REPORT on international air agreements under the Treaty of Lisbon

23.3.2011 - (2010/2207(INI))

Committee on Transport and Tourism
Rapporteur: Brian Simpson

Procedure : 2010/2207(INI)
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on international air agreements under the Treaty of Lisbon


The European Parliament,

–   having regard to its decision of 20 October 2010 on the revision of the framework agreement on relations between the European Parliament and the European Commission[1] (‘the Framework Agreement’),

–   having regard to its resolution of 17 June 2010 on the EU-US air agreement[2],

–   having regard to its resolution of 5 May 2010 on the launch of negotiations for Passenger Name Record (PNR) agreements with the United States, Australia and Canada[3],

–   having regard to its resolution of 25 April 2007, concerning the establishment of a European Common Aviation Area[4],

–   having regard to its resolution of 14 March 2007 on the conclusion of the Air Transport Agreement between the European Community and its Member States, on the one hand, and the United States of America, on the other hand[5],

–   having regard to its resolution of 17 January 2006 on developing the agenda for the Community’s external aviation policy[6],

–   having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘Developing the agenda for the Community’s external aviation policy’ (COM(2005)0079),

–   having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and in particular Article 218 thereof,

–   having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Transport and Tourism (A7-0079/2011),

A. whereas, until the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament was only consulted on the conclusion of international air agreements,

B.  whereas Parliament’s consent is now required for agreements covering fields to which the ordinary legislative procedure applies,

C. whereas, when the Commission is negotiating agreements between the Union and third countries or international organisations, Parliament shall ‘be immediately and fully informed at all stages of the procedure’[7],

D. whereas the Framework Agreement should ensure that the Institutions’ powers and prerogatives are exercised as effectively and transparently as possible;

E.  whereas, in that Framework Agreement, the Commission has committed itself to complying with the principle of the equal treatment of Parliament and the Council in respect of legislative and budgetary matters, in particular access to meetings and the forwarding of contributions or other information,


1.  Considers that comprehensive air agreements with neighbouring countries or significant global partners can deliver substantial benefits to passengers, freight operators and airlines, by means both of market access and of regulatory convergence to promote fair competition, including with regard to state subsidies and social and environmental standards;

2.  Recognises that horizontal agreements, aligning existing bilateral agreements with Community law, are necessary to ensure legal certainty and provide additional benefits in terms of simplification and the assurance that all Union airlines will enjoy the same rights;

3.  Points out that air safety standards are of fundamental importance for passengers, crew members and the aviation industry in general, and therefore supports the conclusion of air safety agreements with countries that have a significant aircraft manufacturing industry, given the cost savings and consistent high standards that can be achieved by minimising the duplication of assessments, tests and controls;

4.  Regrets that the Council has yet to grant the Commission a mandate to negotiate a comprehensive air agreement with important trading partners such as the People’s Republic of China and India; considers that this failure is becoming increasingly harmful to Union interests, particularly given the rapid growth of these economies;

5.  Points out the absence of important countries, such as Japan and the Russian Federation, in the Commission’s latest list of ongoing international air agreements;

6.  Expresses its concerns about the ongoing issue of Siberian overflights; calls on the Commission to make all the necessary efforts, including pursuing this issue in the context of Russia’s WTO accession negotiations, to avoid any distortion of competition between EU airlines;

Criteria for assessing an agreement

7.  Emphasises that, in each negotiation, a judgment must be made about the benefits of an early agreement as compared with delaying in search of a more ambitious outcome;

8.  Points out that, when assessing comprehensive agreements that are presented for consent, Parliament will seek to apply a consistent set of standards; notes, in particular, that in carrying out that assessment Parliament will focus on the extent to which: restrictions on market access and investment opportunities are relaxed in a balanced manner; incentives are provided to maintain and enhance social and environmental standards; adequate safeguards are provided for data protection and privacy; mutual recognition of safety and security standards are included; and a high level of passenger rights is ensured;

