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Procedure : 2006/0036(NLE)
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Document selected : A6-0060/2007

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PV 24/04/2007 - 14
CRE 24/04/2007 - 14

Votes :

PV 25/04/2007 - 5.2
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Tuesday, 24 April 2007 - Strasbourg OJ edition

14. Multilateral Agreement on the Establishment of a European Common Aviation Area: Commission statement and report (debate)

  President. The next item is the joint debate on

- the Commission statement on the Multilateral Agreement on the Establishment of a European Common Aviation Area, and

- the report (A6-0060/2007) by Mrs Lichtenberger, on behalf of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, on the proposal for a Council decision on the conclusion of the Multilateral Agreement between the Republic of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Republic of Bulgaria, the Republic of Croatia, the European Community, the Republic of Iceland, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Kingdom of Norway, Serbia and Montenegro, Romania and the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo on the Establishment of a European Common Aviation Area (ECAA) (COM(2006)0113 - C6-0218/2006 - 2006/0036(CNS)).


  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to start by congratulating Mrs Lichtenberger on her very constructive report. The stakes involved in the Agreement on the European Common Aviation Area are certainly significant.

The agreement was signed last June by 37 parties, a number which is undoubtedly unparalleled in aviation agreements. It helps us to create a single global network which will bring people, countries and cultures closer together. In this respect, air transport plays a vital role in the integration and subsequent development of Europe as a whole. The Agreement on the European Common Aviation Area thus goes beyond simply opening up the market: it creates a single area, and brings all of the countries of the Balkans and South-East Europe into the European family.

This agreement will encourage the development not only of more air links, but of better quality ones. These links will promote trade between populations, be it in the form of commercial relationships or of private travel, for example in the context of tourism, which is booming in most of the countries concerned. Air transport can thus act as a driving force for development in other sectors and contribute to the development of the entire Balkan region. Like the treaty on energy in South-East Europe, the Agreement on the European Common Aviation Area represents a vital step towards an ever closer union of Europeans, which continues to be the underlying aim of the EU. It represents a key step in establishing, by 2010, a single aviation area between the European Union and its neighbours, along with the recent agreement with Morocco and the negotiations that have just been opened with Ukraine.

The objective of the agreement is clear and forward-looking, but it is also worth emphasising the benefits of the method chosen. This method is based on two pillars. The first pillar is regulatory convergence, in other words harmonisation of the European rules and standards in air transport in fields as important as safety, security, competition, social policy, consumer rights and environmental protection. This harmonisation of national and Community legislation is an illustration of the desire of the Balkan countries to share the European Union's values and principles, and the level of regulatory convergence is unprecedented: all of the partners to this agreement have made a commitment to bring their national legislation into line with Community legislation.

The second pillar is the creation of new opportunities by opening up the markets. We are now in the process of creating a single aviation market in 35 countries for more than 500 million residents, and this market is growing. Since 2001, air traffic between the European Union and South-East Europe has grown by almost 120%, and this trend is now going to accelerate thanks to the complete integration of a region in which, it is predicted, air traffic will increase by 6% a year to 2011. Since 2005, the number of seats on flights between the European Union and the Balkans has risen from 12 million to 14 million. I am sure everyone is well aware of the positive consequences of this agreement.

In order for this venture to be a success, the Commission also needs to lean on a third pillar: technical assistance. We intend to keep a close eye on the implementation of this legislation, whilst at the same time providing the partners with all the help they need, and I will keep you informed, ladies and gentlemen, of the progress achieved and of developments in the situation.

I would like once again to thank your rapporteur, Mrs Lichtenberger, and you for lending your support to this European campaign to create a European common aviation area. Yet again, the alliance between Parliament and Commission has achieved some very important results that, Mr President, are in Europe's general interest.


  Eva Lichtenberger (Verts/ALE), rapporteur. – (DE) Mr President, I am much obliged to the Commissioner for his introductory words. Let me also thank my honourable colleagues for the fact that we have jointly managed to produce a report which, in its main elements, constitutes a very cohesive document. May I say that this coordinated effort should not be underestimated.

