The bankruptcy of the travel agency Thomas Cook on 23rd September 2019 left more than 600,000 travellers stranded at their holiday destinations and put 22,000 jobs at risk worldwide. Due to these dimensions, the European Parliament on 24th October 2019 adopted a resolution on the negative effects of Thomas Cook bankruptcy on European tourism and set out measures to improve the protection of travellers with a clear majority. On 6th November 2019, Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs answered questions of the Transport Committee.
In order to prevent the consequences of the bankruptcy of a corporation such as Thomas Cook in the future, the European Parliament has asked the Commission to examine the extent to which the rights of travellers might be improved. It also states that those, who have only booked a flight, should be granted the same protection as air passengers within the scope of a package travel.
The case of Thomas Cook reveals that under European legislation not all travellers are equally well protected: there are, on the one hand, the holidaymakers, who have booked several parts of their journey as combined travel services or as a travel package. According to the current Package Travel Directive, they are entitled to a refund and - if required - to onward transportation. Nevertheless, travellers might be faced with difficulties as at least in Germany, the fund seems to be too small to cover all claims.
The situation is even worse for those, who have only booked the flight without additional services: they are not covered by the Package Travel Directive and the Flight Compensation Regulation does not provide any bankruptcy hedging. From the point of view of the Chamber of Labour action needs to be taken. The bankruptcies of Niki und Air Berlin had already shown this deficiency and the latest bankruptcy of Thomas Cook in connection with flight bookings alone has confirmed the situation. Fortunately, this has also been recognised in the resolution of the European Parliament.
In view of employees affected by this bankruptcy, the EU Parliament urges the EU Commission and the Member States to ensure that employees do actually receive the salaries and retirement benefits they are entitled to. The EU Parliament also emphasises that the social partners should be involved in developing measures at national level. After all, tourism contributes about 4 % to the EU’s Gross Domestic Product.
On 14th October, MEPs of the European People’s Party had already put an official question to the EU Commission whether and what kind of measures the Commission was planning to take to cushion the negative impact of Thomas Cook’s bankruptcy. Specifically, MEPs have suggested to mobilise means from the European Social Fund and the European Globalisation Fund.
In this connection, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the Commissioner responsible for the Internal Market, told the Committee on Transport and Tourism on 6th November 2019 that the European Globalisation Fund and to a certain degree also the European Social Fund would definitely provide options to cushion the negative consequences of the bankruptcy. Due to the Package Travel Directive, customers were already covered by a protective mechanism but she conceded that because of the unsatisfactory implementation in some Member States not all people affected were compensated to a 100 %. According to Bieńkowska, the investigation as to the cause of the Thomas Cook bankruptcy would now also be used to review the implementation of existing laws concerning the protection of employees and consumers.