Air Transport World

Creating a European fortress: the EC is erecting air-transport barriers but its members are at such odds that outsiders may not encounter great difficulty. (European Community; includes related articles on the European airline industry) (EC '93)

Us the airlines of the 12 European Community (EC) nations and their seven partners in the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) pull the walls of a liberalized fortress Europe around them starting Jan. 1, carriers based outside the bloc but that rely on services to points within it for significant slices of revenues worry what impact this new era will have on them.

The EC, from its Brussels headquarters, did not come to grips seriously with foreign relations until very recently, so busy has it been steamrollering through the Third Package of liberalization measures, which concentrates on arranging aviation affairs within Europe, from fares and routes to cabotage and the right to start new airlines. But the enemy at the gates of the fortress has not been forgotten and with the Third Package now settled, the scene outside is receiving a far higher priority than in the past. Transport Commissioner Karel van

Miert set out the long-term goal: "From an EC point of view, once a common single market has been established, the logical position for the EC is to also be in charge to a large extent of the external-relations side. Let us face the facts. Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation can make deliberate use of the fragmented bilateral-negotiating habits of European countries. Therefore, a major restructuring effort is required, both at European company and regulatory level."

The EC's desire is to act on behalf of all 19 EC and EFTA member states, which are grouping together within the European Economic Area (EEA), plus some of those from the former East European countries, in the matter of government-to-government bilateral air agreements. But while an arrangement like this would give enormous muscle in talks, the EC admits behind the scenes that such a nirvana remains a long way off, given the reluctance of individual national administrations to sacrifice the negotiating rights they have enjoyed since the original Bermuda agreement, signed between the U.S. and the U.K. immediately after World War II, set the pattern for cross-border aviation accords.

The difficulties are immense. But at least, the EC has made a start with a draft directive setting 1998 as the deadline beyond which no individual member country will be allowed to negotiate its own bilateral agreements. The directive also wants individual countries to consult with other EC members before signing bilaterals prior to 1998.

The EC's move to take charge of bilaterals has been given an urgency it did not possess previously, by the signing of an open-skies agreement between the Netherlands and the U.S., by the U.S.-U.K. charge toward an open-skies agreement of their own and by the fierce battle between the U. …

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