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European Press Review: Doubts on KLM-Air France Merger

The merger of Dutch Airline KLM and Air France dominated the editorial pages of many European papers on Wednesday. But commentators also focused on British Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech to his Labour Party.

Le Soir from Brussels said there were a number of reasons for the KLM-Air France merger. The paper pointed out that while KLM was suffering from poor conditions in its domestic market, Air France wanted to profit from the Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam. The airline also wants to use the excellent KLM network across the Atlantic to take over market share from British Airways, said Le Soir.

But the Düsseldorf-based business daily Handelsblatt said that the merger signifies more than just a move based on the interests of both airlines. Rather, it put the merger in the context of international Open-Sky negotiations going between Brussels and Washington. A deal would lift restrictions on carriers that are now only allowed to fly between two countries if they are based in one of them. In other words, only French and American carriers are allowed to fly between New York and Paris. The paper said the merger and the Open-Sky negotiations together are a sign that there is a consolidation process beginning in the European airline industry. National airlines with big networks are a luxury, wrote the paper, and only a few big European-wide airlines will likely emerge.

The Dutch Algemeen Dagblad agreed, saying that the merger between KLM and Air France seemed unavoidable. However, said the paper, the Netherlands has to be careful that agreements about national rights for KLM and the role of Schiphol Airport are preserved.

De Volkskrant, another Dutch paper, was also cautious, pointing out that cultural differences don’t disappear only through contracts. There could still be friction between the leadership of the two companies and KLM needs to make sure its interests are protected, the paper warned.

The editorial pages also focussed on the speech by British Prime Minister Tony Blair Tuesday in front of his Labour Party conference. The Swiss Berner Zeitung pointed out the charisma with which Blair justified his reasons for going into the Iraq war. The paper wrote that Blair hasn’t lost any charm. But he has lost the trust of his voters. The paper said that every third British voter believes that Blair lied about Iraq. And he has changed his reasons for going in. Now he is citing the necessary regime change, while earlier Blair pointed to weapons of mass destruction that still haven’t been found. London’s liberal The Independent was more critical of Blair. It said that Blair’s tone was like that of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But after six and a half years in power, it’s not only Blair’s party that needs to be convinced that Blair has a “Thatcher-like sense of purpose” on domestic issues. So do the voters, said the paper, but his speech “did little to assuage doubts.”