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Walloon wobbles over Ryanair appeal

Published on 11/02/2004

11 February 2004

BRUSSELS – Leading politicians in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, on Wednesday questioned the wisdom of challenging the European Commission’s recent ruling that cut-price airline Ryanair must pay back millions of euros it received to use the region’s main airport in the city of Charleroi.

On 3 February, the Commission told the Walloon authorities and Charleroi airport to take back part of a multi-million euro they paid Ryanair to encourage the airline to use Charleroi. It also ordered the Walloons to stop offering Ryanair preferential rates for landing and baggage handling at the south Belgian airport.

At the time both Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary and Wallonia’s economics minister Serge Kubla said they would challenge the decision at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

But now other key Walloon politicians are urging caution. During a debate in the region’s parliament, Minister President Jean-Claude Van Cauwenberghe warned that a legal challenge could backfire on Wallonia.

He said that far from overturning the Commission’s ruling it was possible that the ECJ could impose an even harsher judgement on the region. 

French-speaking socialist Paul Ficheroulle agreed with this analysis, pointing out that the Commission’s decision was not wholly negative.

The decision set out some clear markers for how regional airports could develop in the future, he pointed out. He added that the new guidelines would still allow smaller airports to make attractive offers to airlines.

In reality Charleroi is doing rather well at the moment. Since the Ryanair ruling three new ‘low-cost’ airlines have said they will start using the city airport. This week Anglo-Hungarian firm Wizz Air, which operates out of Hungary and Poland to nine European destinations, said it would begin flying to Charleroi in May.

And at the end of last week Poland-based Air Polonia and French company Axis Airways also announced they would be using Charleroi.

Last Friday Kubla even went out of his way to say that Charleroi was not “Ryanair’s airport,” and that other airlines were very welcome there.

[Copyright Expatica News 2004]

Subject: Belgian news