Athens seeks EU ferry subsidies

Athens is courting Brussels to subsidize Greek ferry services on routes considered to be unprofitable by shipping firms and aims to get the European Union to cover as much as 90 percent of ticket costs, Deputy Merchant Marine Minister Panayiotis Kammenos said yesterday. The aim is to bring ferry costs to the same level as land travel, in line with a «transport equivalent» philosophy which has already been embraced by France and Spain, according to Kammenos, who is discussing the prospect with shipping firm representatives and EU officials. When this goal is achieved, and EU funding boosts state subsidies, the most expensive ferry ticket on the so-called «agoni grammi» serving remote and sparsely populated islands will be 15 euros, according to Kammenos. The mayor of Tilos, Anastassios Aliferis, has made strides toward achieving this goal in cooperation with the European Small Islands Network, which lobbies for stronger links between small islands and the mainland. Aliferis visited Brussels earlier this year to push for Greece’s inclusion in this procedure. He was also involved in organizing a key conference on the island of Kos last month which brought together representatives of three ministries and EU officials to discuss the prospects and barriers Greece faces in this regard. A biministerial decision made in 2003, when socialist PASOK was in government, granted residents of islands on the «agoni grammi» a 50 percent discount on ferry tickets. The decision applies to residents of all islands with a population of more than 3,100 – a total of some 40,000 people. But, according to complaints by mayors on many islands, not all shipping firms honor residents’ right to this discount. According to a complaint lodged by the mayor of Ai Stratis, Haralambos Makris, the shipping firm SAOS is one of the companies that refuses to offer the 50 percent discount.