Airport charges: security is Member States' responsibility, say EU MEPs

Aviation and Airport Security: Terrorism and Safety Concerns, Second Edition 
Aviation security measures that go beyond common EU requirements should be paid for by Member States, not by passengers, said Transport Committee MEPs in a vote on Monday that could put Parliament on a collision course with the Council of Ministers.

MEPs want national governments to bear the costs of imposing measures that are stricter than common EU standards and methods. They amended the Commission's proposal for a directive on aviation security charges to require public financing for these "more stringent" measures.

For example, under the draft directive as amended by the Transport Committee, Member States would be required to foot the bill if they choose to introduce body scanners, which are not yet listed as a common EU aviation security method, in their airports.

Cost transparency
Substantial investments are needed for security measures, such as metal detectors, luggage checks, and security staff, which are imposed on Member States by EU legislation (Regulation 300/2008).

Member States are currently free to apply their own rules on how airport security charges are shared: in some countries, e.g. Luxembourg, the government contributes, but in most cases the airport authorities pass on the costs to airlines, which then pass them on to passengers. 

The European Commission's proposal stops short of regulating methods for financing security measures. Instead it would lay down common principles that Member States and airport authorities must respect when determining their cost recovery systems: transparency, consultation of airline companies, and non-discrimination. The Commission's aim is to prevent any distortion of competition.

MEPs support these proposals, but want to reinforce the directive by requiring public financing for "more stringent" security measures. They argue that governments, rather than passengers, should pay for national security measures that aim to protect citizens from acts of terrorism.

Member States would remain free to decide how to share the costs of measures already covered by EU regulations 300/2008 and 272/2009: metal and explosive detectors, sniffer dogs, hand searches, liquid screeners, etc. 

Clash with Council seems inevitable 
Member States are opposed to a directive that would impose public financing, but MEPs are determined, if necessary, to take the fight all the way to the Parliament/Council conciliation committee: Transport Committee Chairman Brian Simpson, Chairman (S&D, UK), said he would recommend rejecting the proposal as a whole if EU ministers did not accept Parliament's position.

Rapporteur Jörg Leichtfried (S&D, AT), even suggested the EP could use its right to veto future Commission proposals on the use of body scanners in airports, if the public financing amendment were to fail.

In fact, according to the committee position, if body scanners were included in the list of common EU aviation security measures, then Member States would not be obliged to finance them, as they would no longer be considered a "more stringent" measure.

Finally, MEPs voted to include all commercial airports, against the wishes of many Member States who wish to restrict the Directive to airports serving more than 5 million passengers per year.

Committee vote: 34 in favour, 0 against, 5 abstentions. 
Plenary vote: April
Rapporteur: Jörg Leichtfried (S&D, Autriche)
In the chair: Brian Simpson (S&D, UK)