France slams EU's 'disproportionate' fine against Air France
France on Wednesday deplored the European Commission's "completely disproportionate" 340-million-euro (470-million-dollar) fine against Air France-KLM for its role in a global cargo cartel.
European Affairs Minister Pierre Lellouche said he was "shocked by the totally disproportionate nature of this fine in terms of the losses potentially suffered by users of (the) freight service of the group's companies."
The fine "will inflict considerable damage on the French air sector and adds to losses suffered by the sector in 2009, in the context of the financial crisis," he said in a statement.
Lellouche said the fine was discriminatory as it exempts from punishment airlines that took part in the cartel but decided to cooperate with the investigation.
The European Commission's competition watchdog on Tuesday hit 11 airlines with nearly 800 million euros in fines for running a global cargo cartel that included Air France-KLM as well as British Airways and Japan Airlines.
The fines, totalling 799.4 million euros (1.1 billion dollars), were slapped on airlines from Air Canada and LAN Chile in the Americas to Cathay Pacific Airways and Singapore Airlines in Asia and Qantas in Australia.
French Secretary of State for Transport Dominique Bussereau said he was "completely aghast.
"We are with (Environment Minister) Jean-Louis Borloo completely aghast at the amount of the fine levied by the European Commission against Air France-KLM," Bussereau told reporters.
"We think that (Air France-KLM) is absolutely right to take this up with European justice," he said of the company's decision to appeal the ruling.
The 11 cargo carriers coordinated their action on surcharges for fuel and security without discounts over a six-year period, between December 1999 and February 2006, the European Commission said.
The cartel covered flights from, to and within the European Economic Area.
The Air France-KLM group was hit with the biggest fine -- 183 million euros for Air France and 127 million euros for KLM. Martinair, which is owned by Air France, was fined 29.5 million euros.
© 2010 AFP