Lhe European Commission is preparing to present recommendations on Wednesday to save the summer season of the tourism sector, badly hit by the coronavirus crisis, encouraging European states to gradually reopen the internal borders they have closed.
According to a document, a copy of which the AFP has obtained, the Commission insists that this reopening must be done in a “concerted”, “as harmonious as possible” and “non-discriminatory” manner. These are simple recommendations from the European executive, as it is up to the countries to decide to lift these controls and restrictions put in place to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
The Commission recommends that when countries are in a comparable epidemiological situation and have adopted the same precautionary measures, they should be treated in the same way. If for example Austria opens its borders with Germany, it must also do so for the Czech Republic if this country is in a situation comparable to Germany.
Likewise, when a country opens its borders to another country, it must do so for all the inhabitants of that country, whether they have their nationality or not.
The Commission recommends that the Member States take their decisions on the basis of a health assessment of the situation in each country and communicating with each other. This issue of restoring freedom of movement within the Schengen area is crucial for European tourism, a sector which accounts for 10% of EU GDP and 12% of employment.
In some southern European countries, such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal, this proportion is even higher and if summer visitors stayed far from their shores, their already bad economic situation could still get worse. In its recommendations, the Commission also addresses the thorny issue of whether or not to reimburse canceled trips and stays.
What about refunds?
According to EU regulations, European consumers have the right to claim a refund, but many operators and airlines prefer to offer their customers a credit.
“Carriers and tour operators should follow a common approach, offering passengers and travelers an attractive choice between a cash refund, in accordance with their rights under European law, or the acceptance of a voucher” , indicates the document.
“In order to encourage passengers and travelers to accept vouchers instead of a refund, vouchers should be protected against the insolvency of the issuer and be refundable after one year at maximum, “adds the Commission.
At the end of April, twelve European countries, including France, had asked the European Commission to suspend the obligation imposed on airlines to reimburse passengers whose journeys were canceled because of the coronavirus, to support a sector hit hard by the crisis .
The Commission intends to send a letter to all member states to remind them of European legislation on this issue, according to a source familiar with the matter.