WITH ALMOST unprecedented speed, the European Commission (EC) has rushed through draft proposals for a pan-European open-skies agreement.

The action follows US success in tying up individual open-skies deals with European countries. These are seen by the EC as being illegal and threatening to EC airlines as they adjust to European air-transport liberalisation. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden have already signed preliminary accords (Flight International, 22-28 March).

EC transport commissioner Neil Kinnock is taking a particularly firm stand over the open-skies issue. The head of air-transport policy in Kinnock's transport directorate, Frederick Sorensen, says: "We proved we had teeth over Orly, now we have to do it again."

Sorensen says that the EC will have "no hesitation" in taking the six countries to the European Court of Justice at Luxembourg to prevent the initial open-skies agreements being finalised. It will call on existing EC law designed to prevent countries making third-party agreements with non-EC countries, which might affect other EC states.

The EC proposals will have to pass through the Council of Ministers, who will meet in June, before any general agreement with the USA. Sorensen notes that, "...at a political level, the USA has already said it would be happy to deal with the EC alone instead of individual countries".

He accepts, however, that the USA has been conducting a "divide and fall" policy, which, if it succeeded, would enable US carriers to take advantage of European liberalisation, without having to observe any of the laws protecting EC carriers.

The EC had not been expected to finalise an open-skies formula for at least a year. "We seem to have been caught napping," admits one EC source, "but it shows we can move fast when we have to."

Source: Flight International