European Commission Wins Four Open-Skies Mandates

BRUSSELS—EU governments have given the European Commission (EC) authorization to negotiate comprehensive air-transport agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Turkey and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The mandates were widely expected (Aviation Daily, May 24). They are one of the main deliverables of the Aviation Strategy for Europe adopted by the EC in December (Aviation Daily, December 7, 2015).

The EC has not released details of the respective mandates. But Aviation Daily has learned the EC is authorized to negotiate a full liberalization of third- and fourth-freedom traffic rights for passengers and all-cargo services between Turkey and the EU; intra-Europe fifth-freedom rights for passengers and cargo for Turkish carriers once Turkey complies with EU aviation legislation; and fifth-freedom rights from Turkey for EU carriers.

For the EU-level air-transport agreement with Qatar and the UAE, the EC is mandated to negotiate a full liberalization of third- and fourth-freedom rights for passenger and all-cargo services, and limited fifth-freedom rights for all-cargo operators.

Foreign air carriers would be allowed to own 100% of EU airlines and to fully control them, but only a reciprocal basis.

“I am pleased that we have the support from the 28 EU transport ministers to upgrade Europe’s aviation relations with some of our key partners,” EC Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said, while acknowledging she hopes to get more mandates at the next Transport Council meeting. In its aviation strategy, the EC put Armenia, China, Mexico, and all six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council on its wish list for EU-level air-transport agreements.

The open-skies mandates with the ASEAN, Qatar, Turkey and the UAE include a sunset clause that limits the duration of negotiations to three years for the Persian Gulf states and four years for ASEAN members and Turkey, as earlier reported by Aviation Daily.

Bulc admitted the sunset clauses had been a topic of discussion between the EC’s Directorate General for Transport and Mobility (DG Move) and the EU members. Her department wanted mandates that were unlimited in time, while the EU countries wanted to limit the time frame of the negotiations. Apparently, Germany wanted to restrict the mandate with the UAE and Qatar to just two years.

“Of course we accepted the decision of the council. We are satisfied with the compromise and we will try to do our best to finish the negotiations within the specified periods,” Bulc said during a press conference following the meeting of EU transport ministers June 7 in Luxembourg. DG Move wanted open-ended negotiations, she said, because “It is always hard to let the other party in the negotiations know that you are limited. It [a time limitation] takes a bit of power off your wings.”

Bulc also tried to ease concerns of unions and a number of EU members—mainly Germany and France—about alleged unfair-competition practices and government subsidization of the Gulf carriers.

“I am very positive that these comprehensive agreements will actually establish an equal playing field. We have a mandate to really address the reciprocity, the equal playing field, and fair competition on an EU level. We will have a chance to negotiate on all important issues, and that is the purpose of negotiations,” Bulc said.

Currently, EU members have different approaches and standards on these issues when they negotiate their bilateral air services agreements, she pointed out. Bulc added she hopes that an EU-level mandate gives a higher level of confidence to unions that they will be treated equally. “I think there is a much higher level of confidence if you have the EU behind it, rather than just one member state,” Bulc said.

Airports Council International Europe (ACI Europe) welcomed the four mandates, and asserted that moving towards open-skies regimes is essential to airport business development. “Airports have become network developers and they need full freedom to attract airlines to serve their destination. Restricting market access should no longer be allowed to constrain connectivity—and the benefits of recent aviation liberalization at EU level with the U.S., Canada or other countries, like Morocco, are plain for all to see,” said Olivier Jankovec, director general of ACI Europe.

Turkey and the ASEAN have already confirmed their interest in engaging in EU-level air-transport talks. Qatar and the UAE have not given formal confirmation of their intentions.

Published on Aviation Week.