§ Mr. Robert Atkins
asked the Minster for Trade whether he will make a statement on discussions at the European Commission Council of Transport Ministers' meeting last week on inter-regional air services.
§ Mr. Sproat
I attach considerable importance to this first initiative within the Community to liberalise the regulation of air transport services. For this reason, since the previous Council of Ministers meeting, I have visited the Federal Republic of Germany, Denmark, Greece and Belgium for discussions with my ministerial opposite numbers. I am disappointed, therefore, that for the third time the Council of Ministers at its meeting on 16 December was unable to reach agreement on a directive which would provide greater flexibility for the airlines to develop new services between the various regions of the Community. This would be entirely consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Rome and with the Community's stated objective of promoting regional development.
With support from certain member States, notably the Netherlands, I made strenuous efforts to achieve agreement. By the end of the meeting we had turned an opposition ratio to our proposal of eight countries to two, into support of eight to two. Thus, although the gap was not a wide one, at the end of the day we were unable to close it. Two member States (Denmark and Greece) insisted on provisions which would have precluded any genuine liberalisation of the present system. The directive will be considered again in the first half of 1984 during the German Presidency. I still very much hope that an agreement can be reached which will provide more freedom for airlines to exercise their commercial judgment, and a wider choice of services for passengers.