French air traffic controllers are so fond of strikes that it is easy to lose track of what they might be striking about on any particular occasion. However, the reason for the strike over the last two days deserves some attention because it is actually a huge political question – and not an easy one for anyone to answer.
The strike was over the possible implementation by the EU of the Single European Sky project. At the moment, each country has its own air traffic system and aircraft crossing Europe get handed from country to country as they fly over – sometimes for only a few minutes. This causes a huge amount of extra work and possible delay as all the national systems have to be coordinated. The plan was for the existing network to be scrapped and a far smaller number of regional centres set up. This would be much more efficient and save airlines, and their passengers time and money.
The French were protesting about the possible loss of jobs in France but the smaller countries would be hit much harder since some would lose all their air traffic control capabilities entirely.
From an efficiency point of view, the case for the Single European Sky is un-opposable but many governments have been luke-warm (at best) about the plan because they would effectively lose their borders completely. What would happen if they decided to withdraw from the EU at some time? What about their military operations? And, what about the substantial revenues they get from charging for air traffic control?
The issue has been festering in Brussels for some years now because it is such a political hot potato. The airlines and IATA have been strident in their criticism of Brussels for dragging their feet but there has been very little public debate on the subject.
It had become increasingly likely that the project would be put on indefinite hold simply because the EU has bigger issues to resolve and even the larger countries, who have the least to lose in such a shake-up, can see the obvious pitfalls in such a plan. The strike by the French was probably unnecessary but it did provoke Brussels into producing an announcement that the issue would now be referred back for consultation (meaning a long period will elapse before even a draft plan is produced).
So, for the moment, it looks as if the Single European Sky project is a dead duck.
I doubt that UKIP have a view on the Single European Sky but this is one example of European integration that even the most anti-European politician could support since it is so obviously better than the current system. Ironically, it happens to be some of the most pro-European politicians who are reluctant to push it through to fruition.