It is always said of us Austrians that we have an affinity with the Balkans, and this is one reason why I am pleased that we have just reached an agreement with the Balkan States which regulates our common development in a particular area of activity and provides for a step-by-step approach that responds as effectively as possible to the diverse situations in those countries.

The countries of the Balkans, which have lived through extremely difficult times in the recent past, with wars, disputes and nationalist conflicts, differ sharply from each other in terms of their fleets, their infrastructure, their powers of control and their governmental structures. For that precise reason, a differentiated approach has to be adopted. That has undoubtedly been very successfully achieved in the present agreement.

I would like to highlight a few points that will be crucial to our joint efforts. We shall be monitoring this convergence process by means of aid and assistance in the introduction of safety and security measures – and I use the English terms because they enable me to draw a distinction between two aspects of the German word Sicherheit. It is all about daily routine, of course, about the practical details of everyday working procedures. Needless to say, it must be crystal-clear to us that the conditions have to be fulfilled, that we cannot turn a blind eye to deficiencies but must work together over the next few years on common safety and security rules for European aviation and that these efforts must be accompanied by the creation of market-access mechanisms.

Some points within the general set of rules appear to me to be especially central and important, such as passengers' rights, particularly the rights of passengers with disabilities, which will naturally apply in those countries just as they do in our own. People confined to wheelchairs must not be prevented from travelling by the absence of the appropriate infrastructure and personnel in the Balkan countries. Social dumping in the form of non-compliance with common rules governing working hours must naturally be prevented too, because that is a core issue which has now spread to the aviation sector.

It goes without saying that protection of the environment also plays a major role. Much has been said in the context of this agreement about high growth rates in future air traffic between the European Union and the Balkan countries. This growth must be accompanied by an environmental initiative to reduce emissions and noise levels so as to ensure that increasing volumes of air traffic do not mean sharp rises in environmental pollution.

One final important point concerns the functional airspace blocks. It will be difficult to form a common block or pursue common policies, but I am an incurable old optimist and hope that we can achieve a satisfactory outcome in this area too. We know to our regret, of course, that these things do not always run smoothly, even within the Union, but we can create the conditions for a common system of air-traffic management that serves to reduce emissions and to make life easier for air passengers and for airline and airport staff.

I hope that intergovernmental cooperation in the Balkans under this agreement might be a further step towards mutual understanding in other spheres too.


  Georg Jarzembowski, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Mr Vice-President of the Commission, let me begin by warmly thanking the rapporteur for the immense volume of work she has put into this report, and particularly into the resolution, and let me reassure her that she is not an incurable old optimist but a youthful optimist!

The Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and European Democrats wholeheartedly supports the creation of a broader common air space comprising the European Union, Iceland and Norway from the European Economic Area and the neighbouring countries of south-eastern Europe, since all of these countries, through this multilateral agreement, will gradually incorporate the same code of aviation law and ultimately create a uniform legal area in Europe covering all aspects of aviation, from air-traffic control and airspace management to competition between airlines. In this way we shall also increase the safety and security of aviation and reinforce the rights of air travellers.

I am very grateful to the rapporteur for drafting the resolution. I do not seek to apply the eco-friendly label to every activity in any circumstances but would argue for a reasonable level of mobility. This is why we believe that all Member States should involve themselves without delay in practical measures to realise the concept of a single European sky by means of an effective system of airspace management. In this way we can cut CO2 emissions in the European Union by up to 12%.

We also support the efforts to introduce a sound European system of emissions-trading for air transport in order to achieve further environmental benefits. The wisdom of emissions-trading, however, is something we shall discuss later in another context.

Finally, let me point out that it is also important for us to assist each other in staff training and in the procurement and use of the latest air-traffic control technology, for we need a safe and efficient system to monitor the use of European air space.


