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American Shipper

EC seeks dismantling of transatlantic aviation agreements

EC seeks dismantling of transatlantic aviation agreements

   In its bid to assert its authority over the negotiation of a new transatlantic “open-skies” agreement between all European Union countries and the United States, the European Commission has sent letters of formal notice to eight EU governments requiring them to end their existing bilateral aviation agreements with the United States.

   The countries concerned — Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden and the United Kingdom — have failed to comply with the judgments of the European Court of Justice issued against them on Nov. 5, 2002 in the “open skies” cases, the EC said. In the 2002 court rulings, the bilateral agreements made between individual EU countries and the United States were deemed illegal because they reserved traffic rights to national carriers.

   Loyola de Palacio, commissioner in charge of transport, wants the 20 EU governments with bilateral U.S. agreements to start procedures to terminate those agreements to ensure that they comply with EU rules.

   “It is over one and a half years since the European Court of Justice ruled that the discrimination between EU airlines embodied in the member states’ bilateral agreements with the U.S. is contrary to EU law, yet that discrimination still remains in place,” de Palacio said.

   The EC has obtained a mandate to negotiate a pan-EU aviation agreement with the United States to replace individual country agreements, but talks over the past year have proved difficult. European negotiators have complained that the United States is not willing to grant access to its domestic market to European airlines, while the U.S. Department of Transportation regards such demands as unrealistic.

   The EC has also decided to start court proceedings against the Netherlands over its “open-skies” agreement with the United States. The Brussels-based executive said it has also decided to initiate proceedings against France, Italy and Portugal for failure to fulfill their EU obligations as a result of their U.S. bilateral agreements.

   De Palacio will send letters to all EU governments “to request that they adopt a unified approach in their relations with the U.S. that will support the negotiation of a new EU-U.S. accord,” the EC said.

   The European airline industry is reportedly opposed to the termination of existing bilateral agreements.

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