Commission to adopt broad summer package on 13 May

View of a closed beach bar at the Barceloneta beach in Barcelona, Spain, 25 April 2020. Beach bars in Barcelona may close down this summer if owners don't reach an agreement with City Hall, as they would only be allowed to open, according to the authorities' current guidelines, by mid-July and with a limited number of customers, which could prevent them from making any profit when taking into account the city government's high license fees. [EPA-[EFE/ALEJANDRO GARCIA]

Prospects for the coming summer season may get a bit clearer for Europeans next Wednesday (13 May) when the European Commission is expected to adopt a broad package on tourism, transport and borders in the context of the coronavirus crisis, according to an internal document seen by EURACTIV.com.

Tourism has been one of the hardest-hit sectors by the pandemic, as governments across the world imposed severe movement restrictions to slow down the virus.

As the good weather returns, many Europeans wonder whether they will be allowed to travel to their summer destinations after weeks of confinement in their homes.

The Commission will lay the groundwork next week, according to internal planning seen by EURACTIV.

The planning, dated 4 May, indicates that the College of Commissioners will discuss the following proposals:

  • Communication on tourism;
  • Health and safety protocols for main tourism locations, including hotels and other accommodation;
  • Guidance on safe and healthy resumption of passenger transport;
  • Guidance on lifting of internal borders;
  • Communication on the assessment of the application of the temporary restriction on non- essential travel to the EU; 
  • Recommendation on reliable and attractive travel vouchers as alternative reimbursement.

The document says that the planning is indicative, and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen could change the list of issues to be discussed and adopted.

But an EU official told this website that the college is expected to adopt all these initiatives.

This package follows up on the ‘Roadmap towards lifting the coronavirus containment measures’ that the EU executive put forward on 14 April.

Commission to call for a coordinated EU exit from COVID-19 lockdown

Exit from COVID19 containment measures should be evidence-based, gradual and coordinated between member states, a European Commission draft document seen by EURACTIV reads. 

The new guidelines aim to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on tourism, one of the most important sectors for the European economy, especially for southern countries. Tourism represents around 10% of the EU’s GDP, but the pandemic could cause a €400 billion loss to the sector.

A group of nine member states, (Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, France, Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania) have called on the Commission to come up with a specific recovery plan for tourism.

They also said “homogenous” travel rules would be needed, and warned that a disorderly relaxation of lockdown measures would further distort the tourism sector.

Against this backdrop, the Commission wants to establish a “smart” set of principles, according to von der Leyen, to ensure that the summer season is at least partially saved and Europeans can travel to their tourist hotspots in safe conditions.

“This summer is not lost,” the Commission’s Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager told the European Parliament on Monday (4 May).

Breton promises support to Europe's tourism, mulls sustainable tourism summit in autumn

As tourism is one of the hardest-hit sectors in the current health crisis in Europe, a special summit in September or October could be organised to deal with the fallout of the pandemic, Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told MEPs on the European Parliament’s Transport Committee on Tuesday.

However, the high level of uncertainty with regards to the evolution of the pandemic still hangs over decision-makers, and it is not very clear when Europeans could start travelling within the EU or beyond.

EU High Representative for Foreign Relations, Josep Borrell, told reporters on Thursday that he did not know when we would be able to travel abroad. 

“It would depend on how the de-escalation [of the confinement measures] takes place”.

Another controversial issue that the Commission will address next week is the vouchers offered by airlines to passengers of cancelled flights, instead of the mandatory reimbursement.

A total of 20 member states and a growing number of MEPs support the option of vouchers, as airlines across the world risk disappearing given the suspension of air travels.

MEPs enticed by lure of airline vouchers over refunds

Members of the European Parliament are increasingly siding with the aviation industry’s plans, already backed by most EU countries, to reimburse passengers with vouchers instead of cash refunds. Their support may force the Commission to change the rules, which it has so far resisted.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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