27th Mar 2019

Plan for EU airline fuel tax sparks furious debate

  • The airline industry has sharply criticised the proposals (Photo: Airbus)

A proposal by the German government to impose a tax on airline fuel in order to boost development funding has prompted a fierce debate pitting airlines against environmentalists.

The Secretary-General of the Association of European Airlines (AEA), Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus reacted angrily to the plan, saying, "of course we applaud humanitarian initiatives, but why target the airlines? Our industry is going through a fundamental crisis".

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Mr Schulte-Strathaus, whose association represents airlines such as British Airways, Air France, Virgin Atlantic and SN Brussels, added, "If the ministers were sincere about helping developing countries, they would be asking themselves how they could encourage and not discourage, travel and tourism into these regions".

At least five times more polluting

But the Green party in the European Parliament said it "strongly supported" the proposal and would seek to use its influence in member states to push it through.

Paul Beeckmans, transport adviser for the Green group, said this tax was necessary "for several reasons".

First, it was unfair that airline fuel is not subject to the same taxes as road and rail fuel. This represented, according to Mr Beeckmans, a "distortion of competition" between the various possible modes of transport.

Secondly, airlines should be forced to pay more under the "polluter pays" principle, he said. Airplanes were "at least five times more polluting" than trains and at least three times less fuel efficient.

No position from Brussels

The Commission said on Monday (14 February) that it did not have a position on the issue.

"There is no consensus at the moment on these ideas", said Commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tardio.

And the spokesman for environment commissioner Stavros Dimas added, "if you put a kerosene tax only on European companies flying, say, transatlantically, you weaken their competitive position, so you have to look at this, by definition, from a global perspective".

Unanimity required

The proposal will be discussed, at Germany’s request, at the meeting of finance ministers later this week but any changes to tax law need unanimity and this appears far from certain.

Ireland – which has been touted as one of the main member states opposed to the move – denied press reports that it was against the plan.

"There is no Irish position as yet", said an Irish official.

And some diplomats have indicated that, after an initial discussion at finance minister level, decisions will be deferred to an informal meeting in Luxembourg in April.

However, the need for unanimity makes even Mr Beeckmans from the Green group pessimistic for agreement.

"This is an issue I have been working on for a long time and I have lost my initial idealism", he said.


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