Margrethe Vestager was addressing Parliament’s internal market committee on the role of digital and industrial policies in tackling the COVID-19 crisis, which has taken a particular heavy toll on the tourism sector.
She highlighted the “key role” the digital world will have in addressing this, with devices such as mobile apps for use in contact tracing.
The use of such technology, she told the committee, will be important in “opening up societies”, including the tourism sector, after Coronavirus-enforced lockdowns are lifted.
She said, “Digital technology will be the core to this. But society must make the best use of digital technology and the public must be able to trust the way this is used otherwise the digital divide that exists will be even deeper.”
How different apps can talk with each other will, she said, also help ensure that cross-border travel and tourism is safe this summer.
Such apps must “do no more and no less than they are told to do otherwise it will be difficult to open up societies to the degree that we want to see.”
“The EU must make the most of this technology, including in the tourism industry, which is of crucial importance in Europe, in particular in certain Member States.”
Vestager cited the “management of space” as an example of how such apps might be used to get tourism moving again after the lockdowns start to ease.
"The EU must make the most of this technology, including in the tourism industry, which is of crucial importance in Europe, in particular in certain Member States" Margrethe Vestager
“We also have to ensure that all app developers develop devices that can work with one another.”
She was also asked about the rights of consumers, who may be refused refunds from airlines and holiday companies for cancelled holidays because of the crisis.
On this, she said, “One of the reasons consumers may prefer a cash refund rather than a voucher is that this is their holiday budget and they need to get their money back because, for example, they may have lost their job. The Commission believes people have the right to a refund.”
“For others, though, a voucher, may be doable and it will mean a lot for airlines to have to reimburse everyone.”
Aside from tourism, she said, “We have seen in this crisis how digital technology can help and this will be essential in our new ways of working in the future.”
“It is important, in the recovery, that we leave no one behind because we have seen the digital divide show itself in a brutal way during this pandemic. Some children who have been sent home from school can continue their education but, elsewhere, this has been much more difficult because the digital set up does not exist where they live.”
"One of the reasons consumers may prefer a cash refund rather than a voucher is that this is their holiday budget and they need to get their money back because, for example, they may have lost their job" Margrethe Vestager
She told the committee, “We have to use technology to open our societies again and mobile apps can be a substantial help, for example, in contact tracing. That is why a lot of work is going on now to put this into effect.”
“But it’s also a question of trust and that is why we must create systems and apps that people can trust.”
She insisted that the use of this technology “must not herald the launch of new surveillance,” adding, “It must be in line with EU data protection standards.”
The Commissioner said the crisis had proved “very difficult” for SMEs and some “have been forced to digitalise as a crash course.”
Vestager said that “several tens of billions of cash has been released” to offset the impact for the business sector adding, “This will need reinforcing in the next EU budget and the single market will be the cornerstone in this.”
“The most important thing is to have an MMF with a recovery fund included.”