The European Commission has launched an infringement procedure against Romania, yesterday, over its bilateral air service agreement with Russia, by sending it a formal request for information known as a “letter of formal notice”. The Commission is concerned that the agreement may hinder equal treatment of EU airlines and competition between European airlines, a press release informs.
Bilateral air service agreements between an individual Member State and a non-EU country have to include an “EU designation clause” recognising that the terms apply equally to all EU airlines, and not just the airlines of that Member State. This is an essential part of the Single European Aviation Market which was created in the early 1990s, guaranteeing that airlines are entitled to operate under the same conditions anywhere in the EU.
The requirement to have an “EU designation clause” was confirmed in the “Open Skies rulings” of the Court of Justice in 2002 (see IP/02/1609). The Court stated that provisions limiting the benefits of air service agreements to national airlines of the Member State concerned are in breach of EU rules on freedom of establishment (now laid down in Article 49 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU).
Most agreements with non-EU countries have since been adapted to the Court ruling. Russia is one of the few countries in the world that fails to recognise that all EU carriers must be treated equally, and that the terms of any bilateral agreement must include an “EU designation” clause and apply to all. This creates serious practical problems, putting at risk traffic rights, for example, for airlines taken over by a carrier from another EU Member State. Member States have two months to respond to a letter of formal notice. If they fail to react satisfactorily the Commission will send a reasoned opinion requesting Romania to amend its bilateral air service agreement with Russia.