EU to finally start talks with Gulf countries on aviation agreements

Under the new regulation, a complaint can be filed with the European Commission by an EU-based carrier, a group of carriers or a member state. [Eric Prado/Flickr]

EXCLUSIVE / With several months delay, EU member states are expected to give the European Commission the green light next Tuesday (7 June) to start negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar on comprehensive aviation agreements that will also cover alleged subsidies given to their airlines.

EU transport ministers, who will be meeting in Luxembourg next week (6-7 June), are also expected to authorise the Commission to start discussions with other fast-growing markets, namely Turkey and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), various EU officials told

Commission mulls new measures against aviation subsidies from third countries

The issue of subsidies and “unfair pricing” in the aviation sector will be an “important” part of the upcoming talks with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, according to the latest draft of the aviation package seen by EURACTIV.

The same sources explained that the committee of permanent representatives of the member states, held on Thursday (26 May), made good progress on these dossiers and there are only a few details left for the ministers to hash out next Tuesday.

As part of the aviation strategy published last December, the executive said that it would ask the Council for mandates to negotiate with countries to improve market access, as ailing European airlines look for new sources of growth.

The EU wants to reach new aviation agreements with Armenia, China, Mexico and Turkey, as well as groups of nations, including ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) and Gulf countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates).

Member states such as France and Germany were initially reluctant to further open European skies to Gulf air carriers such as Qatar Airways, Etihad or Emirates.

Their legacy carriers Lufthansa and Air France-KLM have complained in recent years about the alleged subsidies the Gulf airlines get from the oil-rich monarchies.

In its aviation strategy, the executive promised to address the issue of “subsidisation and unfair pricing practices” in the context of negotiations with the UAE and Qatar.

But despite the priority given to these new aviation deals, security-related issues came top of the agenda in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris and Brussels.

In order to reinvigorate the process, Qatari Minister of Transport Jassim Saif Ahmed Al Sulaiti visited Brussels to meet with Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc in early May.

Qataris fly to Brussels to unblock aviation deal with EU

The Qatari Minister of Transport, Jassim Saif Ahmed Al Sulaiti, will fly to Brussels on Tuesday (10 May) to reinvigorate talks on an aviation agreement with the European Union, which have been stalled for almost half a year.

The risk of drones

On 7 June, the transport ministers will also discuss the state-of-play of the proposal for common rules in the field of civil aviation.

The most controversial issue in this field is how to deal with drones. Despite the economic opportunities brought by these devices in areas such as parcel delivery or monitoring of large infrastructures, aviation authorities and decision-makers are concerned about potential accidents.

MEP Wim Van de Camp (EPP, the Netherlands), said in an event hosted by the EPC think-tank yesterday (31 May) that “everybody is enthusiastic about the economic impact of drones”. But he said the negative consequences, such as the growing risk of accidents, are “underestimated”.

In its aviation strategy adopted in December 2015, the European Commission highlighted its intention of negotiating comprehensive aviation agreements with high-growth markets in Asia and the Middle East.

Such a strategy "can contribute to improving market access and investment opportunities for European aviation in important overseas markets, increasing Europe's international connectivity and ensuring fair and transparent market conditions for EU airlines,” the Commission said.

The EU has reached aviation agreements with Canada, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Moldova, Morocco, US, and the Western Balkans. An agreement with Ukraine is ready to be signed, while the EU authorities are negotiating similar deals with Australia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Lebanon, New Zealand, Tunisia.

Now the Commission is requesting to open negotiations with Armenia, China, Mexico, and Turkey as well as groups of nations, including ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), and Gulf countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates),

Out of the 335 million passengers that flew in and out the EU in 2014, 42% were covered by external aviation agreements already signed, and 72% would be covered if all proposed deals are reached.

EU plans measures to even competition with non-EU airlines

The European Commission is considering new measures to tackle what it sees as unfair competition from non-EU airlines as part of a package of proposals unveiled on Monday (7 November) designed to boost the competitiveness of Europe's aviation sector.

  • 6-7 June: Transport Council (agenda)

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