Sunday

17th Nov 2019

Ghost airports drain EU taxpayers' money

  • An empty waiting hall at Vigo airport in Spain, probed by EU auditors (Photo: Vigo airport)

Twenty EU-financed airports in Estonia, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain have misspent large sums of EU taxpayers' money for well over a decade.

A report out Tuesday (16 December) by the European Court of Auditors found that €255 million - more than half of the EU funds audited - went into unnecessary expansion projects.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

“This is an important finding,” Luc T`Joen, the report’s lead auditor, told journalists in Brussels.

Vanity projects in small regional airports, shoddy oversight by the European Commission, no local quality control checks, and overoptimistic passenger number forecasts are among the list of problems to have helped sap public coffers dry in times of economic crisis.

To add to the woe, only four of the airports turned any sort of profit while others run losses that require even more public money to keep them afloat. No one is using the funds efficiently.

The commission, which received some of the auditors' scorn, said it plans to introduce "radical" changes to rein in the abuse. This includes new conditions and quality review process on all new major works.

Asked by reporters why this wasn’t done before, an EU commission spokesperson said it was because member states are now in talks to set up a new structure to better distribute regional aid.

The response did not address the millions already lost.

According to the auditors, some €129 million of the EU money was spent on entirely useless airport projects.

The auditors targeted eight airports in Spain, five in Italy, three in Greece and two each in Estonia and Poland.

Between 2000 and 2013, the airports received €666 million from the European regional development fund and the cohesion fund. The budget investigators audited €460 million of that total.

Most of the money went to building terminals and runaways in airports forecasted to attract new passengers.

Few if any new passengers turned up after the expansion projects had been completed.

“The Court found that the additional passengers were likely to be on average 36 percent less than had been forecast at the time of deciding on the investments,” said T`Joen.

Some egregious examples of waste are in Greece and in Spain.

Kastoria airport in Greece spent over €5 million of EU money to build a runway that has never been used by any type of aircraft it was designed for.

“This cannot be considered as an effective use of public funds,” notes the 72-page report.

Kastoria makes little money. Over a seven-year period, it generated only €176,000 in revenues while running costs soared to €7.7 million.

Last year, the airport saw around 5,300 passengers, a marginal increase from the year before.

A cargo project at Thessaloniki airport in Greece cost the EU €7 million. Today, it stands empty.

Millions spent to build new terminals at the Spanish airports have also proved to be fruitless.

Spain’s Fuerteventura airport built a new terminal with €21 million in EU funds. Part of the terminal is shut because it is too big. They had forecasted 7.5 million passengers by 2015 but only 4.3 million showed up last year.

In other cases, the Spanish government green-lighted expensive expansion projects despite initial forecast projections that found them entirely unnecessary.

In 2008, it poured €70 million, of which over €12 million was EU money, into Cordoba airport to expand the runway without conducting any analysis of potential growth despite announcing 179,000 passengers would show up in 2013.

The auditors say the government provided no justification for the 179,000 figure. Last year, fewer than 7,000 passengers arrived at the airport while millions landed in nearby airports in Malaga and Seville.

Probed airports in Italy, Poland, and Estonia don’t fare any better.

A separate inquiry by Reuters had also found that the EU had given Poland, generally considered a good student in terms of spending EU funds, over €100 million to build three airports that few bother using.

Magazine

Beja airport: A runway to nowhere?

From the outside, Beja international airport looks clean and snazzy. Inside, the six check-in desks, car rental services and tourist information office are all ready to serve you.

Feature

Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

"If evil is not defeated, it tends to expand", Natalia Magnitsky, the widow of a Russian anti-corruption activist, has said, as EU diplomats discuss human rights sanctions 10 years after his death.

Commission defends Breton's Atos over police data

The European Commission defended Atos for hosting EU police data, despite its own public guidelines that state operational and technical copies should not be entrusted to third parties. Atos former CEO Thierry Breton is set to become a European commissioner.

Exclusive

Breton's firm hosted unlawful copy of EU police data

France's Thierry Breton is set to become the next European Commissioner for industrial policy. While he was CEO of IT giant Atos, the firm hosted unlawful partial copies of EU police data on behalf of the United Kingdom.

No large-scale disinformation detected in EU this year

The EU set up a 'Rapid Alert System' in March to allow national authorities in member states to inform the rest of the bloc of any large-scale disinformation campaigns. No alert has so far been triggered.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politicians extradition hearing postponed
  2. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  3. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  4. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  5. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  6. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  7. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  8. UK will not name new commissioner before election

Stalling on VAT reform costing billions, says Commission

German media outlet Correctiv, along with other newsrooms, have revealed how criminals annually cheat EU states out of billions in VAT fraud. The EU Commission says solutions exist - but member states refuse to budge on tax unanimity.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. France unveils new model EU enlargement
  2. Key moments for new commission This WEEK
  3. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  4. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  5. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  6. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  7. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  8. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us