Holidays are a real possibility as Europe nudges towards a semblance of normality
Europe is slowly moving towards some form of normality. However, the EU is walking a tightrope in its attempts to frame a unified approach in the 27 member states. John Downing explains.
When the coronavirus crash-landed upon everyone the EU was slow, disunited and confused in its response. The gradual – and risky – return to normality can show similar confusion and disunity in reverse. That is what the policy-guiding Commission is determined to avoid.
Brussels has now set out plans for a phased restart to some level of travel this summer. Tourism accounts for 10pc of EU states’ economic output and one in eight jobs. It’s not just about dreams of sunshine – millions of jobs are on the line and the 2020 season cannot be entirely written off.
Travel restrictions to combat the virus have already had a devastating impact on the sector. Airlines around the continent have been forced to shed tens of thousands of jobs and some are on the brink of closure.
Tourism is vital to southern EU countries already struggling with debt and the impact of coronavirus – notably Greece, Italy and Spain.
The world’s biggest tourism group, TUI, has announced it will cut 8,000 jobs due to losses of €750m in the first three months of 2020.
Yes. Decisions about reopening borders are the responsibility of national governments. But this time Brussels is urging the 27 EU states to take a coordinated approach to unwinding lockdowns.
They do not want a repeat of what happened at the start of this crisis, when capitals just closed frontiers with little or no consultation.
The EU is proposing a three-stage approach, starting with the current situation in which most travel across borders is banned and, in reality, almost non-existent.
In phase one, the EU wants border restrictions lifted between countries and regions which are at a similar stage of the pandemic, and where the health situation is improving.
In the final phase, all coronavirus-related border controls would be lifted and travel permitted throughout Europe once again. But health precautions would continue within each member state in consultation with the EU.
The EU wants governments to factor in economic and social factors, as well as the health of the public, as they decide on reopening their borders. They recognise that the annual summer holiday is cherished by tens of millions of European families.
“This is not going to be a normal summer. But, when we all do our part, we don’t have to face a summer stuck at home or completely lost for the tourism industry,” EU Commission vice-president, Margrethe Vestager, summed up.
There must be measures in place to minimise the risk of infection. Travellers should wear face masks while on planes, trains and buses. The same applies at travel hubs such as airports and railway stations.
Fewer passengers may be allowed on board to allow them to maintain safe distancing, and buffet trolleys and dining cars will be shuttered.
Hotels and restaurants will be urged to limit guest numbers so they can respect social-distancing rules.
EU countries are asked to voluntarily agree to ensure contact-tracing phone apps work across borders. This is to keep a close eye on the progress of the disease and quickly identify any hotspots.