  Saïd El Khadraoui, on behalf of the PSE Group. (NL) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I too should like to start by thanking the rapporteur, Mrs Lichtenberger, for the good work she has done on this issue, but also on other aviation issues, in which we had the pleasure of working together, often, in fact, in overwhelming consensus with most groups. We have been able to conclude time and again that we seek to achieve the same objectives, these being not only the gradual extension of the freed European aviation market, but also, and possibly above all, to seize this opportunity to ensure that we gradually export – as it were – the European acquis, the sum total of all European rules on aviation, to our neighbours and, in time, also to other parts of the world. In that way, our common rules in the area of safety, security, air traffic control, competition, social and environmental aspects can be adopted by third countries and can create, in that way, a level playing field, albeit elevated, of some kind. This is important when we open each other’s markets, but also in terms of the safety of our passengers or of maintenance of social cohesion in the sector.

It goes without saying that it will not be easy for all countries involved to apply the existing European rules, because they often lack the necessary know-how or the necessary technical baggage, and so it is important to stipulate in the agreement that the Commission is prepared to offer to those countries technical, legal and management support. It is equally important that in these agreements, we keep the option of taking necessary measures in future open, for example as the rapporteur already mentioned, to reduce the adverse effects on the climate to an absolute minimum. The emissions trading system has already been mentioned, and the System for Earth Sample Registration (SESAR) is another way of achieving this. Needless to say, we fully support the Lichtenberger report and the associated resolution, although we would like to tighten up certain things here and there, and have tabled a few amendments accordingly, which, I hope, will meet with parliamentary support. They may be symbolic, but are important and in line with comparable resolutions we already approved.


  Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, on behalf of the ALDE Group. (NL) Mr President, a common aviation area based on free market access, freedom of establishment, a level playing field, based on common rules in the area of safety, security, air traffic control and naturally the social aspects and the environment, does, of course, create a considerable win-win situation for all parties involved, and nobody will say that such a thing is not necessary and useful.

This is, in fact, what sprang to mind when we commemorated the Tenerife air disaster on 27 March last. Exactly thirty years ago, two Boeing 747’s collided, and 583 people lost their lives, in what was the biggest disaster in our aviation history. I then realised that, since that time, we have taken many important steps where common rules on European aviation, and particularly where the safety of aviation passengers, are concerned, and was acutely aware of how much we have benefited from this.

Accordingly, I consider the establishment of a European common aviation area, based on the guiding principles which have more or less been covered by most speakers, to be another important step forward. After all, the agreement provides for the gradual extension of the aviation acquis to include the partner countries. Alongside safety, its economic importance is also obvious.

Like the rapporteur and previous speakers, I think it important to emphasise that not all partner countries are starting from the same position. Some, to put it mildly, face a considerable challenge, and the aviation sector in the partner countries is also at rather different stages of development.

In other words, progress in the direction of a common aviation area will not be uniform; in fact, we do not want that anyway, and so I see the proposed technical, legal and other support from the EU in the direction of these partner countries to be an essential tool in order actually to achieve the European common aviation area. I should, of course, like to conclude by adding my thanks to the rapporteur, Mrs Lichtenberger.


  Mieczysław Edmund Janowski, on behalf of the UEN Group. – (PL) Mr President, I would like to congratulate Mrs Lichtenberger on her work.

I would like, on behalf of the Union for Europe of the Nations Group, to express my support for this multilateral international agreement in which the European Union plays a prime role, despite some differences in technicalities among the partners. We are now coming to the end of a difficult and tortuous task which was started many years ago, and which will result in a free, safe and common civil aviation market in Europe. The rapid expansion of cargo as well as of passenger aviation has brought both positive and negative results. In this context, I am happy to say that the Polish aviation market is the fastest developing in Europe, at an average of over 11% over the year. Only in China has air transport been developing more quickly. The development of low cost airlines has clearly contributed to this growth, and it has helped to develop some very important regional hubs. We can now say that the levels of air traffic in Europe have reached saturation point, and a critical event such as poor weather, an accident or strikes would cause major disruption to the entire European system. I would like to stress that the European Common Aviation Area will be responsible for supervising aviation authorities in individual countries, and will collaborate with these authorities and with Eurocontrol. The SESAME system will have an important role to play in this.

And two final points. The ECAA should become the precursor for a common world aviation area. On this point I agree with the Commissioner’s comments. And secondly, in all activities covered by this agreement, the focus on passengers, including disabled passengers, as mentioned by the rapporteur, must not be lost. In this context, I think that the recent strike by firemen at Brussels airport set an extremely poor example.


