Ryanair boss accuses EU of favouring France and Germany

Simon Calder comments on planned Ryanair strike action

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Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has told Irish politicians that the European Commission lacks the bottle to deal with French strikes crippling the air travel industry. He suggested that air traffic controller strikes happen on a Friday so that workers can get a three-day weekend. Among the various charged comments he made during the three-hour committee appearance, he also called on the European Commission to change laws so that only domestic French flights would be affected during air traffic controller strikes and that overflights would be protected.

Mr O’Leary also called on the proposed single European sky to be implemented, but said the European Commission “lacks the bottle” that earlier commissions had “to challenge the vested interests of the national governments”.

Lashing out against Brussels over environmental taxes, he added: “It is manifestly unfair that only short-haul flights within Europe are paying 100pc of environmental taxes. Long-haul flights continue to be exempt, despite the fact that long-haul flights account for about 6pc of passengers but [around] 54pc of CO2 emissions.

“The European Parliament, which I would not be a big fan of, has called for environmental taxation to be extended to all long-haul flights travelling to and from Europe.”

He continued: “[But] the European Council and Commission, under the influence of the Germans, the French and the Dutch, are pushing back and saying, ‘No, we want to continue to exempt the most polluting flights used by the richest people travelling to and from Europe.’ That’s what lobbying gets you in the marble halls of Brussels.”

In July, flights from French airports faced disruption as airport workers went on strike to demand salary rises to keep up with inflation.

They also called for a recruitment drive to deal with resurgent travel demand, which has put both airports and airlines under pressure this year after jobs were cut during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking during an appearance before an Irish transport committee on Wednesday, Mr O’Leary accused French air traffic controllers of “recreational” striking.

“Many times, French air traffic controllers go on strike not because they want more pay, it’s because they don’t like (French President Emmanuel) Macron, or they didn’t like the result of the football match… it’s recreational striking.

“All the strikes generally take place on Fridays, and then they don’t show up to work on the Saturday so they have a three-day weekend.”

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He said that when French air traffic controllers go on strike, the French government uses minimum service legislation to protect French domestic flights.

“So, the French are all happily flying around the place. But it’s the poor Irish, the Spanish, the Italians and the Germans who are taking all of the cancellations.

“Our people, our citizens, our visitors are being completely screwed over while a bunch of French air traffic controllers go on strike – and we fully respect their right to go on strike – but let the French take the hit.

“It shouldn’t be Irish, Germans, Italians and Spanish who are not travelling to France (who) take the hit.”

He added: “It is bizarre that Europe’s free movement of people across Europe in a single market is allowed to be threatened by the French every time they have these recreational strikes, which they have frequently in the summer.”

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Mr O’Leary then called for a single European sky to be implemented – a proposal from 2001 – and accused the European Commission of not having the courage to implement it.

“The technology now exists to allow us to fly straight, we should be allowed to fly straight, we would burn less fuel, we would reduce our impact on the environment and we would pass on enormous savings to our customers.”

“In other words, they move to the same air traffic control system as America has, one system operate by all.”

“The difficulty is that it’s opposed by every single air traffic controllers’ national union because it means less jobs for them, and therefore they can’t get national governments to agree to it.”

He added: “The European Commission lacks the bottle that those earlier Commissions had to challenge the vested interests of the national governments.”

“Nobody will European Commission wants to challenge the French government or the German government, even if it’s in the interests of the vast and overwhelming majority of European citizens and passengers.”

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