View from City Road: French arguments up in the air

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The Independent Online
The battle of Orly airport, scheduled to start at 8am on Monday, is going to be an odd one. British Airways and Air UK say they will be landing 10 aircraft at the Paris airport during the day. The French say they will not. Will there be ack-ack guns on the control tower? Will the riot police round up the passengers as they reach the terminal?

The prospect is an entertaining one, but there is also a serious point. Once again it highlights that when it comes to deeds rather than words there are worse Europeans than the British. Or, more precisely, there are people who have a different view of the meaning of competition.

The Lancer Boss takeover showed that the Germans like to sew things things up in a cosy, national way when they can get away with it. The German administrator sold the company to a Hamburg group without making any attempt to look for a better (foreign) offer.

Now the French are saying that, despite an EC ruling that they must open Orly airport up, they will not. They preach the virtues of Europe on the one hand while practising the pursuit of national self-interest on the other.

Orly, which is altogether more convenient than Charles de Gaulle, has long been the private playground of Air France. The Paris government owns Air France and does not want its property to be undermined, especially not by uncharacteristically efficient Anglo-Saxons. The transport minister has come up with a set of reasons which amount, frankly, to little more than a pitiful charade.

He should have been more honest and said no, we French do not accept the value of your competition. We have been more successful than you precisely because all the people who count went to the same grandes ecoles and can sort out disagreements over a small glass of cognac. We have only recently dropped a full- scale planned economy, but we find quiet handshakes are still a better way of running things than so-called open competition. Allez-y les anglais] Go and compete somewhere else.

Instead he has tried to pretend there are big practical difficulties in letting the Brits in. But then, that is the French way.