Euro watchdog set to block Ryanair’s bid for Irish rival

RYANAIR yesterday said that its bid to take over smaller Irish rival Aer Lingus is to be blocked by Europe’s anti-monopoly watchdog.

If the bid is rejected, it could mark the end of Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary’s long-held ambition to seize control of Ireland’s former flag carrier.

The European Commission, which acts as the European Union’s competition authority, told Ryanair executives at a meeting yesterday that it intends to block the bid, according to Ryanair’s statement.

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A Commission spokesman said a final decision had not yet been taken.

“It appears clear from this morning’s meeting that no matter what remedies Ryanair offered we were not going to get a fair hearing and were going to be prohibited regardless of competition rules,” Ryanair spokesman Robin Kiely said in a statement following a meeting with Commission representatives.

Aer Lingus said it had not been informed of any decision, but said it had always expected a rejection.

“It was and remains Aer Lingus’s position that the offer should never have been made,” it said in a statement.

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget airline, was told last month that it had one last chance to submit measures to ensure the proposed 694 million-euro ($928m) merger did not reduce competition.

Ryanair’s latest offer to the Commission included ceding 43 routes to a newly created Irish subsidiary of British airline Flybe and handing to British Airways the routes Aer Lingus operates from London’s Gatwick Airport.

The commission’s principle objection was over the viability of the envisaged new carrier Flybe Ireland and whether British Airways would continue the routes after an initial three-year period, a source close to the talks said.

Flybe said in a statement it was disappointed by the news and was awaiting the result of Ryanair’s appeal.

“The Commission will take a decision in this case at the end of February or the beginning of March,” said a spokesman for EU competition chief Joaquin Almunia, who declined to comment further on the Ryanair statement.

The Commission blocked Ryanair’s first attempt to take over Aer Lingus in 2007 and Ryanair dropped its second in 2009.

Ryanair’s offer of concessions went further in its latest bid than it had before, but failed to win over Irish political or public opinion.

“People are happy with the status quo, they have a soft spot for Aer Lingus,” said Cathay Daly, a financial services professional from Dublin.

“People were happy Ryanair brought some competition to Ireland but they don’t want them to take it out.”

Ryanair flies to 27 destinations from Leeds Bradford Airport, ranging from city breaks to winter and summer sun holiday destinations.