Ryanair boss accuses EU of favoring France and Germany
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has told Irish politicians the European Commission is running out of steam to deal with French strikes crippling the airline industry. He suggested that strikes by air traffic controllers take place on a Friday so workers can enjoy 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 the laws so that only French domestic flights are affected during air traffic controller strikes and that overflights be protected.
Mr O’Leary also called for the implementation of the Single European Sky project, but said the European Commission ‘does not have the bottle’ that previous commissions had ‘to challenge the vested interests of national governments’ .
Lashing out at Brussels over environmental taxes, he added: “It is patently unfair that only short-haul flights within Europe pay 100% environmental taxes. Long-haul flights continue to be exempt, despite the fact that long-haul flights account for around 6% of passengers but [around] 54% of CO2 emissions.
“The European Parliament, of which I would not be a big fan, has called for environmental taxation to be extended to all long-haul flights to and from Europe.”
He continued: “[But] the European Council and the Commission, under the influence of the Germans, the French and the Dutch, push back and say: “No, we want to continue exempting the most polluting flights used by the wealthiest people traveling to and from Europe.” This is what lobbying in the marble halls of Brussels brings you.”
In July, flights from French airports were disrupted when airport workers went on strike demanding pay rises to keep up with inflation.
They also called for a recruitment drive to cope with the upsurge in travel demand, which has put airports and airlines under pressure this year after job cuts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking in an appearance before an Irish transport commission on Wednesday, Mr O’Leary accused French air traffic controllers of a “recreational” strike.
“Often 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 a recreational strike. .
“Any strikes are usually on Fridays, then they don’t show up for work on Saturdays, 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 flying happily around the place. But it’s the poor Irish, Spaniards, Italians and Germans who suffer all the cancellations.
“Our people, our citizens, our visitors are completely screwed as a group of French air traffic controllers go on strike – and we fully respect their right to strike – but let the French take the hit.
“It shouldn’t be the Irish, Germans, Italians and Spaniards who don’t travel to France (who) take the hit.”
He added: “It’s bizarre that the free movement of people in Europe in a single market is threatened by the French every time they have these recreational strikes, which they frequently have in the summer.”
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Mr O’Leary then called for the establishment of a single European sky – a 2001 proposal – 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, reduce our impact on the environment and pass huge savings on to our customers.”
“In other words, they are moving to the same air traffic control system as America, a system operated by everyone.”
“The problem is that all the national air traffic controller unions oppose it because it means fewer jobs for them, and so they can’t convince national governments to accept it.”
He added: ‘The European Commission does not have the bottle that these previous commissions had to challenge the vested interests of national governments.
“Nobody wants the European Commission to challenge the French government or the German government, even if it is in the interests of the vast and overwhelming majority of European citizens and passengers.”