News that European Commission transport commissioner Jacques Barrot has been earmarked to replace Franco Frattini as its next justice chief, has alarmed those charged with developing major tracts of forthcoming European air transport legislation.

Barrot has been covering Frattini's responsibilities since the latter - tipped to take a senior post in Silvio Berlusconi's incoming government - took leave to return Italy to take part in recent elections.

EC president Jose Manuel Barroso says should Frattini resign, Barrot will be asked to take over the justice, liberty and security portfolio. "In such a case the replacement for vice-president Frattini to be nominated by the Italian authorities will be in charge of the transport portfolio that is the current responsibility of vice-president Barrot," said Barroso.

"There is real anger and concern on our side - and probably on the Greens' side too - that transport is being treated in this way," says Brian Simpson, UK MEP and leader of the Socialist group on the Parliamentary transport committee.

"The talk is of three Italian candidate MEPs. To place an MEP with no experience of transport issues is bad enough, but to place an Italian MEP with close links to Berlusconi in the position of the transport commissioner at a time when Alitalia, with its tortuous history of state subsidy, is once again in serious trouble, is a recipe for disaster."

Simpson says the Socialist grouping is seeking urgent clarification from Barroso as to why he is seeking to switch the commissioner at such a late stage in the mandate and when the EC is driving through a full legislative programme and an outstanding dossier of work.

"We have Single Sky, aviation's inclusion into the European Union emissions trading scheme, the extension of EASA control, open skies, a mission to develop greater influence in ICAO not to mention Galileo, intelligent road technology, rail and maritime initiatives. I suspect that whoever it is will be given the roughest of rides," says Simpson.

Source: Flight International