Qatar and the European Union (EU) concluded discussions for a potential open skies agreement last week which will give airlines of the EU nations and Qatar Airways unrestricted access to one another’s airports.
The deal is seen as giving a tremendous advantage to the Qatari carrier at the expense of European airlines such as Lufthansa, KLM-Air France and Alitalia. The carrier of the tiny gulf state will be able to use its bilateral agreements with airlines in Asia to ferry passengers to Europe and North America via its hub in Doha while European carriers will be able to operate from airports in their own countries.
"This landmark agreement will be the first of its kind between the European Union and a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member state, offering a significant competitive advantage to the airlines of both sides and a sustainable framework for future operations." As a result, all airlines in the 28 EU Member States and Qatar now have unrestricted and unrestricted access to their respective territories, "Qatar Airways said in a statement.
The negotiations which have been in the pipeline for a couple of years now come at a time when Qatar announced mega defence deals with France for 36 Rafale jets worth $19 billion, with Eurofighter consortium for 24 aircraft worth $6 billion, NH consortium for 28 NH90 helicopters worth $3.4 billion and $6 billion purchase of 7 warships from Italy. Altogether Qatar has signed up to buy arms from European countries in the last four years worth an estimated $35 billion.
The EU-Qatari air services deal, which is still to get the nod of the European Council, is the first between the EU and a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. Talks for a similar deal have been going on between the UAE’s carrier, Emirates and the EU for some years now without result.
Qatar’s arms procurement is far in excess of the threat perception to itself, despite of its tiff with its powerful neighbours such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Qatar hosts an American base and is building a new base to host US military facilities.
Qatar is facing an air blockade by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which means Qatar Airways has to take a circuitous route to bypass Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The EU deal will boost its position vis-à-vis other Persian Gulf based carriers such as Emirates, Etihad and Saudia.
Qatar is long suspected to use defence procurement as a diplomatic tool, making significant arms purchases to make gains in other areas of the economy.