Jacques Barrot must be a mean poker player. The European transport commissioner has often been dealt a weak hand in negotiations. Yet he has managed on many occasions to outwit, or outbluff, his opponents.To name just one, he has steered the Galileo satellite navigation system to the launch pad amid bickering among EU members over how to pay for it and who should build it. But now he faces his toughest test: convincing the US to yield control of its airlines to Europeans. Barrot had to drop this demand to get a transatlantic open skies deal that should boost traffic across the ocean and lower prices when it comes into force on March 30. The UK, which had previously blocked such a deal because it did not want to widen access to the lucrative Heathrow hub without US concessions, was forced into agreeing to the deal after the other EU governments backed it. But it added an important caveat. Unless the US lifted restrictions that limit foreign companies ownership of its airlines to 25 per cent in second stage negotiations the deal would be scrapped. While the US administration agrees with the change, Congress opposes it.
Talks on the second stage begin in May. Barrot says he will now employ his Gallic charm to sweet-talk the airline unions into accepting that European owners would not treat them worse than American ones. Read more