Hero Businessman vs. the EU
by Sean Corrigan
by Sean Corrigan
Love him or hate him, European discount airline Ryanair's famously abrasive CEO is not a man to be thrown out of his stride by a bunch of bureaucratic Eejiots in Brussels, especially when the scent of double standards fills the nostrils like the smell of avgas on a summer's day.
For, with the great Pooh-Bahs at the European Commission expected to rule imminently on whether Ryanair has breached competition rules by receiving millions of euros in subsidies for its operations at Charleroi airport in Belgium, O'Leary is preparing to send his white and blue-liveried bombers out to drop a little legal ordnance back into their well-padded laps.
Ryanair manages to offer cut-price fares, of course, through the eminently sensible means of persuading regional chambers of commerce and town councils that they should pay the airline to deliver its hordes of customers into the tender hands of their hoteliers, restaurateurs, and cab-drivers, rather than making the Irish aviation interlopers stump up for landing fees when touching down at the region's previously underused airport facilities.
If this were done in the private sector, there would be no grounds for contention, but, since nothing like an airport could POSSIBLY be allowed out of the state's control in much of Europe, this is not the case, so — however — obliquely, the likes of Air France have, with breathtaking hypocrisy, argued that this amounts to a government subsidy and, WORSE, one not, as have been so many billions of euros over the years, payable to THEM and them alone!
O'Leary, who has seen the draft ruling from the commission, has warned that the latest decision could be applied to all the "airport discounts" received by other low-cost airlines and has threatened to launch costly retaliatory legal actions against his rival airlines and their state-owned airport hubs, if he is forced to repay these subsidies
"If there is an unacceptable decision, Ryanair will not only appeal it but has instructed its advisers to initiate state aid cases and complaints against every other airline flying into every state airport which offers concessions and discounts."
Beyond that, Ryanair — whose only sin (apart from a persistent reputation for mishandling baggage and an alleged penchant for bumping passengers from overbooked flights) is to serve consumer demand for cheap transport — has threatened a boycott of any airports where any such deals are subsequently cancelled.
Of course, if such actions come to imperil the viability of Ryanair, EasyJet, and all the many others who have set up recently, that might mean a fall in airline traffic and hence no need for the construction of the extra runways being planned in the UK.
That would mean a big chunk of New Deal corporatist infrastructure spending would be missed and that the Chancellor's cash registers would go cha-ching all the less often, as fewer people could afford to take the full fare alternatives left to them and would thus pay fewer departure taxes.
Then there'd be bankrupting of businesses which presently cater to the needs of the Great Unwashed at the both ends of the flight, as well as all the airline employees who might be thrown out of work, meaning we'd have even fewer incomes on which the taxman could batten.
Thus, the cry would soon go up for the State to Do Something to rectify this social pain and — after a lengthy and expensive enquiry, led by a Law Lord of unimpeachable integrity no doubt — some new form of taxpayer support would inevitably ensue, administered, not on an ad hoc basis by the good burghers of Charleroi, but by a new phalanx of specially-appointed Tax-Eaters, according to a Byzantine set of rules and procedures, replete with social engineering and environmental impact directives and targets.
Then, after much upheaval, uncertainty, and an inordinate waste of even more public money, we'd all be back at square one with O'Leary flying beery Brits to Belgian backwaters for a tenner a throw, once more!
The contemplation of which charade prompts us to ask, whether you think it might be possible to outsource our government and our civil service to a call centre in Uttar Pradesh, along with all the real jobs we send there?
They couldn't do any worse a job and, being 10,000 miles away, they might find far fewer opportunities to interfere in our lives.
February 3, 2004
Sean Corrigan [send him mail] writes from London.
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