Aggressive Ryanair changes tack in its dealings with the EU

RYANAIR, the country’s most recognised brand abroad if you discount Guinness, has moved from trying to battle the EU to trying to persuade.

It’s an unlikely move for a company whose public persona is that of a bull in a china shop.

Its public face, chief executive Michael O’Leary, has gone from shouting abuse and threatening all-out war on the European Commission to learning it can be useful. He got something of a shock when the Commission actually backed him on some issues – especially since he had pasted them into the “bad” corner when they came out against him on other issues.

For Ryanair, the world is generally divided into good and bad – if you are not with them, you are against them. Their culture is built around a few bits of business philosophy liberally applied to all kinds of situations.

Generally other people’s culture is something to be ignored, Ryanair appeared to believe. It was more about “telling it like it is” and that included using plenty of Irish language that normally has four letters and begins with F. And so they galloped on, taking on all-comers head-first, amusing those who don’t matter and frequently infuriating those who do.

But now the company is displaying symptoms of trying to work with the EU lobbying culture, though insisting on retaining some of their trademark arrogance.

Irish MEPs, much to their surprise, were invited to meet a team from Europe’s biggest low-cost airline recently in the European Parliament.

Not all turned up, including Labour’s Proinsias De Rossa who has a principled stand against them because of their refusal to allow workers join trade unions.

Those who did come were faced – some felt accosted – by what one described as a brash and brusk “O’Leary type” and two other senior executives.

The company is concerned about the air-passenger review under way in the EU because they lost a lot of money compensating passengers for flights and accommodation as a result of the ash cloud.

Their case is that having spent €20 on a flight ticket, passengers should not be entitled to €200 for an overnight hotel stay.

The air traffic controllers’ regular strikes that paralyse the skies was another bug-bear. Ryanair believes this service should be classified as essential and controllers should be legally banned from striking.

This kind of action happens fairly regularly over France so it will be fun seeing how Ryanair will turn the nation of liberty, equality and fraternity around to their way of seeing things.

After the ideas of charging for using the loo on flights and offering cheap standing-room, the next best wizz the Ryanair supremo ran recently was of having one pilot-only flights. Though nobody knows for sure whether he was really serious about this. Many staff exhausted from cost-cutting measures believe he was.

But Mr O’Leary is serious for sure about attempts to restrict flying times for pilots being pushed by the pilot safety organisation, and is lobbying to ensure that the current arrangements do not need to be tightened up.

Eventually the lobbying-team came out with their overall aim – to Stop the Social Agenda. Basically it’s bad for business, Ryanair and most big business believe.

Member states except for the UK sign up to the EU’s Social Agenda whose aims include gender equality, workers rights, pay and conditions and combating poverty and social exclusion.

It will be interesting to see how successful Ryanair’s lobbying is in the EU and at home where the poor are busy paying off the debts of the wealthy, and especially if the major exponents of the social agenda, Labour, are part of the next government.


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