  Vladimír Remek, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. – (CS) Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should first like to commend the rapporteur on her work and as a shadow rapporteur I would like to thank her for the good cooperation.

One of the most important contributions to be made by the agreement is, in my view, the fact that it will lead to the extension of specific European standards to a further region, in this case the Balkans, which is also a complex region.

As I spent part of my professional career in aviation, I know how important international cooperation is in this field and how necessary it is to have at least a number of specific rules. With the adoption of this document, we are satisfying further preconditions for the extension of a single European sky beyond EU territory. This is not only about helping to improve safety, but also about the possibility of enhancing the quality of passenger services. The agreement also represents further opportunities for European business. To my mind these are equally important consequences of the agreement before us. I also believe that this is an example of a project that will help, in a practical way, to disseminate European ideas. Further practical agreements of this kind, which are not mere attempts at bureaucratically managing life in European countries, and which enjoy broad support, would certainly raise the prestige of the EU.

Aviation in Europe is open to all countries that wish to be integrated into the European flying family under clear and generally accepted terms and conditions.


  Jean-Claude Martinez, on behalf of the ITS Group. – (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, a single market, a single currency, and now even the sky is to become single, this is confirmation that European integration is a legal, financial and economic monotheism, which, like all monotheisms, has the power to expand. We can see it here with the Council’s ultimately positive decision concerning a Multilateral Agreement for the Establishment of a European Aviation Area common to the European Union, to the Balkan States, to Iceland and to Norway, that is, if I have counted correctly, to 37 countries.

This legal corpus, once again positive, is a multilateral agreement: 35 articles, 4 annexes and 8 protocols. National laws are being brought into line with each other. We are establishing a common market for aviation transport, and, my God, unification happens more quickly in the sky than on earth. Here we have one agreement that establishes a continental aviation law under five main headings: the right of establishment, aviation safety in Article 11, aviation security particularly in times of terrorist threats and hijackings, air traffic management and, of course, competition, with State aid, public contracts and the marketing of goods.

In addition to all the classic rules common to all these multilateral treaties, that is, rules for the settlement of disputes, for interpretation, for implementation, and here, implementation that allows for application in stages, with the classic problem, once again, of the starting date and provisional application. For once, we can only welcome something that should make life easier both for companies and for natural persons.


  Erna Hennicot-Schoepges (PPE-DE).(FR) Mr President, I agree with the previous speaker’s very positive comments. Mr President, 37 Member States will have to ratify this agreement before its final application. Until then, bilateral agreements, insofar as they exist, will be applied. Our rapporteur has stressed that a ‘one size fits all’ approach is inappropriate as far as the associated countries are concerned.

However, the intergovernmental approach for a joint committee that was larger than necessary, as she politely puts it – and I should like to congratulate Mrs Lichtenberger on her report – nonetheless makes cooperation considerably more cumbersome. It goes without saying that implementation of the SESAR system will make air traffic management easier, and we can only give our full support to Commissioner Barrot with a view to speeding up as far as possible the development phase of SESAR.

Need I remind you that this system would make a considerable contribution to the environment, one that would be more effective than the system of emissions trading, the imposition of which is being sought for civil aviation, with a better organised air space and genuine savings in aviation fuel? There would not only be an open sky but also a clean sky, as you said, Commissioner.

I would repeat, however, my fears that the agreements to be ratified by the Member States may delay the implementation of SESAR. The stage before us this evening is a major one, and the date of 2010 is ambitious. The development phase of SESAR should end in 2013. Commissioner, it is justifiable to have the ambition to progress in the interests of environmental protection, but I would ask the Commission to tell us whether it is not possible to progress also in the work and what the state of advancement is of the regulatory work done in the Member States. Could the Commission keep Parliament informed regularly about the state of progress of this work?