9.  Considers that worldwide standards for data protection and privacy are urgently required, and that the criteria set out by Parliament in its resolution of 5 May 2010 provide an appropriate model for such an agreement; points out that the Union should play a pioneering role in the development of such worldwide standards;

10. Draws attention to the growing importance of the aviation sector’s contribution to global warming, and considers that agreements should include a commitment to work together, in the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to reduce aircraft emissions, together with an objective of enhancing technical cooperation in the fields of climate science (CO2 and other climate-relevant emissions into the atmosphere), research and technology development and fuel efficiency;

11. Emphasises that various aspects of aviation regulation, including noise restrictions and night flight limitations, should be determined at local level, in full compliance with the principles of fair competition and subsidiarity; asks the Commission to coordinate these issues at the European level, taking into account the national legislation of Member States and the ‘balanced approach’ principle, as defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation;

12. Calls on the Commission to use air agreements to promote compliance with relevant international legislation on social rights, in particular the labour standards enshrined in the fundamental conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO 1930-1999), the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (1976, revised 2000) and the 1980 Rome Convention on the Law Applicable to Contractual Obligations;

13. Notes that, in the case of safety agreements, criteria include: full mutual recognition of certification practices and procedures; exchange of safety data; joint inspections; increased regulatory cooperation; and technical level consultations so as to resolve issues before they trigger the dispute settlement mechanism;


14. Stresses that, in order to be able to take its decision on whether or not to grant consent at the end of the negotiations, Parliament needs to follow the process from the beginning; considers that it is also in the interests of the other Institutions that any concerns of sufficient importance to call into question Parliament’s readiness to grant consent be identified and addressed at an early stage;

15. Recalls that the 2005 Framework Agreement already committed the Commission to provide early and clear information to Parliament during the preparation, conduct and conclusion of international negotiations; notes that the revised Framework Agreement of October 2010 states, in particular, that Parliament should receive, from the outset, regularly and, where necessary, on a confidential basis, full details of the procedure in progress at all stages of the negotiations;

16. Expects the Commission to provide its responsible committee with information about the intention to propose negotiations with a view to concluding and amending international air agreements, and with the draft negotiating directives, draft negotiating texts and the document to be initialled, together with other relevant documents and information; expects Parliaments role in relation to any further amendments of an international air agreement to be explicitly stipulated in the agreement;

17. Points out that, pursuant to Article 24 of the Framework Agreement, the information mentioned above must be forwarded to Parliament in such a way that, if necessary, it can deliver an opinion; strongly urges the Commission to report back to Parliament on how its opinions are taken into account;

18. Recognises that, when Parliament receives sensitive information about ongoing negotiations, it has an obligation to ensure that confidentiality is maintained;

19. Notes that Parliament’s Rules of Procedure allow plenary ‘on the basis of a report from the committee responsible [to] adopt recommendations and require them to be taken into account before the conclusion of the international agreement under consideration’ (Rule 90(4));

20. Recognises that air agreements often give a substantial role to a joint committee, particularly with regard to regulatory convergence; accepts that, in many cases, this a more flexible and effective means of decision-making than seeking to include such points in the agreement itself; underlines, nevertheless, the importance of Parliament receiving full and timely information about the work of the various joint committees;

21. Calls on the Commission, with a view to maintaining the flow of information, to submit reports to Parliament regularly, and no less frequently than every three years, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of existing agreements; points out that this would enable Parliament to assess future agreements more effectively;

22. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.



The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, extended the circumstances in which Parliament’s consent was required for the conclusion of an international agreement. Air agreements now fall within this category because they cover a field to which the ordinary legislative procedure applies[1]. Previously Parliament had only been consulted on such agreements.

In view of this change, the Committee on Transport and Tourism decided to draw up an own-initiative report with the aim of setting out some general principles regarding how air agreements should be evaluated both in terms of substance and the procedures the Committee might adopt to ensure that it was well-informed throughout the course of negotiations and has an opportunity to express its priorities well before being confronted with the yes/no choice of consent.

