EU implosion: Commission launches legal challenge against Italy and Greece

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The European Commission has launched a legal challenge against Italy and Greece after the two countries were found to have violated passengers’ rights regulation. Rome and Athens have come under fire as local airlines and maritime companies began offering travel vouchers instead of full compensation for cancelled travel during the coronavirus lockdown. Speaking to Euronews, European Commission spokesman Stefan de Keersmaecker said: “These two countries, Greece and Italy, have adopted legislation that allows airlines to offer vouchers as the only way to compensate.

“This goes against the passengers’ rights directive which clearly establishes that passengers have the right to choose between having a reimbursement and having a voucher.”

Italy and Greece will have until September to respond to Brussels’ letter of formal notice before the bloc goes ahead with fining both countries. 

The official notice to Rome and Athens read: “Throughout this crisis, the Commission has consistently made clear that passenger rights remain valid in the current unprecedented context and national measures to support the industry must not lower them.

“While the European Commission is also assessing the situation in other Member States by requesting further information on the application of the rules, Greece and Italy have adopted legislation allowing carriers to offer vouchers as the only form of reimbursement.

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“Under the EU passenger rights Regulations, however, passengers have the right to choose between reimbursement in money and other forms of refund, such as a voucher.”

Additional formal notices were also issued to ten more member states over the conduct of national tour operators during the coronavirus pandemic.

European consumers organisation BEUC welcomed news of the legal challenge after passengers spent months questioning whether they would be able to receive a reimbursement for their cancelled travel plans.

BEUC director-general Monique Goyens said: “In several Member States, consumers have been forced to accept vouchers for cancelled travel, instead of also having the option of a refund. 

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“This is unacceptable: consumers should not be used as cheap credit to bail out the travel industry.

“However, these proceedings only apply to countries which still have such non-EU compliant emergency measures in place.

“Whilst we very much welcome this as an important signal, countries which have already ended these non-compliant measures are not affected.”

Ms Goyens added: “All consumers across the EU who have been forced to accept vouchers during the application of such national temporary COVID-19 measures should have the right to a full monetary refund if they choose.

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“It is now in the hands of governments to ensure that people who need it get reimbursed and to restore trust in the travel and tourism sector.

“BEUC and its members will continue to follow closely Member States’ reactions to the infringement proceedings and the implementation of the Commission’s recent recommendations, which stated clearly that all vouchers offered to consumers for cancelled travel must be given on a voluntary basis, insolvency protected, and flexible.

“Several consumer groups already took legal action against various airlines.”

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