Documents considered by the Committee on 15 September 2010 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


4   Aviation security charges

(30645)

9864/09

+ ADDs 1-2

COM(09) 217

Draft Directive on aviation security charges

Legal baseArticle 80(2) EC; co-decision; QMV
DepartmentTransport
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 29 July 2010
Previous Committee ReportHC 19-xxi (2008-09), chapter 2 (24 June 2009), HC 19-xxv (2008-09), chapter 4 (21 July 2009), HC 19-xxvi (2008-09), chapter 4 (10 September 2009), HC 5-iii (2009-10), chapter 5 (9 December 2009) and HC 5-xiii (2009-10), chapter 1 (10 March 2010)
To be discussed in CouncilNo date known
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; further information requested

Background

4.1  Regulation (EC) No 300/2008 updated legislation establishing common standards for civil aviation security and creating a system of inspections.[8] In March 2009 Directive (EC) No 12/2009 on airport charges in general (the Airport Charges Directive) was adopted.[9] However the question of charges related to security was not addressed during the negotiation of this Directive, as the findings of a Commission report were still awaited. This report, when it emerged, suggested that draft legislation was in preparation.[10]

4.2  In May 2009 the Commission presented this draft Directive on aviation security charges which would require:

  • airport managing bodies to provide each user annually with information on the components serving as a basis for determining the level of all security charges levied at an airport;
  • Member States to undertake impact assessments for all new and current measures that are more stringent (referred to as More Stringent Measures) than the standard Community-wide requirements;
  • Member States to ensure that security charges are used exclusively to meet security costs; and
  • Member States to nominate or establish an independent body to ensure the correct application of these measures.

4.3  The Airport Charges Directive sets out principles for how airports should set airport charges and their relationship with airports. It covers many of the same areas mentioned in the draft Directive, such as non-discrimination, consultation requirements, providing information about underlying costs and how charges are set and a right of appeal to a regulator. However, the draft Directive differs from the Airport Charges Directive in a number of ways, including that:

  • the Airport Charges Directive only covers airports with an annual traffic of five million or more passenger movements, but there is no size threshold in this proposal; and
  • the Airport Charges Directive allows multi-annual agreements whereas this proposal requires annual agreements.

4.4  The previous Committee considered this document a number of times. On the first occasion, in June 2009, it concluded that although the matter of aviation security charges clearly had to be addressed, this draft Directive presented some problems. So it asked, before considering it further, to hear from the then Government about developments on:

  • its view of subsidiarity;
  • More Stringent Measures;
  • the differences between the Airport Charges Directive and this proposal;
  • the potential impact on small airports;
  • separately identified security charges;
  • the Government's analysis of the Commission's impact assessment and of the financial implications of the proposal; and
  • its consultations.

4.5  By the time the previous Committee further considered the matter, in December 2009, it had already heard that Council working party negotiations had led to revised text which answered the Government's concerns on subsidiarity and More Stringent Measures. In December 2009 it was told additionally that:

  • it was looking likely that a general approach would be sought at the Transport Council on 17-18 December 2009; and
  • there were still a number of issues, however, that Member States were not able to resolve in the working group;
  • 23 organisations had responded to the Government's consultation;
  • the Government's analysis and response were still in preparation but what was clear was that airlines in particular would welcome transparency of charges, smaller airports had expressed concern at the administrative burdens they would face if the qualifying threshold were to be below five million passenger movements and impact assessments for More Stringent Measures were broadly welcomed;
  • in relation to the Government's concerns about the potential impact on small airports, including those in the Highlands and Islands, the smaller airports and representative organisations also raised concerns about the costs of implementing the proposed Directive in their responses to the consultation;
  • the Swedish Presidency had indicated recently that it was minded to align the scope of the proposal with the Airport Charges Directive, that is with a five million passengers per annum threshold, but unlike that Directive not to include the largest airport in a Member State if no airport exceeded five million passenger movements;
  • the Government welcomed this change as it brought the provision largely into line with the Airport Charges Directive and smaller airports, such as those in the Highlands and Islands, would not be covered by the proposed Directive;
  • although the Government's principal security concern in the negotiations had been to ensure that Member States' ability to swiftly put in place More Stringent Measures should not be restricted and this point had now been addressed in the revised text, it thought that the proposal still required significant further work and that it was not ready for a general approach;
  • it had made these points strongly to the Presidency — nevertheless, the Presidency still hoped that it would be possible to reach a general approach at the December 2009 Council;
  • the Government intended, therefore to take the line that any agreement needed to ensure a genuine level playing field in all Member States, that the appeals mechanism should be aligned with that in the Airport Charges Directive and that provisions on cost-relatedness should strike a fair balance between passengers and airport operators; and
  • unless these issues could be resolved the Government was minded to inform the Council that it was abstaining from any agreement to a general approach.

4.6  The previous Committee then noted the helpful improvements to the proposal already secured. But it noted also that there were issues still outstanding that meant the then Government would not yet wish to acquiesce in a general approach — a position which it applauded. It said that before considering the matter again it wished to hear of further improvements to the draft text.

