The Olympic burden

The complete breakdown in the sale of Olympic Airlines (OA) highlights what a shame it is when some reforms are not made a time that they are still feasible. How much easier it would have been to sell or close the airline in 2004, when the world economy was going well, when Greece’s star was shining over the Olympic Games and the Karamanlis government had a huge margin for political maneuvering. Anything would have been acceptable to a public which had just elected a new government that appeared to mean business on reform. According to one version of history, the first major meeting Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis convened had been to discuss OA. The newly elected premier is said to have told his Cabinet ministers that he wanted to be done with the issue within a few months. However, the relevant ministers, led by the then transport minister [Michalis Liapis], suggested staying with the policy of retaining OA and its deficits, arguing that Greece couldn’t be without it during the Olympic Games. Since then, absolutely nothing has been done, because Liapis had been enjoying his power over the wreck that is OA, while the Finance Ministry found various incredible ways to fool Brussels by making it appear that the state owed several billions to the airline. Now we have woken up to the fact that there are no serious buyers for the airline. It seems Qatar was never a serious prospect, despite the assurances of outgoing ministers, and the UK-based PCP Capital Partners, touted as the last hope, has not submitted any offer. Meanwhile, the government has promised staff a 1.5-billion-euro compensation package. In any other country, OA would have long been replaced by some small airline surviving solely on state subsidies for routes to remote spots. In the midst of Greek social unrest, the most likely scenario now is another continuation of the status quo. Yet another typically Greek problem will wait for yet another generation to solve it.