The negotiation of Open Skies agreements is a key pillar of the European Union’s external aviation policy. Such agreements are a way to improve market access for European airlines, but also to facilitate the harmonisation of safety, security and environmental standards.
In 2017, the European Union and the United States celebrated the 10th anniversary of the EU-US Air Transport Agreement. The signature of this agreement, the first of its kind, established a modern framework for relations between the two largest aviation markets in the world.
Two years after the publication of an Aviation Strategy for Europe by EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc, her primary focus is to establish further EU-level aviation agreements with key partner countries. She believes that “global connectivity is a driver of trade and tourism, directly contributing to economic growth and job creation”.
Despite the stalled negotiations with Brazil, the Commission is feeling positive momentum in their pursuit for aviation agreements. The recently concluded agreements with Tunisia and Armenia have boosted the Commission’s confidence in its ability to reach deals. This is reflected in the renewed energy that DG MOVE is applying to international aviation.
Armenia sought to join the European Common Aviation Area, which means it must agree to the full application of the European aviation law and harmonising its legislation so it is in line with European rules. For example, the judgements of the European Court of Justice relevant to aviation also apply to Armenia. The Commission estimates that the opening of the market will lead to 87,000 more passengers.
The agreement with Tunisia, concluded in December 2017, is expected to bring an additional 800,000 passengers over a five-year period, and to boost tourism in Tunisia. It was described as far-reaching by both parties.
Progress has been made with Qatar and Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) States. Bearing in mind the geopolitical crisis they are currently facing, the Qatari authorities seem willing to make compromises in order to showcase that they can reach agreement with foreign countries. Negotiations are focused on fair competition, and social clauses are the main points of divergence.
The deal with ASEAN would become the first EU bloc-to-bloc aviation agreement. As the global economy shifts towards Asia-Pacific, the EU has an interest in strengthening existing ties with ASEAN Member States while establishing new ones, reinforcing its current position as a global aviation hub.
“Global connectivity is a driver of trade and tourism, directly contributing to economic growth and job creation”
DG Move’s Director General Henrik Hololei visited Azerbaijan at the end of January this year, with the aim of wrapping up bilateral talks on an aviation deal. Negotiations started in 2013, and two rounds of talks took place last year. More discussions will be needed.
By concluding EU-wide aviation agreements with emerging and dynamic markets, the Commission seeks to support an open and connected market for international aviation. As part of the Aviation Strategy for Europe, the Commission has also proposed to revise the EU regulation to safeguard competition in air transport 868/2004, to address practices negatively impacting competition, in the absence of an EU-level aviation agreement with a third country concerned, or where existing agreements do not contain sufficient rules addressing practices negatively affecting competition.
Commissioner Bulc wants to deliver on her strategy, and hopes to conclude agreements with ASEAN and Qatar before the end of her mandate in 2019. The question that remains is whether she will be able to count of European government’s backing in her endeavours.