  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (PSE). – Felicit raportorul pentru munca depusă. Încep prin a menţiona că România şi Bulgaria, ca state membre, respectă acquis-ul comunitar. De asemenea acestora se aplică regulamentele în vigoare. Acordul multilateral pentru stabilirea spaţiului aerian comun european se înscrie în politica de vecinătate a Uniunii Europene şi în procesul de extindere a pieţei interne de transport la statele vecine. Statele din Balcani sunt importante pentru Uniune Europeană. Este important pentru aceasta ca statele semnatare să respecte standardele şi reglementările europene privind siguranţa şi securitatea aviaţiei, drepturile pasagerilor, concurenţa, achiziţiile şi ajutorul de stat. Implementarea acordului se va face gradual, conform protocolului cu fiecare stat semnatar, urmând ca aplicarea integrală a acordului să se realizeze după ratificarea sa de către toate părţile semnatare. Până în acel moment se vor aplica acordurile bilaterale existente privind accesul la spaţiul aerian şi frecvenţele utilizate. Având în vedere importanţa spaţiului aerian comun european pentru politica comunitară de transport, este important ca statele semnatare să primească din partea Comisiei Europene sprijinul tehnic, legal şi procedural necesar pentru implementarea sa. Felicit încă o dată raportorul pentru activitatea depusă.


  Arūnas Degutis (ALDE). (LT) The resolution being considered today is short, but crucial: with it we would agree to a multilateral agreement on the European Common Aviation Area (ECAA). This agreement, which the Commission negotiated a year ago with the Balkan countries as well as Iceland and Norway, is important because it expands the application of European Community aviation norms to the partner countries mentioned.

This is of great importance not only for these countries, which are trying to gradually bring their aviation norms in line with European norms, but also for Europe, since European standards will gradually start to be applied in the above-mentioned geographic zone, above all in the field of aviation safety, which will enable our citizens to travel more safely. Travel to the Balkans is constantly increasing as these countries draw closer to Europe.

The field of international civil aviation is complex and multifaceted; therefore, it was correct to choose an asymmetrical negotiation approach with regard to the specific situation and the level of implementation of existing standards in each country with which a protocol was to be signed. This should make for faster implementation of the norms, not holding back the more advanced countries, while encouraging those lagging furthest behind.


  Jacques Barrot, Vice-President of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, I should like to thank Parliament for emphasising – as all the speakers have done – the importance of this agreement that establishes a European Common Aviation Area.

I should like to say to the rapporteur that, of course, environmental and social aspects are covered by the agreement that includes the European Union rules. The signatory States, moreover, are committed to implementing the acquis communautaire, and that applies, in particular, to the rights of passengers and to those, as you have stressed, Mrs Lichtenberger, of people with reduced mobility. The partners of this European Common Aviation Area are also committed to implementing all future European Union legislation, including, for example, social rights. Therefore, this European Aviation Area will serve as a common framework for aviation transport and will ensure equality of treatment in all circumstances for all parties concerned.

I should also like to point out that SESAR will encourage better management of the aviation area, which will also be a major factor. Many of you also have emphasised the fact that not only was compliance with the acquis communautaire essential, but that it was also essential to provide support and that this support should be proportionate to the needs of each of the Member States, which are not all at the same level. In answer to Mrs Hennicot-Schoepges on this point, I shall do as she wished and keep your Parliament informed of the regulatory progress in the Member States. You are right, Mrs Hennicot-Schoepges, to have emphasised the risk of seeing ratification fall behind when, in fact, this Area needs to come into being quickly. I am therefore very mindful of what you have said.

I think that I have covered almost all that has been said. I would add that the Commission will carry out annual assessment visits and will present to the European Parliament a detailed report on the progress achieved by the European Aviation Area partners.

I would also add, for Mrs Ticău’s benefit, that the accession of Bulgaria and of Romania had been provided for by the agreement. As the two States are now members of the European Union, they are parties to the agreement, and no amendment is to be envisaged.

Mr President, I shall say no more. I thank Parliament very much for the interest it has shown in this agreement which, indeed, is absolutely vital in order to unify the European sky and, as Mr Martinez said, sometimes, perhaps, we have to start with the sky in order to achieve unity on the ground.


  President. The joint debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Wednesday at 11.30 a.m.

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