Paris/London: Restoring some sanity into the proceedings, a senior French minister has assured Air France-KLM executives that they were free to make an ''independent'' decision about the purchase of long-haul jets for their combined fleets. The merged entity has issued a tender for a 100 long-haul jets and is due to decide between the Airbus 350 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner in a deal potentially worth tens of billions of dollars.
The Franco-Dutch combined carrier has been put under severe pressure in the past week from French lawmakers, and at least one minister, to opt lock, stock and barrel with Airbus under the slogan of 'economic patriotism'.
The campaign, whipped up by Bernard Carayon, a member of French president Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling conservative UMP party, argues that ''When the Americans buy American, Europeans should buy European.''
The campaign has won the backing of almost 150 legislators, apart from whipping up some public sentiment in its favour.
On Wednesday, François Baroin, the French budget minister, entered the argument to state that the government and the company were required to abide by global free trade rules. ''We are in a state of law with European rules and global rules with the [World Trade Organisation],'' Baroin said.
His comments were made on the same day that Henri Gourgeon, the Air France-KLM chief executive, was summoned to a meeting with Pierre Lellouche, French export minister, to ''explain'' what was going on with the order.