Photographer: Martin Leissl/Bloomberg

Lufthansa CEO to Brexit Crowd: Don't Leave Us Alone With France

  • CEO Spohr tells U.K. audience his industry has a global focus
  • Ryanair reiterates its call for Britons to oppose Brexit

Deutsche Lufthansa AG Chief Executive Officer Carsten Spohrsaid he’s rooting for Britain to stay in the European Union -- not least to maintain a political counterweight to the French.

While EU membership is not as crucial in aviation as it is for other companies, German businesses would “feel alone without you guys,” Spohr said Wednesday when asked about the implications of a so-called Brexit at the London Aviation Club. “We will only have the socialist people around us like the French.”

Carsten Spohr at the Aviation Club in London
Carsten Spohr at the Aviation Club in London
Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Spohr has been battling unions for more than a year as he seeks cost cuts to meet the challenge of low-cost rivals like Ryanair Holdings Plc, which is seeking a fourfold expansion of its share of the German aviation market. British Airways parent IAG SA has been more successful in overcoming workforce opposition, while Air France has made little progress in taming its labor groups.

The executive downplayed the economic fallout of a U.K. vote to quit the EU, telling his audience of aviation veterans that the sector has “historically been global and is used to working over barriers. When it comes to our industry, being part of a common market is not as important as it is to many others.”

Spohr said he hoped there would be an “open discussions” about the EU, “and that you guys are staying in.”

Talks about cost cuts at Lufthansa’s main-brand business are continuing and the CEO said he’s hoping for a deal, though record earnings spurred by the low oil price have made it “challenging” to sell a major restructuring to unions.

Dublin-based Ryanair separately reiterated calls for Britons to remain in the EU in a vote expected later this year, while restating its concerns about over-regulation and red tape within the 28-state grouping.

“We hope they choose to stay and we hope Europe gives them a way,” Chief Marketing Officer Kenny Jacobssaid in an interview in Berlin, adding that Ryanair will continue its business strategy regardless of the outcome. “Europe absolutely needs to change,” and the Brexit debate could spark that, he said.

Willie Walsh, CEO of IAG, and Carolyn McCall, head of EasyJet Plc, have also both previously called for Britain to remain in the bloc.

Prime Minister David Cameron is pursuing a deal with his EU counterparts, details of which are expected to be announced on Feb. 19, with a referendum likely to be held on June 23.

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