(France Media Agency)
Sat 9 May 2020
Northern Europeans may not be able to decamp to Mediterranean beaches this summer because of coronavirus, but will their governments support the devastated tourism sector?
Beach destinations like Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal are already among European Union (EU) members facing an uphill battle with debt – and now their vital travel and leisure industries are stake.
Along with five other southern allies – France, Malta, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania – urged the 27-member EU to help save this “strategic” economic resource.
The EU is seeking to put in place a trillion euro economic recovery plan, to revive the economy as a whole when the coronavirus lockdowns end.
But, already pushed back once, when they asked to share the debt with their neighbors to the north, the countries of the south are now sounding the alarm over the lost summer season.
The European Commission has been tasked with agreeing the rules for the recovery and on April 27 member state tourism ministers held a video conference.
Subsequently, the nine southern members released a statement.
In our countries, tourism is a strategic industry,” they said.
“We would like the EU recovery plan to include strong support for tourism and recognize the existence of certain territories with specificities that must be respected.”
Friends to the south have also called for “seamless” travel rules, fearing that a piecemeal removal of lockdown measures could distort the tourism market and isolate areas in need.
Also read: ‘Don’t cancel, postpone’: Portugal urges tourists to adopt voucher system
Brussels has tried unsuccessfully to coordinate the lockdown and keep internal EU borders open, but many national capitals have imposed unilateral restrictions on unnecessary visits.
EU member states have now started to set a variety of target dates and criteria for a return to normalcy, and some plan to urge or require their citizens to stay at home this year.
“Public health is the law these days,” said French Minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne in an interview with AFP.
“As soon as we know about the opening of the borders, we will let you know. It is important that areas which have not been affected are not exposed to the virus.
“We should promote Europe as a destination in itself and avoid competition within the bloc,” he said, while admitting domestic tourism is likely to recover before outbound travel.
During the meeting, Croatian Tourism Minister Gari Cappelli and EU Single Market Commissioner Thierry Breton suggested members work on a harmonized strategy on hygiene rules.
In Breton’s office, a source said they aim to have the guidance ready by mid-May so that hoteliers, restaurateurs, tour operators and transport companies are working with the same toolkit .
It reflects concern expressed by German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in the Bild newspaper that a dangerous race to compete between rival stations to reopen could reignite the outbreak.
Experts trace many coronavirus cases in northern Europe to the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl, popular with winter revelers, and don’t want beach hotspots like Mallorca playing the same role in summer.