Types of Agreement

It is possible to distinguish three broad categories of air agreement:

· horizontal agreements which align existing bilateral air services agreements between Member States and a given third country with Community law;

· comprehensive agreements with neighbouring countries or global partners which seek to ensure fair competition and help to reform international civil aviation while promoting European regulations and industry;

· safety agreements which are intended to ensure a high level of civil aviation safety worldwide and to minimize economic burdens by eliminating unnecessary duplicate checks.

There is a broad consensus that air agreements with third countries are generally positive. Clearly the horizontal agreements, implementing the Court of Justice’s ruling of 5 November 2002[2], are necessary to ensure legal certainty. They also guarantee the same rights to all Union airlines while simplifying the previous web of individual Member State agreements;

Equally the comprehensive agreements with neighbouring countries or significant global partners can provide substantial benefits by offering passengers and freight operators improved services – in terms of both variety and cost – while allowing airlines new opportunities and a competitive edge. In addition, regulatory convergence can do much to promote fair competition, particularly with regard to State subsidies, social and environmental standards.

In this context, it is unfortunate that the Council has yet to grant the Commission a mandate to open negotiations with important trading partners in Asia, including the People’s Republic of China and India, despite the proposal dating from 2005. The economic growth of this region makes the value of such agreements ever more significant. Parliament should therefore call on the Council to recognise that the value of an agreement between the Union and one of these emerging economies is much greater than what could be achieved by bilateral negotiations.

Safety agreements minimise the duplication of assessments, tests and controls (unless there are significant regulatory differences) while enabling the EU and another significant aircraft manufacturer to rely on each other’s certification systems. This is clearly desirable as it helps to cut costs and ensure high standards.


However the general desirability of such agreements should not be confused with the idea that any agreement is a good agreement. Instead there is a judgement to be taken, both by the Commission as the negotiator and by Parliament and Council, as the bodies that need to approve the results of the negotiation, as to whether the agreement in question is sufficiently ambitious and balanced or whether it would be preferable to delay the agreement in search of a better outcome.

It is possible to envisage, particularly in the case of comprehensive agreements, a type of check-list that Rapporteurs with responsibility for individual agreements might use so as to ensure a consistent approach to the evaluation of different agreements. Such a check-list might include:

· the speed and extent of market opening;

· whether restrictions on investment are relaxed in a timely and balanced manner;

· ensuring that alignment of social and environmental standards is towards the partner with the higher levels rather than the lower;

· safeguarding European standards on data-protection and privacy. This means ensuring that all transfers of personal data should provide necessary safeguards for EU citizens, respect procedural guarantees and defence rights, and comply with data-protection legislation;

· State aid limitations which ensure fair and balanced competition;

· mutual recognition of safety and security standards, ideally involving "one-stop security" (i.e. transfer passengers, luggage and cargo would be exempted from any additional security measures);

· aligning passenger rights policy so as to ensure the highest possible standards.

Likewise, in the case of safety agreements, it is important to aim for full mutual recognition so that compliance with the applicable legislation of one party amounts to compliance with the legislation of the other and that the certification practices and procedures of each side provide an equivalent proof of compliance. To maintain mutual confidence this is likely to involve joint inspections, investigations, exchange of safety data (aircraft inspections and accident related information) and increased regulatory cooperation and consultation at a technical level to solve matters before they can become "disputes".

Clearly this is not to say that every agreement must check off every point on the list. It will often be necessary to build up confidence by phasing elements or negotiating successive stages. Instead the idea is to set out a framework against which individual agreements can be assessed.


