EU to discuss UK and US laptop bans on Middle East flights
European security experts will meet in Brussels next week to assess the laptop bans imposed by the UK and US on flights from some Middle Eastern and north African countries.
The EU commissioner for transport, Violeta Bulc, plans to speak to the British transport secretary, Chris Grayling, to discuss the UK’s ban on carrying electronic devices larger than a phone in cabin baggage. The edict affects all direct passenger flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.
The British government did not consult the European commission before announcing the decision on Tuesday, but followed a similar move by the US the day before. Grayling said the government had been in close contact with the US to understand its approach.
The commission wants to hear more about the intelligence that informed the UK government’s ban and is urging the UK to share information. A spokesperson said: “We actively encourage member states to share intelligence and coordinate their actions. We have called for a security coordination meeting next week with all member states, to assess the new bans.”
While EU laws govern aspects of transport policy, national governments are responsible for security and are not obliged to consult Brussels before taking counter-terrorism measures.
Officials in Brussels are not aware of plans from any other EU member state to impose a similar ban.
A spokesperson for the Dutch government said: “We are constantly monitoring the situation. At the moment we don’t see reasons to introduce similar measures.” Belgium said it would not introduce such measures unilaterally, without a pan-European recommendation.
Officials in Brussels see significant differences between the British and US bans. The UK ban applies to all direct passenger flights from six countries, including European and US airlines. The US ban only applies to Middle Eastern, north African and Turkish airlines, flying from 10 airports in eight countries.
A senior Turkish official said on Thursday it was taking steps to keep Istanbul’s main airport and its national carrier, Turkish Airlines, outside the scope of the new restrictions. Foreign ministry spokesman, Hüseyin Muftuoglu, said taking measures “against people that pose a threat instead of punishing normal passengers would be more effective”.
The UK decision is deemed non-discriminatory in Brussels, meaning it will not fall foul of EU rules aiming to ensure fair competition between different airlines.
The UK ban affects 14 airlines, including six British carriers, such as British Airways, EasyJet and Thomas Cook.
The nine airlines affected by the US ban are Royal Jordanian, EgyptAir, Turkish Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Kuwait Airways, Royal Air Maroc, Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways.
Technical experts from the EU’s 28 member states will discuss the bans at a routine meeting on 29 March. The ban on carrying large electronic devices was hastily added to the agenda, in the wake of the announcements from London and Washington.
The commission spokesperson said: “While the EU has put in place some of the most stringent security rules within Europe, the decision to introduce additional security measures on flights from third countries lies with the national authorities. This means EU member states can introduce such measures. Any security measure should be non-discriminatory and not amount to any protectionism in disguise, nor be driven by commercial interests.”