The battle between Amsterdam city council and the government over the partial privatisation of Schiphol airport looks set to be played out right up to the eve of a new government taking power – possibly not until early next year.
Amsterdam council executive Lodewijk Asscher has stuck to his guns in the face of enormous pressure and refused to kowtow to finance minister Gerrit Zalm. The city owns nearly 22% of Schiphol and the two parties (Labour and GreenLeft) that make up the coalition council made a point of their anti-privatisation stance in the last local election campaign. Having been blocked by a democratically-elected city council shareholder, Zalm now plans to ask the Crown to overturn Amsterdam’s veto.
Asscher points out that Schiphol might be in the top four when it comes to take-offs and landings, but unlike the top three airports – Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle and Frankfurt which are all privatised – most of the people passing through Schiphol are in transit. And it’s not as if the airlines are in favour of privatisation either. Seventy-eight of the airlines using the airport wrote to parliament this summer saying they feared a privatisated Schiphol would raise its fees.
But Zalm has no time for such irritations. He and Schiphol chairman Gerlach Cerfontaine, doubtless rubbing his hands with glee at the thought of the massive private sector salary he will get if the airport is privatised, both believe a sell-off is the best thing for Schiphol. Only then will Schiphol get access to the capital markets and be able to proceed with its ambition which is, according to Schiphol, ‘to create sustainable value for its stakeholders by developing AirportCities and by positioning Amsterdam Airport Schiphol as the leading AirportCity’. Whatever that means!