Answer given by Mr Barrot on behalf of the Commission
1. In the letter written by the former Member of the Commission responsible for Transport referred to by the Honourable Member (dated 15 January 2003), she referred to ‘significant debts of the Greek state towards Olympic Airways’ but only to clarify that these amounts along with all other aspects of the public support granted to Olympic Airways had been taken into account in reaching Commission Decision No 2003/372/EC of 11 December 2002(1).
It is worth recalling that, since 1994, the Commission has taken five decisions regarding Olympic Airways. The first three decisions were positive and allowed state aid aimed at financing the restructuring of the airline, which was due to take place in the nineties. It was due to the failure of Greece to comply with the first three state aid decisions concerning Olympic Airways and as it did not carry out the required restructuring plan in any substantive way notwithstanding the considerable amounts of state aid authorised, that the Commission was forced to take a first negative decision in December 2002, for abusive and incompatible aid, and a second one on 14 September 2005 for new illegal and incompatible aid granted since 2002.
In these decisions the Commission found that there were enormous debts owed by Olympic Airways to the State and the proceeded non payment of these amounts constituted inter alia state aid.
2. As previously mentioned all monies due to Olympic Airways up to 2002 were taken into consideration by the 2002 decision and in that decision the Commission found that illegal and incompatible state aid had been granted to the airline. However, the Commission has written to the Greek authorities to seek clarification regarding the initiation of legal proceedings by Olympic Airways against the state and to determine on what basis these claims have been made.
3. As the Honourable Member will be aware court proceedings before national courts have no suspensive effect in state aid matters. Following the Commission decision of December 2002, Greece was obliged under Community law to carry out recovery of the amount of aid identified in the Commission decision, something which it has failed to do (as found by the European Court of Justice on its judgment of 12 May 2005 in Case C‑415/03). Since no further recovery action had been taken by Greece since May 2005 the Commission was obliged to proceed with further legal proceedings against Greece.