EU fails to ground OA hopes

Olympic Airlines will not necessarily shut down because of the European Commission’s decision to take Greece to court again over its failure to recover illegal state aid from the floundering national carrier, Economy and Finance Minister Giorgos Alogoskoufis said yesterday. Brussels yesterday asked the European Court of Justice to fine Greece for its failure to recover 160 million euros in illegal state aid given to Olympic Airlines (then Olympic Airways) between 1998 and 2002. The European court found Greece guilty last May of illegally subsidizing OA through direct financial aid and by allowing tax bills to go unpaid. The EU executive body requested that Greece be fined a lump sum of 5.3 million euros. It also wants the government to pay a fine of 10,000 euros for each day that has passed since last year’s ruling, which if paid today would amount to 3.8 million euros. The Commission also wants Greece’s daily fine to rise to 53,000 euros if the court finds it guilty of not trying to recover the aid. The government, however, insisted that yesterday’s decision from Brussels to proceed with legal action did not necessarily signal the end for OA. «No decision leads to the automatic bankruptcy of the company,» said Alogoskoufis. In March, Transport Minister Michalis Liapis confirmed a Kathimerini report that the government was poised to unveil a plan to privatize and restructure the ailing carrier but that scheme seems to have been shelved by the ruling conservatives. The European Commission has also taken Greece to court for failing to recover some 540 million euros of state aid given to Olympic from 2002 to 2004. The Federation of Civil Aviation Unions (OSPA) criticized the government and the opposition of standing by idly while the future of OA is threatened. OSPA accused the government of not complying with EU measures on purpose so the fines imposed by Brussels would give it an excuse to shut the airline down.