Ryanair's maverick chief suggested on Tuesday that Sweden was limiting its chances in the global business community with high costs, plans for a new travel tax, and allowing workers to strike.
“You've got good football teams and generally attractive ladies but other than that I don't wanna go here,” he told journalists at a media briefing in Stockholm.
“We go where the growth discounts are,” he added.
The CEO called on Swedavia, the company that manages ten of Sweden's airports including Arlanda in Stockholm, to come up with a “credible or a realistic growth scheme that will encourage not just Ryanair but all of the airlines – will encourage Norwegian, will encourage SAS to grow here.”
In a subsequent interview with The Local, he said that the country also had a more general image problem as a destination for international companies.
“I think it needs to be more encouraging, it needs to have a greater welcome towards European business. You know the Nordic region tends to be a bit kind of isolationist,” he argued.
“They need to do more to encourage people to visit here. I mean they have beautiful cities, but you know you have the Norwegians now looking at a travel tax, the Swedes are looking at a travel tax. Nothing could be more damaging for tourism up here.”
Ryanair currently operates from Stockholm's Skavsta airport, which is more than 100km from the centre of the capital, as well as Gothenburg's Landvetter airport. It announced at the press conference that it was launching one new route out of Sweden in 2016, from Skavsta to Gdansk in Poland.
Michael O'Leary (left) at the press conference in Stockholm. Photo: The Local
O'Leary's appearance in Stockholm took place as staff working for Sweden's largest airline, SAS, were striking for a second day over pay and conditions for contracted workers, a move which the Irishman criticized.
“As you can see, SAS are still struggling with (….) restructuring, more strikes today,” he said, noting that his staff had never staged a mass walk out.
He also used the briefing to suggest that European businesses should back the campaign to keep the UK in the European Union and spoke strongly against a potential 'Brexit'.
“I think it will be bad for UK economic growth and bad for European economic growth. It would be a bad day for the European project, but ultimately will people in the UK still holiday in Spain, Italy and Greece? Yeah,” he said.
“Companies who have a big presence in the UK have a duty – I think – to advocate strongly in favour of the 'yes' vote,” he told The Local afterwards.
“There is kind of a lie being foisted on the British public that somehow we can leave Europe and then not pay – you can't. And I think actually the reforms that (David) Cameron has succeeded in getting (…) are fundamentally good reforms. They protect the UK economy, which is one of the most efficient economies in Europe.”