Europees Parlement debatteert over gedeeltelijke heropening luchtverkeer (en)

All Parliament's political groups welcomed the EU Member States' decision to partially reopen the skies, in a debate on Tuesday on the disruption to European flights caused by the volcanic dust cloud. The EPP stressed the economic impact and raised the idea of EU budget aid for airlines, while the Socialists, Liberals and Greens agreed that the crisis showed the need to improve rail networks across Europe as an alternative means of transport.

Representing the Council, the Spanish Secretary of State for the EU, Diego LÓPEZ GARRIDO, said the disruption had become an "unexpected and serious crisis" in Europe. He stressed that even if the EU did not have much power in this area, Member States had produced a "coordinated" and "dynamic" response. On Monday night all the EU transport ministers had met via videoconference and unanimously endorsed Eurocontrol's proposal to study air quality every 6 hours and provide Member States with safe information on opening safe air corridors as from today, Tuesday. Three air zones would be established: a no-fly zone over the ash cloud, an open-skies zone where there was no ash and an "intermediate zone" with some pollution where planes would still be able to fly, although with caution. In any case, he concluded, "Member States must make the greatest possible effort to convince citizens to use alternative means of transport" during this crisis.

Welcoming Eurocontrol's decision to let air traffic resume on a limited basis, Transport Commissioner Siim KALLAS stressed the need for a coordinated European response to the problem. "Safety comes first and there can be no compromise on this", he added. He also emphasised the limited powers of the Commission in this area, as the decision to close airspace was intergovernmental and based on the assessment of independent experts. Lastly, the Commissioner called for effective implementation of the single European sky package, as well as better enforcement of passenger rights provided for in EU legislation.

MEPs now took the floor.  We can see that "without air transport, European society and the European economy as a whole are in difficulty", said Corien WORTMANN-KOOL (NL), for the EPP group.  "Safety first" was the right approach but it was also important to "make use of the airspace as soon as possible".  The airlines had suffered huge economic damage, including the need to pay compensation to passengers.  "Is it right that all the costs should fall on the airlines' shoulders?" she wondered.  "Should not funding be provided from the EU budget?".

The "human dimension of the crisis" was highlighted by Martin SCHULZ (DE), leader of the S&D group, who spoke of "tens of thousands stranded" on the four corners of the earth.  He also pointed to the cost to the airlines, saying their losses were "higher than those suffered after 9/11". The need for better alternative European transport systems - including interoperability of national rail systems - had become apparent. 

"Nature has proved stronger than technology", said Gesine MEISSNER (ALDE, DE), representing the Liberals.  Moreover, "after 20 years of talk about a single market in transport and a single European sky", not enough had been achieved.  "There is no way people can book a rail ticket from the north to the south of Europe", she said.  In the eyes of the public, "the response has not been satisfactory".

On behalf of the Greens, Michael CRAMER (DE) expressed his group's gratitude for the decision to close down European airspace, as "safety, not profit, must always come first". He said the situation underlined the need to invest further in the safest and most sustainable mode of travel: rail.

Peter VAN DALEN (NL), for the ECR Group, criticised European authorities for being too rigid in closing down airspace so rapidly. He welcomed the decision to partially reopen certain routes and recalled that test flights had shown that it was safe for air travel to resume.

Lothar BISKY (GUE/NGL, DE) praised the "decision of safety authorities not to play with peoples' lives" and called for a "binding agreement" with the airlines to ensure jobs and salaries would not be cut.

Francesco SPERONI (IT), for the EFD Group, said the authorities had reacted too slowly in regard to the evolution of the situation, closing down airports when the cloud had already moved away from their airspace. "We need to avoid block bans on flights, he said, and focus on taking appropriate and specific measures".