Above: the Samaras tourism boom in action
Greece’s world class Athens airport and subway connection are, I’ve always thought, a superb piece of design and engineering. But if the landing bays shown above look like so many hands reaching out for a cash-stuffed envelope, then this is entirely appropriate.
Yesterday, The Slog learned from a senior engineering supplier directly involved in its construction that over 50% of the entire development cost (Eleftherios Venizelos Airport opened twelve years ago, and has been extended since) was used to give politicians, purchasing directors, bureaucrats and minor officials a tax-free bung. The airport was developed by public-private partnership (with Greece holding 55% of the shares) and began operating in 2001, having cost an eye-watering €2.1 billion.
In the region of €1.15 billion disappeared into the pockets of officials, after a process of bidding for contracts that was “corrupt from start to finish”.
Such behaviour has been a fact of Greek life for some time, but the scale of this sleaze was truly breathtaking. It has been estimated that the average size of kickback to some 5,500 individuals was in the region of €28,000. Nobody was ever charged with corruption offences as a result. So then – not much of a result.
Nor should it be assumed that Greek nationals were the only recipients. Although ‘built by a public/private partnership’, the EU files show quite clearly that the European Investment Bank (EIB), the European Union’s long-term financing institution, ‘[financed] the new motorway linking Elefsis-Stavros-Spata and Imittos, it being completed on time and on budget…together with the new Athens international airport, also financed by the Bank.’ Sources in Brussels last night confirmed that “it is widely accepted here that EU officials were bribed in order to maximise the budget and push the case for the new infrastructure very hard. It was one of the things [Neil] Kinnock tried to get a steer on, but got nowhere”.
This is so bad it’s funny: the Greek élite bribes Brussels sprouts to get the budget bigger so their own bungs can double in value.
Like so many things undertaken by the EU, the airport has turned into a White Elephant – thanks to Berlin-inspired austerity destroying its rationale. In 2010, the airport handled 15,411,952 passengers, 5% fewer than in 2009. Since then, the MerkeSchäuble Monster has wreaked much greater damage: Venizelos now handles just 12m passengers a year—25% fewer than in 2007. In the light of Antoniki Sam’s declared tourism boom, that number fell again in 2013, but was misplaced during a tragic shredder accident recently. Paint flakes from the airport’s 24 jet bridges, of which perhaps only 10 are now in regular use. To save money, the air conditioning stays off until June. Routes to New York, Singapore and many other airports have all been dropped by airlines concerned by huge falls in passenger numbers.
Think of this piece as a reminder of crooked madness, and as ammunition the next time you find yourself across the supper table from a europhile apologist. For this is, quite simply, a cautionary tale of how the European Union blew nearly two billion quid – and then destroyed the investment with austerity…having let over half of it fall into sticky hands before it even opened.
And if you’re on the Greek political liberal/left, remember that your real enemies aren’t a few strutting, murderous neo-Nazi clowns: rather, they are bent Greek professionals, and bunga-bunga Brussels bureaucrats.