Athens Airport May04
DURING the last year, I have continued to fight
fraud and corruption in the European Union. Along with my MEP colleagues
Gabriele Stauner (Germany) and Freddy Blak (Denmark), and the editor of
New Europe, Basil Coronakis, I have been working to uncover financial
irregularities in the construction of the new Athens International
Airport, a project largely funded by EU grants and loans, which opened
three years ago at an alleged cost of £1.7 billion.
Spata airport, near Athens, is the third most
expensive ever built and was constructed by a German company, Hochtief.
While Hochtief only contributed 45% of the project's equity, the company
was given management control of the airport for 30 years under monopoly
conditions. EU taxpayers, through the Cohesion Fund, contributed 250
million of the claimed 2.4 billion euro airport cost and 997 million euros
were lent by the EU's European Investment Bank, backed by a Greek
However, many questions remain unanswered with
regards to the airport project:-
Ø Why do the published figures for the airport's
construction costs vary so wildly? Figures range from Hochtief's 878
million euros in 1992, to the European Commission's figures of 973 million
(1996) and 1.8 billion (April, 2003) to the final figure of 2.4 billion
also given by Hochtief in April 2003.
Ø Why did Spata apparently cost double that of
the new, similar-sized, Milan airport (Malpensa) despite offering a poorer
infrastructure and fewer amenities?
Ø Why did the EIB, which as rule finances up to
50 percent of the cost of infrastructure projects, in this case finance
the airport with over 100 percent of the official cost?
Ø Further investigation has also shown that the
true construction cost is likely to have been significantly lower than any
published estimate - possibly as low as 320 million euros. If this is the
case, profits of nearly two billion euros would have been made on
Since the beginning of last year, I have been
forcing the European Commission to publish detailed accounts for this
project to find answers to my questions. This has involved meetings and
correspondence with the Commission's regional funding directorate, the EU
Court of Auditors and with President of the Commission, Romano Prodi.
In May 2003, I was informed by Mr Prodi that he
would not give access to any of the requested documents as "the
contract contains economic and technical information and its disclosure
would undermine the interests of the contractors". In July, I was
promised that by October detailed accounts of the project would be
available. I have yet to receive them.
After months of fighting, I have finally
persuaded the European Parliament's Budgetary Control Committee to
investigate this case and following last week's elections in Greece, Mr
Karamanlis, the new Prime Minister, has also pledged a full investigation
into the Spata airport project.
Rest assured, as one of the European Commission's
fiercest critics, I will continue to push this case until I finally get
the answers I have been seeking.