Jeremy Warner: O'Leary back for a second bite at Aer Lingus


Outlook: If at first you don't succeed ... Michael O'Leary, the pugnacious boss of Ryanair, thinks conditions in the airline industry have deteriorated so much in the two years since he last took a tilt at Aer Lingus that now he's bidding at half the price he did back then, the competition authorities in Europe will be only too happy to wave him through.

This strikes me and just about everyone else in aviation apart from Mr O'Leary himself as deeply unlikely. Remember, this is the man who has described those who determine these matters at the European Commission as a bunch of "communists" and "numbnuts", and invited anyone who comes across an EU civil servant to "give him a slap for me".

Mr O'Leary has always loathed the European Commission, which he thinks is out to obstruct his low-cost airline's every move in defence of the vested interest of national flag carriers. Relations reached a new low when Brussels decided to give his Aer Lingus takeover the thumbs-down. Nothing he said yesterday suggests reconciliation. Indeed, it seemed deliberately calculated further to rub the Eurocrats up the wrong way.

The case for allowing Mr O'Leary to acquire Aer Lingus is no better now than it was back then, despite the dire straits the industry finds itself in and the fact that smaller airlines are dropping like flies. Ryanair says it senses a sea change among regulators, who in the current very difficult economic circumstances may be more willing to put consolidation above competition concerns.

If, by this, Mr O'Leary is referring to Lloyds TSB and HBOS, he seems to have got the wrong end of the stick. HBOS's takeover by a rival bank is being allowed because HBOS's otherwise certain demise or nationalisation was thought a threat to Britain's financial and economic stability.

The same thing cannot be said about Aer Lingus, which is loaded with cash and, despite the traumas of the last year, remains financially solvent. The failing-company defence, under which anti-competitive mergers are occasionally allowed through because the alternative is insolvency, doesn't stack up. In any case, Aer Lingus and the Irish Government would have to back the merger for this to be a valid defence.

True enough, there is lots of consolidation in the airline industry now, including the planned merger of British Airways and Iberia, and it is also true that the Irish government, which owns 25 per cent of the stock, is desperate for cash. But there are few if any cases of monopolistic consolidation of two perfectly solvent same-country operators.

The commission blocked Mr O'Leary two years ago because Aer Lingus would have given him a combined total of more than 80 per cent of traffic in and out of Dublin. That's no less true today than it was then.

The risk Mr O'Leary is taking by trying again is that this time the commission will get tougher still, and force him to divest his 29.84 per cent stake. They let him keep the stake when they blocked him last time. Since Mr O'Leary's average purchase price was much higher than he could sell for today, enforced divestment would cost him dearly. Detente with Brussels looks further away than ever.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
books
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
gadgets + techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind the scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100
News
The slice of Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding cake and the original box from 29 July 1981
newsPiece of Charles and Diana's wedding cake sold at auction in US
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Data Scientist (SQL, PHP, RSPSS, CPLEX, SARS, AI) - London

£60000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A prestigious leading professiona...

Day In a Page

Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference