The COVID-19 crisis hits the travel and tourism industry particularly hard. To ensure that consumers do not bear the brunt, the Commission specifies current rules and makes the case for a balanced solution between financial aid for businesses and protecting consumers in the European Parliament.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission published Guidelines on Passenger Rights Regulations and the Package Travel Directive. Both legal acts do still apply. According to this, consumers, for example in a case of cancelled flights, still have the choice between a voucher or a refund of the purchasing price.
Reynders on the protection of consumers
Within the scope of a hearing on 14 April, MEPs of the IMCO Committee made the responsible Commissioner Didier Reynders (Justice and Consumer protection) aware of different and de-facto unlawful actions in the Member States. Sometimes only vouchers were offered as a type of refund in order not to put the liquidity of operators at an additional risk. However, even issued vouchers do by no means ensure the protection of consumers, as vouchers could lose their value if a business would go bankrupt. Both Reynders and Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market, referred to the generous framework conditions the Commission had created to ensure that Member States – for example through state aid – would be able to avoid insolvencies. Apart from that, the Commission recommends linking vouchers to guarantees, ensuring that consumers would not be left with nothing. The regulation in Denmark, according to which vouchers are backed by a Guarantee Fund, was a good practice example. BEUC also supports this in a list of demands. Furthermore, Reynders promised a committed and coordinated approach against excessive pricing and online scams.
Tourism for Breton the “main beneficiary of the Marshall Plan”
In Thierry Breton’s hearing before the Transport Committee on 21 April, rescuing the stricken travel and tourism industry determined the exchange with MEPs. According to OECD prognoses, losses of up to EUR 500 billion and a decline of the industry of 45-70 % are to be expected; many jobs of mainly women and young people are at stake. According to Breton, financial aid had to be provided quickly and significant cash injections for the industry were “first priority”. This shall be achieved with the aid of the “Recovery Fund”, whose means shall be generated from the updated Multiannual Financial Framework. According to Breton, 20 % of the Fund shall be allocated to the tourism industry. As small and medium-sized enterprises are particularly affected, many MEPs made an urgent plea for speedy and concrete assistance at EU level. The detailed configuration of the so-called “4th Pillar” of the Eurogroup compromise was also an issue the heads of state and government dealt with on 23rd. During a video conference, leaders agreed that a concrete proposal specifying the volume and scope of the fund shall be put forward by the Commission in May.
Even if leaked documents insinuate that the COVID-19 crisis brings the schedule of Green Deal measures to a halt, MEPs and Commissioner Breton agreed that the tourism sector must be re-thought now, aiming for sustainable, innovative and resilient travel and tourism industry. Breton announced that the strategic and ecological realignment would be discussed at a summit in autumn.
Reynders on corporate due diligence
Didier Reynders also dared to look at the future: one had to draw lessons from the crisis to be able to cope with future transformations. According to Reynders, one of these lessons should be a consequent regulation of binding corporate due diligence in value chains, which at last prioritises sustainability and the respect for human rights and protects these effectively. In this context, the AK points out a clear need for action concerning non-financial reporting of sustainability strategies of businesses and demands a rapid revision of the existing Directive.
Coordinated approach for Corona apps
The data protection compliant model of contact-tracing apps was also an important concern of many MEPs. With the newly developed EU instrument and Guidelines, the Commission has laid the foundation for a coordinated configuration of the apps in the Member States.