In order to be well-placed to consider whether or not to grant consent once the negotiations have been completed, Parliament needs to follow the process from the outset. Equally, as experience with the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program shows, it is in Commission and Council’s interest that any concerns of sufficient importance to call into question Parliament’s readiness to grant consent be identified and addressed at an early stage rather than after the negotiations have been concluded. This means Parliament and its Committees should look for ways to make sure the Commission are aware the criteria it will use to evaluate an agreement and of any elements that could prove unacceptable.

Already, under the 2005 Framework Agreement, the Commission had agreed to "provide early and clear information to Parliament both during the phase of preparation of the agreements and during the conduct and conclusion of international negotiations. This information covers the draft negotiating directives, the adopted negotiating directives, the subsequent conduct of negotiations and the conclusion of the negotiations." These arrangements have been strengthened and clarified by the revised agreement of 20 October 2010.

In line with annex 3 of this revised agreement, the Commission (in particular DG MOVE) should inform Parliament about its intention to propose negotiations, provide the draft negotiating directives, the draft amendments, draft negotiating texts, agreed articles, date for initialling and text of the agreement to be initialled together with other relevant documents and information about any possible suspension or modification of agreements.

As has been done in the past, the Committee on Transport and Tourism could organise periodic, in camera, oral briefings from DG MOVE’s negotiators that would enable the Members most closely involved in the topics under discussion to discover the current state of the negotiations while respecting the confidential nature of the information. Equally, appropriate measures would be required to ensure that sensitive documents were only made available to those with a working need for the material and on the understanding that the restricted nature of the document would be respected.

Parliament’s own Rules of Procedure allows Plenary "on the basis of a report from the committee responsible [to] adopt recommendations and require them to be taken into account before the conclusion of the international agreement under consideration” (rule 90 paragraph 5). In addition, rule 81 paragraph 3 allows the responsible Committee "in the interests of achieving a positive outcome of the procedure, to present an interim report on the proposal to Parliament including a motion for a resolution containing recommendations for modification or implementation of the proposed act."

At this stage, the extent to which the Committee on Transport and Tourism would wish to make use of these formal powers remains to be seen. Much will depend on the extent to which it is possible to maintain and enhance the existing constructive dialogue between the Committee and DG MOVE. In such circumstances it may well be preferable to give priority to more informal channels when conveying Members’ priorities or concerns. Nevertheless there may be situations in which, in view of the political significance of the agreement in question or the issues that it raises, a clear position adopted by Plenary would be desirable.


The new Parliamentary powers established by the Treaty of Lisbon bring with them new responsibilities to ensure that Parliament and its responsible Committee are well informed about the preparation of the agreements to which it will subsequently be asked to give its consent. This implies a corresponding responsibility to monitor the conduct of negotiations more closely. While the precise mechanisms for undertaking this task efficiently and effectively will differ from agreement to agreement, the possibilities identified above can be seen as forming a menu elements of which can be adopted according to the particular circumstances of each agreement.

  • [1]  Article 218(6)(a)(v) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union
  • [2]  Case C-466/98


Date adopted





Result of final vote







Members present for the final vote

Georges Bach, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Antonio Cancian, Luis de Grandes Pascual, Saïd El Khadraoui, Ismail Ertug, Jacqueline Foster, Mathieu Grosch, Jim Higgins, Ville Itälä, Dieter-Lebrecht Koch, Georgios Koumoutsakos, Werner Kuhn, Jörg Leichtfried, Bogusław Liberadzki, Eva Lichtenberger, Gesine Meissner, Hella Ranner, Vilja Savisaar-Toomast, Olga Sehnalová, Debora Serracchiani, Brian Simpson, Dirk Sterckx, Keith Taylor, Silvia-Adriana Ţicău, Giommaria Uggias, Thomas Ulmer, Peter van Dalen, Artur Zasada, Roberts Zīle

Substitute(s) present for the final vote

Philip Bradbourn, Spyros Danellis, Isabelle Durant, Tanja Fajon, Bogdan Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Ioan Mircea Paşcu, Dominique Riquet, Alfreds Rubiks, Sabine Wils