Restarting Europe’s engine

The EU needs a coordinated relief plan for the transport and tourism sectors affected by the Coronavirus crisis, explains Jan-Christoph Oetjen.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

By Jan-Christoph Oetjen

29 Apr 2020


When I was elected to the European Parliament last year, I never thought I would see such severe and drastic changes as those we are facing today. The Coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all and testing the European Union’s solidarity.

One sector that is particularly impacted by this crisis is transport. For me, transport means freedom, while crossborder mobility is a precondition for the wealth of Europe, as it generates jobs and connects people.

However, the Coronavirus crisis is causing unprecedented levels of disruption to global transport networks.


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The measures undertaken by EU Member States to limit the spread of the virus, such as border closures and lockdowns, have resulted in reduced traffic flows of goods and passengers, interrupted logistics and value chains as well as transport and tourism revenue losses.

The whole European economy has been put on hold, creating huge distortions in the road, rail, maritime and air transport sectors as well as the tourism sector.

I believe it is important to take effective, coordinated and proportionate measures on the transport sector, and to establish a clear action plan and an effective mechanism for crisis management cooperation between Member States.

“The Coronavirus pandemic is affecting us all and testing the European Union’s solidarity. One sector particularly affected by this crisis is transport”

I welcome the measures and communication undertaken by the European Commission so far. The communication on the implementation of ‘green lanes’ and the guidelines for border management measures to protect health, for example, will help ensure the availability of goods and essential services.

For the functioning of the internal market, it is essential that goods and logistic chains are maintained. I therefore call on Member States to adapt their existing restrictions so that they are in line with this communication and the guidelines.

It must be a priority to ensure that all measures taken maintain free and efficient flows of cross-border freight transport.

Member States should not prioritise their own nationals over other resident EU citizens. One should not forget that people living in remote areas of the EU regions should also be able to benefit from these emergency assistance measures. Similarly, access to critical infrastructure has to be guaranteed too.

On 19 March, the European Commission adopted a temporary framework enabling national governments to use the full flexibility foreseen under state aid rules, to support their economies in the context of the Coronavirus crisis.

They can now employ measures such as providing direct grants, selective tax advantages, state guarantees for loans taken by companies from banks and subsidised public loans to companies.

In combination with the schemes put forward by governments themselves, this will help self-employed, small and medium-sized enterprises and companies in the transport sector to overcome liquidity stresses for a certain amount of time.

“Despite these circumstances, customer and especially air passenger rights need to be respected. This is something that EU legislation is unequivocal about: Airlines have to clearly inform customers about their rights”

In terms of legal and planning certainty, the Commission must provide clear guidance for effective coordination between all Member States to ensure that national compensation schemes are put in place for limited duration and in a timely and proportionate manner.

Otherwise undue distortions would threaten the functioning of the internal market. Many European citizens were planning to travel over the coming months; however, the Coronavirus outbreak has led to flight cancellations and disruption to international air traffic.

Entire fleets of airlines have been grounded and, due to shortened flight schedules, passengers have been stranded, requiring repatriation flights or experiencing long, unpleasant return trips.

Despite these circumstances, customer, and particularly air passenger rights, need to be respected. This is something that EU legislation is unequivocal about: Airlines have to clearly inform customers of their rights.

In the past weeks, I have observed how different practices, such as issuing vouchers instead of reimbursements, are being applied by carriers all over Europe.

Meanwhile, airlines are facing tremendous financial strains and cashflow difficulties. We need the Commission to find a sensible, pragmatic and temporary solution to ensure consumer rights are fully respected.

Flexibility should be granted regarding the reimbursement timeframe to passengers. Furthermore, offering a credit voucher that should be reimbursable in the form of future travel with the provider or the full cash value at the customer’s discretion.

It is time to act today to make both family holidays and business travel possible again after the crisis. As well as short-term measures, we also need a long-term approach.

We need the Commission to respond to this crisis by presenting a coordinated relief plan for all transport modes and the tourism industry. Re-establishing full connectivity and continuity of freight and passenger transport must be the objective.

The European Parliament’s Transport and Tourism Committee will work hard together to overcome the aftermath of this crisis. Thus, I would like to give my thanks in advance to all my colleagues from every political group.

It is essential that all political forces stand united to enable the recovery of Europe’s transport and tourism sector.

Only then will European citizens benefit from seamless mobility within a diverse transport network and be able to truly live the four freedoms of the internal market.

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Mobility
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