The European Commission wants to be given the power to negotiate EU-wide air traffic agreements with the Gulf states as a way of boosting the competitiveness of European carriers against their Middle Eastern rivals.
But the move has been criticised by Emirates, which said that competition issues were already covered by existing bilateral agreements on air services between individual countries.
The EC announcement was part of a range of measures under its new aviation strategy, which aims to “place the EU as a leading player in international aviation, while guaranteeing a level playing field”.
The new EU aviation strategy has been welcomed by Europe’s biggest five carriers: International Airlines Group, Air France-KLM, Lufthansa, easyJet and Ryanair.
In a joint statement, the five airlines added: “We need to act now – large scale airport monopolies, high charges, taxation and inefficiencies characterise the aviation supply chain.
“The focus must be on concrete and measurable actions that support European airlines and their customers by providing more flights and lower fares.
“Airport charges have risen by more than two thirds over the last ten years. This is in direct contrast to the lower airfares being delivered by Europe’s airlines.”
Other measures in the strategy include updating the EU’s safety rules and reducing the burden of safety and security checks through the greater use of technology.
“The EU aviation sector must be allowed to tap into the new growth markets,” said the commission in a statement. “This can be achieved through new external aviation agreements with key countries and regions in the world.”
The EC wants member states to give it a mandate to start talks about EU-wide traffic deals with countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, as well as China and Turkey.
EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc added: “European aviation is facing a number of challenges and the strategy sets out a comprehensive and ambitious action plan to keep the sector ahead of the curve.
“It will keep European companies competitive, through new investment and business opportunities, allowing them to grow in a sustainable manner. European citizens will also benefit from more choice, cheaper prices and the highest levels of safety and security.”
But Emirates has disputed whether EU-wide air traffic agreements are needed.
“Competition-related issues are already covered under existing sovereign bilateral air service agreements, as well as existing EU regulation,” said the Dubai-based airline.
“Therefore we find it interesting that rather than use these tools to address specific grievances, the European Commission is instead looking at a new EU-level policy.”
The Gulf-based airlines have also faced protests from major US carriers, which claim that the Middle East airlines benefit from state subsidies.