Greek news

September 22, 2008

End of an era for Olympic. But please don't strike before I've flown, OK?

Olympicplanes A long running Greek saga is beginning to draw to a close, as the Government and the EU have finally agreed on a plan for what to do with national carrier Olympic Airways. It was in 1994 that the EU first began complaining that the Greek government was distorting the market for air travel with illegal subsidies to the company.

By the end of next year the intention is to split Olympic into three companies, so that flights, maintenance and ground staff are no longer one big state-owned monopoly.

The numbers involved are staggering. According to last week's Athens News, the European Commission says that since it last ruled against Olympic receiving €724m is illegal state aid in 2005, Olympic has received a further €850m from the Government. And even with all that taxpayers money, the company can still not turn a profit - it is expecting to post a €400m loss this year.

The replacement company will not take on all of Olympic's 4,600 staff. Some will have to take early retirement, and the rest who do not join the new airline are to be given other public sector jobs. What price a meritocracy eh? Oh, €1.2 billion it seems, which will be the cost of the re-staffing plan, which seems to include giving ex-staff €500 monthly bonuses to make up for their income loss.

The staff, unions and opposition have reacted the only way they seem to know in Greece - which is to ignore any economic reality, and insist that if only the Government restructured the management and pumped in more money, then Europe's last totally state-owned airline would be able to compete in the modern transport marketplace. According to ERT "Opposition parties described the Olympic Airways issue as a sell off of public wealth to investors". Olympic is €2.7 billion in debt.

Riot police had to intervene to prevent disgruntled staff gate-crashing the Transport Minister's Press Conference, and they have already staged a sit-in at a company office in Athens.

My worry now is that I've got six over-priced Olympic flights booked to and from Crete in the space of the next few weeks, and it seems almost inevitable that there will be strikes...

August 04, 2008

Recycle the Athens way

The Athens News is always full of stories about the struggle Greece's capital has in disposing of rubbish without using illegal landfill sites, and the fact that recycling is yet to catch on in a big way despite some local municipality schemes. If the state of this recycling centre near Monastiraki Metro is anything to go by, it looks like there is still some work to do!


April 03, 2008

A week of 'name game' politics in football

Football can be a very political game here, and there were a couple of classic examples over the last couple of weeks. Last night NET had live coverage of Arsenal-Liverpool, followed by delayed coverage of Chelsea-Fenerbahce. What with it being 1am, I had to keep rather quiet as the Russian-money-all-stars came a cropper against the Turkish team. I also didn't want to be noticed by the neighbours openly supporting a Turkish team.

The Greek position on Turkey was made quite clear by the commentators, who, in defiance of the wisdom of The Four Lads, kept insisting the game was being played in somewhere called Constantinopolis.

And talking of international name disputes, last week's big game on a Wednesday night was an excellent win for Greece against Portugal, sparking memories of their Euro2004 triumph. The Greek fans behind the goal at one end had a very strong message for the NATO summit going on this week.


January 30, 2008

Greece comes to a respectful standstill

Much of Greece seems to have been at a standstill this week. And not because everyone is gathered around their computer screens gawping at the bits of the Zahopoulos sex DVD which have been amusingly posteded onto YouTube.

Nor is it the weather that has been the main problem, although it has been atrocious. There has been snow on the mainland, causing traffic chaos, and Crete has been partially isolated, with flights in and out of Chania and Heraklion cancelled, and ferry sailing affected.

The main cause of the standstill though has been national grief. After a long battle with illness, Archbishop Christodoulos  succumbed and passed away this week. He had lead the Greek Orthodox Church for nearly a decade.

A fiercely outspoken critic of globalisation, American intervention in the Balkans and the Middle East, and of anyone he didn't perceive to be a friend of the Greek Church, he will also be remembered here for his attempts at reconciliation with the Catholic Church.

In 2001 Pope John Paul II became the first leader of the Western half of Christianity to visit Greek soil since the Great Schism of 1054, and Archbishop Christodoulos visited the Vatican in 2006.

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