The European Commission (EC) has asked member states to tear up their bilateral treaties with the USA in the wake of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that nationality clauses within these deals infringe community law.In its first response to the ruling, the EC calls for member states to "urgently agree" to give the EC a mandate to negotiate a community-wide bilateral with the USA. "This will allow a controlled and non-disruptive transition to an open transatlantic air market," says the EC. There is usually a one-year notice period for the termination of bilateral deals.

The USA, however, had warned against such a call for renunciation of existing deals. Speaking ahead of the EC announcement, Paul Gretch, director of the office of international aviation at the USA's Department of Transportation, warned that Brussels would be making "an enormous mistake" and sending out an aggressive message to Washington. "At the start of this process, any idea that this would speed negotiations with the USA is wrong and would be enormously disruptive," he says. Gretch adds that Washington is happy to deal with the EC once it has been given a mandate to negotiate, but in the meantime would aim to continue working with governments on a bilateral basis. Gretch also says that any new agreements will have to be at least as liberal as the open skies deals they replace.

For its part, the EC calls on member states to "refrain from taking international commitments of any kind in the field of aviation before having clarified their compatibility with European law". The EC adds that the judgement has implications for all EU-US agreements and possibly all European bilaterals.

The ECJ ruling also confirms that the EC has competence over the areas of slots, fares and computer reservation systems. Bilaterals with non-EU countries would have to abide by EC guidelines. The EC considers this principle extends to other areas, including fuel duties.

Source: Airline Business