Air Transport World

A difficult delivery: many questions must be answered before the EU and US arrive at an agreement that gives birth to an Open Aviation Area.(Aeropolitics)

At the end of the second round of talks between the EU and US on the Open Aviation Area held in Brussels in early December, both American and European Commission officials summarized the discussions in glowing terms, proclaiming that "important progress has been made" and that a "significant agreement" likely will be reached by fall.

The talks indeed were productive, confirms Andre Van Hove, former head of the Belgian CAA and a member of the Special Committee assisting the EC in its negotiating mandate on behalf of the member states. But he is candid that "stating that the talks have yielded important progress toward a comprehensive agreement on aviation liberalization between the US and the European Union is diplomatic jargon. Decent progress is a far more accurate description. Progress has been made on those topics that cover the last 25 pages of a typical ASA [air service agreement]. The first five, the most important pages, are not being filled in yet."

So what is propelling confident predictions of a new deal this year? In a word, politics. The view is that both sides have powerful incentives to complete a deal. For the US, the argument goes that President Bush would like this done and put away before the November elections. In Europe, the mandate of Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio will terminate at the end of October as a new European Commission takes up office Nov. 1. A new European Parliament also will be seated. As the driving force behind the EC negotiating mandate and a strong advocate of an OAA, de Palacio will do her utmost to achieve an agreement before she leaves, the thinking goes.

Yet de Palacio herself waves away the importance of the changing administrations. …

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