European Trade Chief Warns On Volcanic Ash Economic Impact

By Bate Felix and | April 19, 2010

The European Union’s economy will face serious consequences if a volcanic ash cloud that has disrupted flights across the continent continues for a long time, its trade chief said on Monday.

“If this were to take long, it would really mean a very serious disturbance of economic life in Europe,” EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told Reuters in an interview.

De Gucht said he would not risk putting a figure on the impact of the crisis so far on EU trade, but it was “high time” that the economic disruption was halted.

“What makes me a little bit afraid is that there is no timer on this volcano,” he said.

European transport ministers were discussing the crisis after a meeting of the European aviation control agency Eurocontrol, which said on Monday it expected between 8,000 and 9,000 flights to operate in Europe.

Earlier on Monday, the European Union executive said it was considering loosening stringent EU rules for state aid to help airlines hit by millions of euros in lost revenues.

De Gucht said no decision had been taken at EU level to provide aid to the airlines under clauses allowing such aid in the case of natural disasters, and any request for aid would be made by the carriers to their respective national government.

“Given the fact that it is a natural disaster, I can imagine that provided measures are taken, they should not necessarily be WTO incompatible because it is as a result of a natural disaster,” De Gucht said.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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