A Paris court ruling to allow a referendum on whether Paris airports operator Groupe ADP should be privatized looks set to push back the controversial sell-off of the French state’s stake in the airport operator.

The French state owns 50.6% of the operator of Paris’s Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY) airports, and selling off all or part of the prized national asset is a key part of President Emmanuel Macron’s wider economic reforms.

The privatization plan was approved by the French parliament in April, but a group of ministers opposed to the sell-off launched a bid for a public referendum to be held, arguing that the airport operator is a public service in the national interest.

In addition to holding stakes in other airports, Groupe ADP operates both Paris Charles de Gaulle—Air France’s hub and Europe’s second biggest airport—and Paris Orly. CDG handled 72.2 million passengers in 2018 and ORY served 33.1 million.

The Constitutional Council’s ruling that a referendum can go ahead makes a sell-off of all or part of the state’s stake unlikely in the coming months.

Economy minister Bruno Le Maire defended the privatization plans in an interview on French news channel CNews, saying the referendum could provide an opportunity to better explain the privatization project.

“I see in this decision an opportunity—an opportunity for the government to explain our project, a project which has often been misrepresented,” Le Maire said. “[We can] explain that this privatization will be used to invest in breakthrough technologies, reduce national debt and to allow Paris Airports to development.”

Helen Massy-Beresford, helen.massy-beresford@aviationweek.co.uk