Ministers do u-turn on Schiphol cuts following US, EU pressure

Photo: Brandon Hartley

The plan to reduce take-off and landings at Schiphol airport to 460,000 next year has been abandonned, following criticism from the EU, Canada and the US.

Infrastructure minister Mark Harbers told MPs on Tuesday evening that the US in particular was angry about the plan and had threatened to retaliate because there would be fewer slots available for US airlines. 

The US department of transportation in particular described the cabinet decision as “conflicting with EU rules, illegal, disruptive and a distortion of competition”, Harbers said. 

A number of airlines have already gone to court in protest at the cuts, which the government won on appeal. The case is now with the Supreme Court. 

Harbers told MPs that several countries had expressed their concerns about the cuts and that the cabinet has now decided to leave things as they are, at least until the Supreme Court has had its say. 

It is a “bitter pill” for locals, but the cabinet is “determined to restore the balance between Schiphol and its surroundings,” he said. In the meantime, the government has begun a European procedure to press ahead with the change, based on the “balanced approach” principle. 

European rules require governments to consider both environmental protection and the interests of maintaining a well-run transport network. All parties, including airlines, environmental groups and local residents, are entitled to have their say. Brussels also has to approve the plan.

Locals united in lobby group Schiphol Watch say they are “astonished” at the government’s position and accuse ministers of giving in to American blackmail. 

“It is a real shame that the minister has caved in,” said chairman Alfred Blokhuizen. “It is incomprehensible that the financial interests of an American company take priority over the health of those living near the airport who have been plagued for years.”

The Schiphol airport authority, which is 100% state-owned, also said it was disappointed at the u-turn because “local residents are getting the short end of the stick”.

“Reducing the number of flights is not a goal in itself for us, but the experimental ruling did provide clarity and certainty for local residents,” the airport said.

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