Tuesday, 2 November 2004
Department of Transport
Air Transport Agreement
Question 157: To ask the Minister for Transport the position in regard to the Shannon stopover; the position in regard to negotiations between the EU and the US on the open-skies policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26947/04]
Question 191: To ask the Minister for Transport if he has sought consent from the EU Commission, under Regulation 847/2004, to negotiate and conclude a separate bilateral agreement with the United States; the response he has received from the Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26989/04]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 157, 166 and 191 together.
At a number of recent Transport Councils, the Irish position has been that while we are in favour of an open skies agreement between the EU and the US, Ireland's support would be contingent on an acceptable arrangement on Shannon being agreed between Ireland and the US, and that arrangement being reflected in the EU-US agreement. Negotiations between the EU and the US on an open skies agreement will recommence in early 2005, when the new US Administration is in place. Both EU and US officials have maintained contact over the summer, but no negotiations have taken place since last June. Detailed negotiations took place up to June 2004, with the objective of reaching an agreement in time for the EU-US summit in Ireland at the end of that month. However, when the proposed agreement, which would have brought in open skies between all EU member states and the US, was discussed at the Transport Council in June 2004, Transport Ministers felt that the deal on offer was unbalanced in favour of the US.
In the lead up to June 2004, and in line with Ireland's position as outlined at the beginning of this reply, in May 2004 Department of Transport officials travelled to Washington to discuss this issue with the US. An official from the European Commission also attended those discussions. While the Irish delegation was not authorised to conclude any agreement with the US, good exploratory discussions were held. I understand that had an EU-US deal emerged from the Transport Council, a suitable phasing-in over a period of years of open skies between Ireland and the US would have been agreed for inclusion in the EU-US deal that would have been signed at the summit at the end of June 2004. Currently, there are no EU-US negotiations taking place. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that an EU-US open skies agreement is inevitable, once a properly balanced agreement is reached. My officials are maintaining contact informally with the US side to keep open all options for progress on this issue.
It is very difficult to estimate the timeframe in which an EU-US agreement might be reached. I am in the process of familiarising myself with the positions of the various Irish stakeholders involved. I am conscious of the fact that the new board of Shannon Airport is now required to produce a business plan for the airport and that clarity on the open skies issue would be very helpful to that business planning process. I am also conscious that Irish airlines are currently restricted in the routes they can serve under the existing bilateral arrangement and that expanding scheduled services across the Atlantic is of great importance to the growth of Irish airlines and Irish tourism. In any future dealings with the US on this issue, we will be aware of our European Union obligations.