Thomas Cook withstood wars, but not digitalisation challenge

MEPs held a plenary debate on the effects of the travel company's bankruptcy and insisted on more laws

Photo: EP Rosa Estaras Ferragut

At a debate initiated by the EPP, the plenary in Strasbourg reflected on the effects of the bankruptcy of Thomas Cook, a firm with 178-year history, which withstood two world wars. As Spanish centre-right MEP Rosa Estaras Ferragut underlined, this company has not however withstood the shift to digitalisation, the uncertainties of Brexit and the future of that new world of the 21st century.

“We have to reflect, because in the end it was a company with 105 aircraft, more than 200 hotels and more than 500 agencies located almost all in the United Kingdom, and 22,000 employees. My region, the Balearic Islands, is one of the regions - with the Canary Islands, Andalusia and Catalonia - most affected by this bankruptcy, not only by the loss of jobs, but also by the number of people, tourists, who have been stranded in these parts of Europe,” Rosa Estaras Ferragut specified.

Tourism is an important economic activity for the European Union, said Marianne Thyssen, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, during the debate. She pointed out that the Commission is deeply concerned by the recent insolvency of Thomas Cook.

According to her, the unfortunate bankruptcy of the company shows once more that tourism and the travel industry require an integrated approach across different European policies. We are in contact with the Member States to assess the impacts in terms of the numbers of businesses, jobs and travellers affected in their constituency, and to share information about the European support available to help address such impacts.

The Commissioner stressed that there are EU instruments available under different policy areas and they may be mobilised to support Member States. Negative impacts on the people affected by job losses can be avoided by triggering the European Globalisation Adjustment Fund (EGF) by Member States under certain conditions, and the Commission stands ready to help the Member States concerned. In addition, the European Social Fund may support actions to help dismissed workers for retraining, reskilling and job counselling.

The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), available via the relevant national and regional managing authorities, in line with the operational programmes, can be used for supporting regions that face problems of industrial transition, digitalisation, globalisation, decarbonisation or natural disasters. It can help also regions that need to diversify by avoiding too strong dependence on the tourism sector.

Companies facing severe liquidity shortages due to unforeseen circumstances can be propped up by the European state aid rules that give Member States flexibility to deliver support. EU countries can establish schemes supporting SMEs which face financial difficulties. Any scheme has to be notified to the Commission and be approved.

Concerning travellers' rights, the Directive on package travel obliges organisers such as tour operators to have insolvency protection to ensure the repatriation of travellers to their place of departure and the reimbursement of the travel services not yet performed, free of charge for the affected travellers. Commissioner Thyssen assured that repatriation worked well for all the Thomas Cook travellers.

With this bankruptcy we can see that we are not there yet in Europe with the rules that are required in order to protect consumers and workers, Christel Schaldemose, Danish MEP from the S&D Group asserted, adding that in the last few years, 32 airlines have gone out of business. We, Social Democrats, would like to see stricter legislation in this field and we believe there is a need for a comprehensive approach to the airlines and to the travel agencies in Europe, she urged, adding that traveling in Europe must be safe and working in Europe must be safe. 

In a resolution adopted on Thursday, MEPs insisted that the Commission should assess the need for new measures to prevent future crises. They also said that a tourism strategy is needed to boost the sector and stimulate growth.

 

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