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External Aviation Policy

Why an EU external aviation policy?

The so-called “open skies” judgements of 5 November 2002 of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) marked the start of an EU external aviation policy. This case law has clarified the distribution of powers between the EU and its Member States in the field of the regulation of international air services. Whereas, traditionally, international air services have always been governed by bilateral agreements between states, the 2002 judgements heralded the arrival on the scene of the EU, a new important player with certain exclusive competences in external relations in the field of aviation.

From a legal point of view, the "open skies" judgements meant that EU Member States could no longer act in isolation when negotiating international air services agreements. International air services negotiations are now carried out in close cooperation and coordination between the European Commission and EU Member States (see Regulation (EC) N° 847/2004) .

EU external aviation policy was defined in 2005 in a Road Map developed by the Council and the European Commission.

The Road Map was based on three pillars.

1. Bringing existing bilateral air services agreements between EU Member States and third countries in line with EU law

This implies the amendment of some 1,500 bilateral agreements of the Member States with third countries in order to have the "EU nature" of our carriers recognised. This is a direct consequence of the so-called "open skies" ruling by the CJEU in 2002, which reaffirmed that nationality clauses in bilateral agreements are illegal from the standpoint of EU law: Member States must allow any "EU carrier" to fly from their country to a third country. From the economic point of view, this process enables EU air carriers to create an establishment in any EU Member State in order to operate services towards third countries. The joint effort of the Commission and Member States has already made possible to bring into conformity more than 900 bilateral agreements with 107 countries. Among them, the European Commission negotiated 45 Horizontal Agreements which have amended all the bilateral agreements between a given third country and all EU Member States with which that country has bilateral agreements.

2. The creation of a true Common Aviation Area with the neighbouring countries

This aviation area implies the adoption by our neighbouring partners of the part of the Acquis containing the European aviation rules, starting with safety requirements. Market opening and progressive regulatory harmonisation are implemented by successive phases and are assorted with technical assistance to support these partner countries in their process of adoption of the necessary measures. The first such neighbourhood agreements were concluded with Western Balkan partners and Morocco in 2006 and they have been applied as from the date of signature. In 2010, similar agreements with Georgia and Jordan were signed. The most recent agreement is the one with Moldova, signed in June 2012.  Furthermore, an aviation agreement with Israel has been negotiated and it is expected to be finalised in the near future. As per relations with other neighbouring countries, negotiations are on-going with Ukraine and Lebanon and the negotiations with Tunisia and Azerbaijan are to be initiated. Ultimately, the wider European Common Aviation Area could encompass up to 58 states with a total population of 1 billion inhabitants.

3. The conclusion of aviation agreements with key strategic partners

The agreements that the European Commission negotiates on behalf of the EU and its Member States do not limit themselves to the so-called "open skies" models entailing mere opening up of markets: the EU model also seeks the establishment of a process of liberalisation of ownership of airlines and a process of regulatory convergence in matters of safety and security, competition, environment and passengers protection - which could not be obtained at national levels.

An agreement between the EU the United States was signed in 2007. Negotiations for a second phase were opened in May 2008 and concluded with the signature of a second stage Agreement in June 2010. Norway and Iceland acceded to the agreement in 2011.

An ambitious agreement was signed with Canada in 2009. It establishes a genuine open aviation area between the European Union and Canada, and creates far-reaching possibilities for the reciprocal opening up in terms of investments. It also establishes a platform for close regulatory coordination on all the aspects of air transport policy.

A comprehensive aviation agreement was finalised also with Brazil in 2010. In addition, negotiations on similar arrangements are on-going with Australia and New Zealand.

From an economic and political point of view, the introduction of an external aviation policy is underpinned by a desire on the part of the EU to move towards greater flexibility, openness and consistency in the area of international civil aviation, based on both bilateral and multilateral actions. More specifically, this involves taking steps to ensure that agreements are not only developed between EU Member States and third countries but wherever appropriate between the EU and third countries, on the basis of a double and indivisible agenda aimed at:

  • Creating new economic opportunities by opening up markets and promoting investment opportunities as far as possible. As with the internal market, this approach will produce positive effects not only for the users, who would be the potential beneficiaries of better, more varied and affordable services, but also for the operators, who would enjoy new business opportunities, growing markets and a competitive edge. Lastly, market opening would serve as a catalyst to innovation, thereby benefiting the sector as a whole;
  • Ensuring fair competition i.e. promoting regulatory convergence, be it with regard to the economic conditions governing the operation of the markets (implementation of competition rules, State aid rules or standards more specifically linked to aviation such as reservation systems, ground handling, etc.) or to social, environmental, security and safety reliability.

These two aspects reinforce each other in such a way as to form an ambitious and balanced model, which serves as a guide for the EU in its approach to international aviation relations.

Ensuring sustainable development in the aviation sector is a key element of the external aviation policy agenda. By acting with a single voice, the European Union is best placed to counter the negative effects on the environment of the growth of the aviation sector, and notably also in terms of climate change.

The aviation industry is truly global by its very nature. The aviation industry cannot remain isolated from other industry sectors which are fully engaged in the global economy. Its assets and access to capital markets must be given the opportunity to go international, its competitiveness to grow thanks to competition on a world scale and its services outside the EU to grow in number and quality, all to the maximum advantage of users.

Following the initiative of Vice President Siim Kallas, the Commission launched in 2012 a review of the EU external aviation policy and presented a Communication on 27 September 2012 entitled "The EU's External Aviation Policy – Addressing Future Challenges", aimed at addressing the challenges facing the EU aviation sector in the domain of external relations. The Council of the European Union adopted, at the Transport and Telecommunications Council on the 20 December 2012, a set of Council conclusions on the Commission's Communication which set out an ambitious and robust EU external aviation policy framework for the coming years to tackle the future challenges of the European aviation industry.