Kinnock cracks whip on air talks

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The Independent Online

in Brussels

Neil Kinnock has threatened to take six European Union states to court if they go ahead with air liberalisation deals with the United States.

The "open skies" agreements remove obstacles to air links between the US and Europe. Mr Kinnock faces his first big test as EU Transport Commissioner this week as he shapes up for a fight with those states that have defied European Commission calls for a unified approach.

Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden are all negotiating separate deals with the US. The Commission fears that the US is trying to gain entry to the European market without giving access to its own. It accuses Washington of trying to divide the EU by offering separate deals.

Mr Kinnock said he had written to all the states concerned, but with no effect. "The responses received are all to the effect that the countries in question will continue with their negotiations," he said. If necessary, the Commission would take these states to the European Court of Justice, he warned.

But the states affected say the Commission is exceeding its brief by claiming to be able to negotiate for all EU members. And they contest the argument that the EU can achieve more together than separately on this issue. Britain, while ambivalent on the point at issue, is against the centralisation of negotiating power in Brussels.

Transport ministers meet in Brussels today and tomorrow, and Mr Kinnock will present them with a new mandate for negotiating a single deal with the US. But he will have a stiff fight on his hands to get agreement.

Non-EU countries - Switzerland, Iceland and Norway - have also been approached by the US. Britain and the US are also about to begin negotiations on aviation liberalisation.