U.S. News

Ryanair Boss Slams EU Aer Lingus Veto as Political

By Reuters

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary on Tuesday slammed a European Commission plan to veto its attempt to take over Irish rival Aer Lingus, calling the move politically motivated to appease Dublin.

The European Commission plans to veto the bid by Europe's biggest budget airline on Wednesday, sources familiar with the issue have said.

O'Leary reiterated he would appeal against the expected decision at the EU's Court of First Instance.

"This decision is politically motivated, designed to appease the narrow interests of the Irish government, which was the only party -- other than Aer Lingus itself -- to object to the merger," O'Leary told reporters.

"The decision is manifestly in error since it is based on the Commission's inaccurate claim that there are barriers to entry at Dublin Airport," he said.

The European Commission has denied it was influenced by political pressure over the deal.

Shares in Ryanair were 1.1% weaker at 4.95 euros, in line with similar losses on the broader Irish market. Aer Lingus shares were up 2.1% at 2.12 euros.

Ryanair's 1.48 billion euro ($1.97 billion) bid lapsed automatically in December when authorities decided to conduct the in-depth investigation, but the company has said it intended to return with a second offer.

Ryanair's hostile bid was made shortly after Aer Lingus's stock market listing last year. The bid faced an uphill struggle from the start amid opposition from key shareholders, including the Irish government, which remains Aer Lingus's biggest shareholder with a stake of just over 25%.

Both airlines are based at Dublin Airport and serve a market where few others have shown an interest in establishing a base.

O'Leary said Ryanair would "oppose any attempt" by the Commission to require it to dispose of its 25% stake in Aer Lingus.

The Commission has laid the groundwork to force O'Leary to cut back or sell all of that holding and will decide later whether to do so.

Ryanair offered proposals in the past it has said could ensure competition, but they were never enough to satisfy the Commission. Among them were an offer to sell Aer Lingus's slots at London's Heathrow and Dublin for flights between the two airports.