The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Jacek P. Krawczyk, EESC rapporteur on Aviation Strategy and President of the Employers’ Group of the European Economic and Social Committee.

This will not be yet another piece complaining about some of the challenges European aviation is facing. This will not be a text about changing business models, the looming capacity crunch, increasing external competition, or the lack of a level playing field both internally in the EU and externally. Everybody who deals with European aviation could talk about these issues for hours. Sitting at one of the large European hubs, waiting for a routinely delayed flight, I would like to focus on something else: the essence, the pre-cause of all these challenges: implementation.

Implementation was and is the Achilles’ heel of the European Union. A number of long-awaited and proudly announced initiatives have ended up as just more pieces of paper, simply because of the lack of will or political courage to implement them. In the aviation sector, the Single European Sky is an iconic example: more than a decade after a group of policy-makers made a commitment, what was agreed has still not been delivered. How on Earth was this possible? Mainly due to the divergent interests between the EU level and the Member States. And here comes an important part missing in this equation: civil society’s support; social partners who have a tremendous role to play.

Most of you probably reduce social partners to employers-trade unions’ disputes. But modern civil society is much more than that. Producers (including numerous subcontractors), airports, ANSPs, their workers belonging to various unions, environmental and local associations focused on airport expansion – these are all social partners and every single one of them DOES have a role to play in ensuring support for the coming changes in the European aviation.

A few weeks ago, in Amsterdam the Aviation Summit organised by the Dutch Presidency took place. It was the first large sector debate on Aviation Strategy, announced by the European Commission in December. The event brought together high-ranking policy makers (including the EU Commissioner for Transport) and numerous CEOs of the largest airlines and airports. Anyone missing? Not a single speaker representing civil society … In my humble opinion, without their presence and support the Aviation Strategy will remain just another unfulfilled promise, no matter how many good ideas it contains.

Airports such as London Heathrow or Frankfurt have in the past had painful experiences stemming from the lack of agreement and sufficient trust with civil society partners, such as local communities, environmentalists etc. Airports and airlines regularly pay the price for inefficient social dialogue leading to strikes in numerous ANSPs. If the concerns of these groups are not addressed, the future of the European aviation is far from bright. Politicians together with selected CEOs cannot decide by themselves on the shape of the strategy, as this will surely lead to failure at the implementation stage. This is how the European social model works whether we like it or not.

Of course it has its flaws; the right to strike is overused by some unions, taking care mainly of their own particular interests. It could be argued that the power of the social partners is excessive, but bypassing them in the EU decision-making process is not a solution. If civil society does not support sufficiently the strategy, Member States’ eagerness to support and implement it will rapidly decrease. Because it is the Member States who will have to deal with this societal dissatisfaction.

The absence of civil society representatives among the speakers at the Aviation Summit was in my opinion a serious mistake. A mistake which hopefully will not be repeated in the future. Only by active and permanent participation by ALL parts of the aviation value chain (including social partners) we can achieve the necessary buy-in for all stakeholders. This Thursday, 21st April, the EESC is organising a public hearing as part of the on-going work on its opinion on the Aviation Strategy. We are willing to listen to as many views as possible. We need a mechanism for permanent participation by civil society in implementing the Aviation Strategy. Otherwise, all these plans will remain just another unrealised dream.


[Featured image by Keith Mason/Flickr ]

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