As the countries of Europe’s south are struggling to kick-start their economies and mitigate the economic aftermath of the unprecedented Coronavirus crisis, they have decided to suspend the EU law to salvage airlines. The two countries on Thursday received a letter of formal notice by EU’s Executive, due to the legislation they adopted, allowing airlines to offer vouchers instead of reimbursement for cancelled flights, with passengers forced to agree to this solution. The European Commission on Thursday decided to take further steps in the infringement procedure against Greece and Italy, for violating passenger rights amid the Coronavirus pandemic. For countries heavily relied on tourism, such as Greece and Italy, the pandemic was a major blow to their already-weak economies, with flights grounded for over than two months, due to a non-essential EU travel ban and lockdown measures.
However, under EU rules, passengers are entitled to a financial reimbursement, if the opt for that. The Coronavirus outbreak has led to severe disruptions in travelling, with airlines across the globe being on the edge of breakdown. Greece and Italy now have two months to reply and prove that they have rectified the shortcomings in their legal framework, otherwise the Commission may decide to send a reasoned opinion. When the Commission presented its travel guidelines, it encouraged carriers to make vouchers an “attractive” option for passengers who see their travel arrangements cancelled, stressing, however, that “passenger rights remain valid in the current unprecedented context and national measures to support the industry must not lower them”. The EU’s Executive move was part of a wider action against ten EU member-states that breached the Package Travel Directive, with Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Greece, France, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia, requested to comply with their obligations under EU law.
As recently as April, it was still expressing similar concerns. But on Wednesday, EU Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said ‘it is clear that, due to the ongoing Greek crisis and given Olympic’s own very difficult financial situation, Olympic would be forced to leave the market soon in any event.’ EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI
A file photo dated 01 October 2009 shows an Olympic Air and an Aegean Airlines SA aircrafts in Athens international airport, Greece. The EU’s executive, the European Commission, had once before blocked the merger out of concerns that it would monopolize the aviation market in Greece. The European Union gave its blessing 09 October 2013 to the merger of Greece’s Aegean Airlines and its rival Olympic Air, saying that there would be no harm to competition since Olympic Air would have no choice but to shut down without the deal. EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI style=”font-size:40px; line-height: 1.3em; font-weight: 800; padding:7px;”>EU launches legal action against Greece, Italy for violating passenger rights
By Zoe Didili
Journalist, New Europe
epa03903011 (FILE) A file photo dated 01 October 2009 shows an Olympic Air and an Aegean Airlines SA aircrafts in Athens international airport, Greece.