Trade unions push Brussels to approve Lufthansa’s €325m ITA buy

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EU antitrust officials are worried the takeover of the former Alitalia fleet could raise prices and cut choice on flights to central Europe and the US.

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Airline staff representatives today (28 May) called for Brussels to act rapidly to allow Lufthansa’s €325m purchase of Italy’s state-owned ITA Airways stock.

The letter seen by Euronews adds to pressure on Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s lead antitrust official, as time runs out for her to take a view on the deal.

“A quick and positive decision” on the merger can “signal that you, the EU Commission, are focusing on strength, competitiveness in a fair market environment and growth in Europe,” said the letter, dated 28 May and signed by 11 aviation unions including Germany’s ver.di and Italy’s ANPAC.

“The aim must be to strengthen our European aviation industry, its value creation, its jobs with European standards and to keep its tax revenues in Europe,” added the letter, sent to Vestager and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

The letter also cites the existing burden of EU environmental laws, Russian sanctions, and asymmetric market access on the sector.

The case is causing a political storm in Italy, and transport minister Matteo Salvini has said Brussels blocking the deal would be tantamount to a “hostile act”.

Italy’s economics and finance ministry is sole shareholder in ITA, which took over from Alitalia, the debt-stricken 70-year-old flag carrier which saw its final flight in 2021.

In a March statement, the Commission raised concerns that the Lufthansa-ITA deal could limit choice on flights between Italy and central Europe, and give ITA a dominant position at Milan’s Linate airport.

Lufthansa already forms part of the Star Alliance with major global players such as United Airlines, and Brussels fears further consolidation could curb long-haul competition still more on routes to the US, Canada and Japan.

Antitrust officials are now locked in talks to see if Lufthansa can offer any remedies, such as shedding services to alleviate competition concerns.

The deadline for the Commission’s decision is 4 July – meaning it comes at a politically tense time, as von der Leyen seeks approval for a second term in office from EU leaders, including Italy’s Giorgia Meloni.

At a press conference today, Vestager said the Lufthansa-ITA case was “ongoing”, with officials still examining potential remedies.

Vestager said she’d approved the “huge majority” of thousands of merger cases, with outright prohibitions “really rare”.

But Brussels has on occasion stood firm under political pressure, blocking a planned rail sector tie-up between Siemens and Alstom that had been championed by Paris and Berlin.

A Commission spokesperson did not immediately respond to a comment on the letter.

A Lufthansa spokesperson told Euronews it remained confident of getting a green light from the Commission, but declined to comment on remedies it had proposed.

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