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Italian airline deal wasn’t cleared to help my boss: EU’s Vestager

by editor

Margrethe Vestager angrily rebuffed claims that she approved an airline deal to help secure Italian government support for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s second term.

The EU’s competition chief lashed out at reporters quizzing her over this month’s approval of Lufthansa’s bid for Italian state-owned (and loss-making) airline, ITA Airways.

The deal was cleared after the airlines pledged to give up precious airport landing slots, a solution officials have previously said usually doesn’t do enough to stoke competition.

“I think if the [European] Parliament got any idea that it was a political decision in order to help the president-elect to get the support of Italy, Parliament would be furious and that could cause gigantic problems for the president,” Vestager told a Thursday press conference.

“I find it a bit difficult to understand how it could be a political decision” since approval needs to be taken under competition law, she said, blasting “the continued accusation that it’s a political decision, which it’s not.”

“How would that be perceived? If I said ‘OK, I think that it will help the [Commission] president if this merger is being approved?’”

“Maybe I’m not smart enough to see through what would be sort of the politics of it,” she said. “But I don’t think that it has any merit to suggest that because I don’t think anyone can say that it would be, as a given thing, be good to do it like that.”

Italian officials pushed hard for the EU to clear the deal. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini last month said a potential veto would be a “hostile act” against the country. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said last year that the Commission was dragging its feet when it had “asked us for years to find a solution” to the national airline’s financial troubles.

Meloni was wooed by von der Leyen last month ahead of EU leaders’ decision to give her a second term heading the EU executive. Meloni ultimately abstained from supporting von der Leyen’s candidacy in anger at being shut out of the decision-making process.

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