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Brussels takes a flier on Boeing

If we Britons are occasionally tempted to feel threatened by the ebbing away of sovereignty to Brussels, then how on earth must the Americans feel about it? The question is worth asking in light of a bizarre warning from the European Competition Commissioner, Karel van Miert, yesterday that he is going to take a long, hard look at the Boeing takeover of McDonnell Douglas.

The astute will have noticed that neither of these companies is European, nor do they have operations of any significance in Europe. Indeed it would be hard to get much further away than the West Coast of the United States. They may also observe that the takeover will do very little to increase Boeing's market dominance, since McDonnell Douglas, a shadow of its former self, nowadays only accounts for 5 per cent of world airliner deliveries, most of which are in its own backyard.

The observant may furthermore have noticed that Airbus, Europe's home- grown answer to Boeing, has publicly asserted that the merger is a non- event which will have nil effect on its position.

Indeed, those people who know a thing or two about running airlines think it will actually bolster Airbus by reminding everyone that it is now the only alternative. None of this seems to bother Mr van Miert, who pronounces that the merger is "problematic", the inference being that he will have no hesitation in stamping on it if he does not like the cut of Boeing's cloth.

This is good old-fashioned trade imperialism - albeit of a kind that the Americans themselves have happily engaged in for 40 years or more. If Mr van Miert really thinks he is acting in the interests of European consumers, then he should think again.