Air Line Pilot, August 2003
President’s Forum: European Union MandateThe European Union finally has its long-awaited mandate to negotiate on behalf of its Member States on air transport matters. This event will impose unique challenges for our negotiators as the European Union has views on a number of key aviation issues that are at odds with those of the United States. In addition, the unique structure of the European Union leaves much authority on critical matters--including labor standards--in the hands of the Member States.
We have already experienced clashes between U.S. and EU aviation interests. The European Union, for example, took an extremely aggressive position on achieving global Stage 4 noise reductions that we felt could hurt U.S. airlines and aerospace manufacturers. The U.S. government had to file a complaint with the International Civil Aviation Organization to get the dispute resolved. Just two years ago, the European Union prohibited General Electric’s acquisition of Honeywell, claiming the merger would severely hurt competition among aerospace manufacturers. The European Union complained bitterly about U.S. government funds being allocated to our airlines to compensate for financial losses suffered following the terrorist attacks on 9/11.
The first round of formal bargaining between
the United States and the European Union will begin in late September or early
October with a following session in December. The U.S. State and Transportation
Departments have indicated a desire to move cautiously for-ward with these
negotiations, and I think this plan is prudent. If history is any guide, the
European Union will likely continue to take an aggressive posture. For aviation,
this means that the European Union will likely propose some items that we
consider “nonstarters”--as part of the agreement to create what is called an
“Open Aviation Area,” the European Union wants to eliminate all barriers to
foreign ownership of U.S. airlines and to exchange cabotage rights.
Last year, the European Court of Justice ruled invalid the nationality clauses in several of the current bilateral aviation agreements between the United States and individual nations that belong to the European Union. This issue of nationality clauses should be the primary focus for the negotiators in the upcoming round of discussions. The negotiators should then decide what additional matters, if any, they should consider.
My reason for concern, a concern that is shared among ALPA members and with our brother and sister pilots in Europe, is that with respect to labor law, the European Union is neither fish nor fowl right now. The European Union has not opted to behave as a nation-state with respect to labor laws; rather, it has 15 sets of labor laws, one for each Member State, and that number will soon rise to 25 sets, as 10 new Member States join the European Union next year. These 10 new members include countries, such as Poland, Slovenia, and the Czech Republic, that have significantly lower wage and social standards. This, coupled with a change in ownership control rules, could provide the potential for air-lines to set up flags of convenience, just as their shipping counterparts have done in the maritime industry.
Historically in trade negotiations for other sectors, the United States and the European Union have demonstrated different priorities for their public policies. The U.S. government seems more worried about consumer prices, which seems to be their definition of good public policy. The European Union tends to protect their business interests. European Union advocates keep telling me about all the opportunities available for U.S. carriers. But I don’t see a single one. Not one U.S. airline CEO has expressed to me a desire to buy into a European airline or to operate in the European domestic market. This seems to be a one-way street for opportunity. It would provide European carriers access to the world’s largest aviation market--the United States--but would not provide an equal or greater return to U.S. carriers. Foreign airlines that invest in U.S. airlines would likely do so to reduce competition, not to in-crease it. A foreign carrier that succeeded in buying control of United, Northwest, Delta, or US Airways likely would not increase transatlantic traffic, but would likely eliminate some--our part.
As trade unionists, our duty to our members goes beyond wages and working conditions. We have been touted as the conscience of the airline industry. We need to use our influence to make sure that the U.S. government knows that we are not prepared to have this round of bargaining with the European Union open the floodgates to degradation of the airline industry or American interests.
s/ Duane E. Woerth