Select Committee on European Communities Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300 - 309)

WEDNESDAY 8 JULY 1998

MR KAREL VAN MIERT, MR HUMBERT DRABBE and MR VAN HOUTTE

Chairman

  300.  I think we are going to have to move on because I know you have got other appointments. Could you just answer one question which is, looking into a crystal ball, where is it all going to be in five or ten years' time?
  (Mr van Miert)  Well, certainly there will be world alliances because, with globalisation going ahead, there might well be good arguments for that, but we have to be extremely careful that that is not going to lead to the carving up of markets. It is already happening to some extent and it might happen further and indeed that is what I told my colleagues. I said, "Look, it might well be that some of them today feel that we are tough, but it might well be in a few years' time we are ready to admit that they are right" because we had to discuss this with national governments and with the companies, so we are not alone and from the point of view of competition, you might indeed argue for stricter measures, but it is more complicated.

  301.  Politics.
  (Mr van Miert)  Well, politics———

Lord Thomas of Macclesfield

  302.  You have to play with the hand you have got.
  (Mr van Miert)  I must admit that with Margaret Beckett we have been able to have real factual discussions, and I would like to underline that because we were able to discuss problems, competition problems, and see how they could be addressed. Obviously there was some concern that it should not go beyond what was strictly needed and I understand that, but it has been a fair discussion with the DTI and even if sometimes we have had some difference of opinion on one issue, at the end of the day we were able to bridge the gap.

  303.  There are at least two of us who are very pleased to hear that.
  (Mr van Miert)  It is a fact. It is just a fact.

  304.  Possibly three!
  (Mr van Miert)  It is fair enough to say that.

Lord Methuen

  305.  Would you see mergers occurring between European airlines, true mergers?
  (Mr van Miert)  Yes, but it is still politically and psychologically very difficult.

  306.  You have still got this national airline complex.
  (Mr van Miert)  So it is probably more about the bigger company acquiring the smaller company and it might well be that once the problems have been sorted out with Switzerland, they are going to take over, but they are not going to have a bigger share than 49 per cent of Sabena, so things are like that. I was in Portugal yesterday talking to different ministers and they still very much want to keep TAP—an alliance, yes, but another company acquiring a majority stake in "their" company, that is still a bridge too far.

Lord Thomas of Macclesfield

  307.  Is it so in the northern part of Europe? Is the attitude changing in the Scandinavian countries and Germany or are they just as bad as Switzerland?
  (Mr van Miert)  It is all over the place. You have the SAS system, but for the rest it is all over the place and I cannot see the Dutch giving up KLM, let us say. There have been attempts in the past. The Belgians had a lot of trouble and all the evidence is that Sabena were completely down and they accepted the Swiss solution, so for the rest it is going to remain for a considerable time very comparable.

Chairman

  308.  Well, thank you, Commissioner, very, very much for sparing so much time in your very busy schedule.
  (Mr van Miert)  You are welcome.

  309.  It has been very, very interesting and I hope you will read our report.
  (Mr van Miert)  If we can be of any further help, please let us know. It has been a pleasure to speak with you today.

Chairman]  Well, thank you very much indeed.


 
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