NEWS

EC set to scrutinize Olympic

A team of experts from the European Commission is due to arrive in Athens within the next few days to investigate the running of beleaguered national carrier Olympic Airlines, less than two weeks before the deadline for the submission of privatization bids, sources told Kathimerini. The task force is also to examine the fairness of the bidding process – the fifth since 1999 – with binding proposals being due by April 13, as well the company’s financial status and the possible paying back of state subsidies that were given to its failed predecessor, Olympic Airways, the sources indicated. Olympic Airlines (OA) posted a 23-million-euro loss in 2003, according to figures released in February, and it is thought that the Commission experts will investigate any possible further debts. They will also examine the circumstances under which unauthorized government subsidies to Olympic Airways, which the Commission has ordered to be paid back, have not been returned by OA. In February, Advocate-General Leendert Geelhoed proposed that the European Court of Justice declare that Greece had breached Community law by failing to take adequate measures for the return of almost 200 million euros in subsidies from Olympic Airways. He also blasted the Greek government for making the situation more complex in December, 2003, when it formed Olympic Airlines after merging Olympic Airways, Olympic Aviation and Macedonian Airlines into one company. In 1998 the Commission approved aid for Olympic, under conditions. However, four years later it ordered Greece to recover 41 million euros in restructuring aid and 153 million in new operating aid from Olympic Airways, as part of its drive to enforce EU directives on state subsidies to loss-making national enterprises.