4.7  The previous Committee last considered the matter in March 2010, when it heard that:

  • in the event the Swedish Presidency concluded that a general approach was not yet possible and the draft Directive was only the subject of a progress report at the December 2009 Council;
  • the Spanish Presidency has had just one further working group meeting, the outcome of which was that another progress report was to be made at the Transport Council in March 2010;
  • there had been no substantive changes to the amendments previously agreed in the working group, in particular that the measure should only apply to airports handling more than five million passengers per annum;
  • the Presidency was now awaiting the outcome of the European Parliament's first reading of the proposal before returning to it;
  • the European Parliament had just concluded the committee stage of its consideration, with the TRAN Committee voting on a series of amendments to the Commission's original draft Directive;
  • in particular the TRAN Committee favoured applying the Directive to all commercial airports and requiring Member States to pay for More Stringent Measures;
  • the European Parliament's plenary first reading was currently scheduled for April 2010;
  • responses to a Government consultation had shown that airports were broadly supportive of the five million threshold and that airlines welcomed transparency on charges, that most respondents recognized the need for Member States to be able to introduce additional security measures in response to an immediate threat without first having to carry out an impact assessment and that a majority of respondents were also concerned about the administrative burdens which could flow from the proposal;
  • whilst the then Government continued to consider that the proposed Directive would not have a significant effect on charges levied by UK airports, it did consider that there could be potential benefits for UK airlines operating out of other EU airports and consequently for UK passengers;
  • the proposal could bring greater visibility of charges, especially in countries which were less market based or had limited regulation, and it therefore might help to drive down costs;
  • the impacts of the proposal, however, remained far from clear, not least because the Commission's own impact assessment was based on looking at a very small number of airports in just one Member State; and
  • there would be costs for those airports which did not separately identify security costs, there would also be a cost in setting up consultative committees with airlines and a cost to Government in establishing or nominating an Independent Supervisory Authority to ensure the correct application of the proposed requirements;
  • the Government could not support the amendment proposed by the European Parliament, requiring Member States to pay for More Stringent Measures;
  • it remained firmly behind the 'user pays' principle, as it would be wrong to burden the general taxpayer with these costs;
  • there was still no consensus among Member States — many questions remained unresolved and would need to be followed up by the Presidency (including better alignment with the Airport Charges Directive);
  • there was likely to be a further working group meeting in April 2010, which would need to consider the stance taken in the European Parliament TRAN Committee and the potential plenary vote;
  • the Government's view was that the proposal still required significant further work and that it was not ready for a general approach — points made strongly to the Presidency;
  • it was pleased that the item was only on the March 2010 Transport Council agenda for a further progress report; and
  • if, however, in future the Council proceeded to discussion of a general approach the Government proposed to take the line that any agreement needed to ensure a genuine level playing field in all Member States, that the appeals mechanism should be aligned with that in the Airport Charges Directive and that provisions on cost-relatedness should strike a fair balance between passengers and airport operators.

4.8  The previous Committee:

  • noted both that little progress had been made in Council consideration of the proposal and the unhelpful approach of the European Parliament's TRAN Committee;
  • applauded the then Government's stance on the draft Directive — that as the draft Directive presently stood a general approach was not possible; and
  • hoped to hear of further improvements to the text in due course.

Meanwhile the document continued to remain under scrutiny. [11]

The Minister's letter

4.9  The Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Mr Philip Hammond) now reports that:

  • the European Parliament's first reading was completed on 5 May 2010;
  • as expected, the key difference between the position of the European Parliament and that of the Council is that the former endorsed the view that the proposed Directive should apply to all commercial airports and that Member States should pay for More Stringent Measures;
  • therefore no first-reading agreement could be reached between the European Parliament and the Council;
  • the Spanish Presidency convened a Council working group on 16 June 2010 to consider the European Parliament's amendments;
  • those discussions only covered some of the amendments put forward by the European Parliament;
  • it was clear, however, that these would cause problems for the Member States;
  • in particular, virtually all Member States were in favour of the scope of the proposed Directive being restricted to airports with annual throughputs in excess of five million as opposed to the Commission's and the European Parliament's desire to see all airports covered;
  • the question of payment for More Stringent Measures was not discussed;
  • the working group did not come to any firm conclusions; and
  • the matter is now for the Belgian Presidency, which has indicated that it will not be a priority for its term.

4.10  The Minister tells us that:

  • the Government's negotiating position for future discussions of this proposal includes the need to ensure that Member States continue to have the ability to swiftly put in place More Stringent Measures, if needed, and that these should not be restricted;
  • with regard to the European Parliament amendment requiring Member States to pay for More Stringent Measures, it is firmly behind the 'user pays' principle and considers that it would be wrong to burden the general taxpayer with these costs;
  • it does not support the European Parliament's and the Commission's desire to include all commercial airports in this Directive; and
  • it believes that to avoid unnecessary administrative burdens on the industry the Directive should be aligned with the Airport Charges Directive and only cover airports with annual throughput of more than five million passengers — in the UK this would include nine airports, which would cover over 80% of passengers.

Conclusion

4.11  We are grateful to the Minister for his account of where matters now stand on this proposal. We note, and applaud, the Government's intention to continue pursuit of agreement on a text that is closer to UK needs, in relation to More Stringent Measures, scope, the 'user pays' principle and alignment with the Airport Charges Directive. We hope to hear in due course of progress on these issues. Meanwhile the document remains under scrutiny.




8   (26861) 12588/05: see HC 34-viii (2005-06), chapter 4 (2 November 2005), HC 34-xv (2005-06), chapter 2 (18 January 2006) and HC 34-xxi (2005-06), chapter 1 (8 March 2006) and Stg Co Deb, European Standing Committee, 7 March 2006, cols 3-16. Back

9   (28346) 5887/07 + ADDs 1-2: see HC 41-xi (2006-07), chapter 3 (28 February 2007), HC 16-ii (2007-08), chapter 4 (14 November 2007) and HC 16-iv (2007-08), chapter 22 (28 November 2007). Back

10   (30429) 6074/09: see HC 19-xi (2008-09), chapter 14 (18 March 2009). Back

11   See headnote. Back


 
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