NEWS

Brussels sends final warning on tender ban

The European Commission yesterday issued a final warning before taking legal action against Greece over the controversial new law that bars media barons from access to lucrative state tenders through their other business holdings. In a «reasoned opinion,» the Commission formally requested that Greece change the law, passed on January 20, and called for a «satisfactory response» within three weeks. Otherwise, the Commission said it «may» refer Greece to the European Court of Justice. But the Commission said it «is prepared to work together with the Greek authorities and to examine proposed solutions.» Although the government initially dismissed as «defeatist» the idea of amending the law – the ruling conservatives’ proudest achievement in their first 13 months in office and a key part of New Democracy’s anti-graft drive – it has slowly come around to the idea that changes will have to be made. This was summed up by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, who has spoken of a need for «common ground» to be established with the Commission on the matter. After the head of the Commission’s general directorate for regional policy, Graham Meadows, threatened to freeze EU funding for major public works in Greece after the end of May unless the law is amended, the government said last Wednesday it might briefly defer implementation of the law – which is due to come into effect in late June. Yesterday, the EC stressed the law «breaches Community directives on public procurement and the principal of equal treatment of the participants, as well as the exercise of almost all the fundamental freedoms acknowledged by the EC Treaty.» It added that it might ask the court to order the law’s suspension until the case can be discussed. But no reference was made to the 2001 constitutional amendment that set the guidelines for keeping media entrepreneurs out of public contracts, which had been mentioned in a first warning sent on March 22. The matter came to the EC’s attention after complaints from Greek and Italian firms. The law forbids anyone who holds 1 percent or more of a media company’s share capital to bid for state contracts worth over a million euros. This includes close relatives of such «major» shareholders. The law also makes it much harder for businessmen to hide behind offshore companies to maintain control of media firms.