Brussels insists tender law must change

Brushing aside remonstrations from Athens, the European Commission has decided to launch the second stage of the infringement process over Greece’s controversial new law on state tenders, sources in Brussels said yesterday. The sources indicated that, following a recommendation from Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy, the Commission will send Greece a «reasoned opinion,» urging the government to amend the law within a tight 15 day deadline. The new law – which was passed on January 20 and will come into effect in July – bans media barons from access to lucrative public contracts. Billed as a bid to prevent businessmen from using their media clout to bludgeon elected officials into awarding them state deals, the law was the single proudest achievement of the ruling conservatives during their first year in government. It is based on a constitutional amendment tabled in 2001 by the previous, Socialist government, which stipulated that ownership of media enterprises was incompatible with bidding for state tenders. The constitutional factor formed the main drift of the government’s defense of the law, submitted to Brussels last week. However, McCreevy is understood to remain unconvinced, insisting that no provision of Greek law or the constitution can detract from the country’s obligation to obey European Union regulations. On March 22, a Commission statement said the constitutional provision and the implementing law are «contrary to both EU directives on public procurement and the EC Treaty.» The Commission action followed complaints from Greek and Italian firms. Athens has protested at not being informed by Brussels as to the precise content of these complaints. A reasoned opinion is the last warning stage before the Commission takes an EU member state to the European Court of Law. According to the sources in Brussels, the Commission is to seek suspension of the law until the court can rule on the case.

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