The European Parliament’s Transport Committee on March 20 backed a new law to set up a more effective complaints-handling mechanism to investigate possible unfair practices by non-European Union countries.

According to the new rules, following a complaint from an EU airline or a group of EU airlines, a member state, or on its own initiative, the European Commission will be able to investigate possible unfair commercial practices. If it finds “injury” or “threat of injury” to an EU airline, it can propose compensatory measures to offset the injury, such as financial duties or operational measures.

The proposal is part of the European Commission’s efforts, outlined in its Aviation Strategy and Open and Connected Aviation package, to ensure that the EU aviation sector remains competitive and that the EU’s connectivity is safeguarded, by finding new market opportunities and removing existing barriers.

According to a European Parliament press release, the MEPs agreed that fair competition should primarily be addressed through air transport agreements and the EU should engage in a constructive dialogue with non-EU countries to include fair competition clauses in such agreements.

However, a complementary, effective and dissuasive complaints-handling instrument is needed to ensure connectivity and fair competition, thus preserving jobs in European airlines, MEPs added.

Rapporteur Markus Pieper (EPP, DE) explained the new rules fill a significant gap in EU legislation. “They provide European airlines with an effective tool to enforce fair competition. Our companies are among the most competitive in the world, but pressure from highly subsidised third country carriers is increasing. Carriers from the Gulf-region, Turkey, China and Russia have strong state connections which can cause market distortions. We have now developed an aviation defence instrument that will protect without being protectionist, and should persuade and deter rather than punish.”

However, ECR MEP Jacqueline Foster, warned against the new rules. “MEPs have really scored a hat-trick today by backing revisions that could increase ticket prices for consumers, cost jobs and send a protectionist message to our partners around the globe,” she said.

“This revision would enable uncompetitive European airlines to complain about their rivals and give the EU Commission the power to punish them before reviewing the evidence. It’s right we crack down on unfair competition but it is outright protectionist to sanction airlines, who may not be guilty, before their case has been heard.

“Europe has a world class aerospace industry providing thousands of high skilled jobs, with customers around the globe. If the Commission starts cracking down on our trade partners unfairly, it jeopardises those trade links, putting jobs at risk.”