Alan George/BRUSSELS

European transport ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 1 October are expected to agree a limited mandate for the European Commission (EC) to negotiate air services agreements with the USA and other states on behalf of European Union (EU) members.

The decision should help defuse a potentially damaging row between Brussels and EU members over open skies agreements, although the EC is expected to go ahead with the legal action even if it obtains a limited mandate.

Transport commissioner Neil Kinnock had asserted that existing bilateral open skies agreements between the USA and individual member states were unlawful under the European single market, and he has been threatening legal action against member states which refused to abrogate their open skies agreements.

Clauses in open skies agreements granting airlines immunity from US anti-trust legislation are cornerstones of the alliances being forged between US and European airlines, of which the biggest will be between American Airlines and British Airways.

"Member states which already have open skies agreements with the USA are pressing hardest for the formula expected to be agreed in Luxembourg", says a senior EC official, who stresses that Brussels was not expecting dramatic concessions by member states. "At best, the EC will win a limited mandate to negotiate on behalf of the EU as a whole," he says. "Existing open skies agreements should be unaffected".

Source: Flight International