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Ban on short domestic flights: the EU looks into the French project

Brussels announced Friday, December 17, to open an investigation into the plan to abolish domestic flights in France in the event of an alternative by train of less than 2 hours and 30 minutes, to the satisfaction of a part of the aviation sector which disputes the relevance of this fight measure. against climate change. The European Commission “has decided to carry out an in-depth analysis of the matter, and will open a formal dialogue with the French authorities” at the end of which it will take a decision, declared a spokesperson, Stefan De Keersmaecker.

“It is a procedural step” which does not prejudge the final decision to prohibit the measure or not, he said. “We understood that the French authorities intend to implement this (measure) from March, at the end of March 2022”, he continued, promising that the Commission would take “a decision as quickly as possible”.

The Commission, to which the French authorities had notified their decree on November 17, refused on Friday to communicate elements on the merits of the case. The French Airports Union (UAF) lodged a complaint in Brussels against this measure on September 17, jointly with the European branch of the Airports Council International (ACI Europe).

UAF President Thomas Juin expressed his satisfaction on Friday, saying he was “not surprised” by the Commission’s decision: article 145 of the “Climate and resilience” law, adopted in July in France , “is based on a legal reasoning which seems to us very questionable”. This article provides for the prohibition of “regular public air transport services for passengers concerning all air links within French territory, the journey of which is also provided on the national rail network without a connection and by several daily connections lasting less than two and a half hours “.

“Open the debate”

“This article of law comes to break with one of the founding principles of Europe, that is to say the freedom to provide services”, declared June to AFP, considering it at the same time “unrealistic “and” unsuitable for the fight against climate change “. The UAF recalled that article 145 was based on a European text, article 20 of regulation n ° 1008/2008, providing for exceptions to the exercise of traffic rights “in the event of serious infringement of traffic. environment “, but according to the organization for” local, temporary reasons “and not applicable to the subject of warming.

“We are very happy” with the decision of the Commission “which will open the discussion and the debate with the French State”, added Jean-François Dominiak, president of the Syndicate of autonomous airlines (Scara). The organization, which claims to represent half of the French companies, announced on November 25 that it had also filed an appeal in Brussels, on the same arguments as the UAF.

Concretely, the connections falling within the perimeter of the law are Marseille-Lyon, Paris-Orly-Nantes, Orly-Lyon and Orly-Bordeaux. The text nevertheless provides for exceptions for correspondence. The law especially ratified the existing one, since the government had forced Air France to give up the routes concerned in return for financial support in May 2020. It prohibited competitors from rushing into the breach.

During parliamentary debates, the UAF and the Scara had already contested the abolition of these lines, in particular Orly-Bordeaux which, before the health crisis, transported more than 560,000 travelers per year. Air France, which is not part of the Scara, did not wish to speak on Friday. On the other hand, the National Federation of Aviation and its Trades (Fnam) ruled that the opening of the investigation showed “that this French measure raises questions and that the EC has doubts about its compatibility with European law “, even if” this does not at this stage suggest that this measure is not applicable “.

Fnam, which is not associated with the appeals, affirmed “to be opposed to this measure knowing that the passenger already chooses the mode of transport which seems to him the most appropriate”. Beyond the Climate law, and while some environmental organizations are calling for more restrictions on air travel, “it is important that under this article 20, there is a discussion that is asked and that we cannot use it for anything and everything, “warned Mr. Dominiak, from Scara.

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