly decided that much of the hotel that will host it on the Halkidiki peninsula should be reconstructed. This involves not only halls in which the meetings will take place but also hotel rooms which will be used for only a few days. Also, the cost of renting tour ships for cruises in the middle of the tourism season is believed to have reached up to 10 million euros. And the cost of the signing ceremony for the EU treaties of accession with 10 new countries, in Athens on April 16, is said to have exceeded forecasts. Foreign Ministry officials avoid any mention of the presidency’s costs, but they do not hide the fact that original estimates have been exceeded wildly; and they admit there is no transparency as to what is being spent and where it is going. Indicative of this is that just six weeks before the end of the presidency, people are being hired on contract as support staff for ministerial meetings. Indicative of the waste is the current cruise of the Corinthian Gulf and Ionian and Aegean seas by the massive Eleftherios Venizelos, which was rented for the informal meeting of transport and merchant marine ministers. Aside from the 25 ministers, there are some 500 other guests on the ship, with all their expenses paid. The 350 or so Greeks include former ministers, ministry officials, friends, family members, party officials and so on. The Eleftherios Venizelos, ANEK Lines’ largest ship (whose disco can accommodate 1,000) was rented at a cost of 1.176 million euros for the cruise, which began in Corinth on Thursday night. Another 300,000 euros went toward the rental of a catamaran to convey the officials and others from Patras to Mesolongi, the western Greek town which is Transport Minister Christos Verelis’s constituency and whose lagoon is too shallow for the Eleftherios Venizelos.