Cleared for privatization

In an effort to clear up the confusion surrounding the future of Olympic Airlines and its 8,000 employees, the government said yesterday that it had no intention of closing the company down, as Parliament passed legislation to stave off the carrier’s creditors. Transport Minister Michalis Liapis said the government was not planning to liquidate the airline in operation, as had previously been suggested by members of the government after the European Commission ruled that Olympic may have to return more than 500 million euros in illegal state funding. «Our political volition is for the privatization of the company to go ahead,» Liapis told a parliamentary committee. «We all need to be calm so this national matter, which I am mostly responsible for solving, can progress.» The tender process, in which the Greek-American consortium made up of Olympic Investors and York Capital leads the way, is due to come to a conclusion within three weeks, according to Liapis. If a bid is deemed suitable, it will then be put to Parliament, where the ruling conservatives have a comfortable majority, for final approval. When questioned, Liapis did not elaborate on what plans the government had should the privatization fall through. He said any public comments about this could undermine the process. The minister also dodged questions about the revelations that the government had written to the Commission before it delivered its ruling and said it planned to liquidate the airline. The government also wrote to Brussels in June accepting that Olympic Airlines was a direct successor of Olympic Airways and, therefore, liable for its debts. «Unfortunately, you have undermined this plan [privatization] with wrong moves and the wrong letters to the European Commission,» said PASOK MP Evangelos Venizelos. Meanwhile, PASOK and New Democracy deputies voted in favor of changing the law so Olympic has a period of grace until February before its creditors can call in its debts. The state is exempt from the legislation so that it complies with EU competition rules.