Why the surprise at the blocking of Ryanair’s bid for Aer Lingus?

As soon as Ryanair heard that Brussels was going to reject their bid for Aer Lingus on competition grounds, they went – as always – on the offensive. The decision was summed up as Brussels’ way of paying back its old adversary. Normally, when Ryanair start making silly statements most sensible people assume the opposite to be true but, in this case, Ryanair’s claims are being taken at face value. If only Michael O’Leary had been a bit more polite to all those eurocrats he would have been allowed to buy Aer Lingus, or so some people seem to think.

This seems wrong on so many fronts.

Firstly, whilst there is a great deal of name-calling in public, I am quite sure that Mr O’Leary knows that Ryanair owes its entire business to the EU, the open market and the various lucrative development grants that have been made. Similarly, Brussels must surely see that the huge growth of Ryanair is one of their major success stories. They might argue like cat and dog in public, and they probably do disagree on some issues, but underneath it all, the two parties know they have been very good for each other.

Secondly, whilst I am sure that Brussels does occasionally make decisions based on animosity towards individuals or companies, it would simply be too obvious in this case. If anything, I imagine they bent over backwards to be sure they could not be accused of bias.

But the really amazing thing is that some people actually thought it would  be reasonable for Ryanair to take over Aer Lingus and effectively control one country’s aviation. There were some who raised the monopoly question over BA’s bid for BMI  yet BMI was no competition for anybody. BMI’s position as chief shorthaul competitor to BA had long since been lost to easyJet who offer much more effective and aggressive competition. BA does not have a monopoly either in the UK shorthaul market or at Heathrow. Ryanair’s attempt to defuse the accusations of a monopoly by setting up a deal with flybe, which they would have subsidised, had very little credibility. If Brussels could stop Aegean buying the failing Olympic in Greece then surely there was no way they could ever allow Ryanair to buy Aer Lingus.

Now Ryanair has all the publicity it wants and is doing its best to paint itself as the injured party. They are threatening appeals but why bother? The only good thing to come out of a long-running appeal is that it will put off the evil day when Ryanair has to decide what to do with its shareholding in Aer Lingus.

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