It’s give and take. Paris and Brussels have agreed on the release of new financial aid for Air France. But in exchange, the company will have to give up “a certain number of slots” at Orly airport, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire announced on Sunday.
“We have an agreement in principle with the European Commissioner [chargée de la Concurrence] Margrethe Vestager on new financial support ”, he confirmed in the Grand Jury LCI / RTL / Le Figaro program. However, the minister did not specify the amount of the aid mentioned. It “will be discussed with Air France”, a board of directors is scheduled for Monday. According to three union sources, an extraordinary Central Social and Economic Committee (CSE) was also convened for Tuesday at 9 am.
More than 7 billion lost in 2020
It is therefore the end of weeks of intense discussions between Paris and the European Commission, guardian of balanced competition. The French state, which owns 14.3% of Air France, is ready to once again help the company, affected like the entire airline sector by the Covid-19 crisis and which lost 7.1 billion euros in 2020. For Bruno Le Maire, the agreement reached is “fair and proportionate”. At the European Commission, a spokesperson pointed out on Sunday that if a member state intends to “grant more than 250 million euros in recapitalization aid” to a company with a significant market share where it operates, then it must “propose additional measures to preserve effective competition”.
Clearly, France is urged to propose effective competitive measures. Everything will therefore depend on landing and take-off time slots at Orly. But “it will be less” than the 24 slots desired by the Commission. “It was too much” according to the minister, who pleaded that “it was useless to support Air France on the one hand if it was, on the other, to excessively enhance competition”.
Reduce CO2 emissions
The company will also have to “make efforts of competitiveness”, warned the Minister of the Economy. “There are tens of thousands of jobs behind, it’s strategic for the country”, but it is necessary “that Air France returns to profit […] The taxpayers are making an effort, Air France must make an effort on its side ”. The company must also “continue to reduce its CO2 emissions”. However, “improving competitiveness does not necessarily mean cutting jobs, destroying value”.
Air France-KLM has already benefited from massive public aid from Paris and The Hague: more than 10 billion euros, including 7 billion in direct loans or loans guaranteed by the French state. But the pandemic continues. The group thus lost two thirds of its customers last year and its debt has almost doubled to 11 billion euros.