ECONOMY

Greece sets tone for Europe’s summer travel

Kalimera and welcome to Europe Express. Tourists from the UK, Germany and other countries started arriving on Greek islands over the weekend, after Athens lifted all restrictions for Covid-19 negative or vaccinated travellers (Russian vaccine included), no matter where they come from. We will look at how this early experiment is shaping up and what difference the EU’s “green certificate”, expected to be rolled out next month, will make.

We will also explore how Finland got back on track towards giving its formal assent to the EU’s recovery fund borrowing, after a four-day filibuster that included the recitation of fairy tales and Bible excerpts. 

But first, news from Brussels, which is working with African capitals and EU member states to boost vaccine manufacturing capacity in Africa. Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, is expected to lay out her plans to support the effort at a global health summit she is co-hosting in Rome on Friday, European officials said.

Before then, France’s president Emmanuel Macron will tomorrow host several African leaders at a summit in Paris to discuss the economic fallout from Covid-19, including the burden on public finances.

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Summer travel

While the EU is ironing out the details of a digital platform aimed at simplifying travel this summer, countries including Greece and Portugal already have national systems up and running, write Eleni Varvitsioti in Athens and Valentina Pop in Brussels.

Greece was among the first EU countries to formally welcome foreign visitors last week, as it seeks to double the revenues of its tourism industry, a vital sector that has been heavily hit since the pandemic brought travelling to a halt.

Tourists arriving in Greece no longer have to quarantine if they provide proof that they have been fully vaccinated (including with Russia’s vaccine), a negative Covid-19 test or documentation that shows they have recovered from the virus. 

Since the EU-wide digital green certificate (nothing to do with energy consumption on appliances) that will incorporate national systems is not ready yet, individual member states are putting their own systems in place. 

What is the EU’s digital green certificate?

  • Digital proof valid in all EU countries that a person has tested negative, was vaccinated or has recovered from Covid-19

  • Format is a QR code in the national language and in English

EU affairs ministers last week gave their green light to the scheme, but final details are still being ironed out, with some countries taking part in pilot trials aiming to have the final system set up by the end of June. 

Meanwhile, negotiators from the European parliament, commission and member states are seeking to thrash out a deal on the final details of the certificates. Last week, one of the sticking points was the parliament’s insistence that Covid-19 tests should be free to avoid adding hundreds of euros to the cost of family vacations. The price of a Covid-19 test ranges from zero in France to about €200 in Finland.

Visitors arriving in Greece have to declare their contact information and final destination in electronic form so they can be traced if needed. 

“Greece has an internal green pass operational already and will be there from day one, June 1, participating in this important European achievement,” tourism minister Harry Theoharis told Europe Express.

Over the past weekend, the number of arrivals at Greece’s 14 regional and national airports was 23,455, according to the Ministry of Tourism, showing signs that the country’s most profitable industry is gearing for a comeback. 

Last year, the number of visitors to Greece was down roughly 80 per cent to 7.4m, from a record 34m in 2019. Greece’s finance ministry is hoping to reach about half its pre-pandemic tourism revenues in order to keep the country’s budget on track. 

Given how important tourism is for a swath of European economies, other capitals will be watching early experiments in re-opening very intently.

Chart du jour: All flights lead to Greece

Greece has been the only summer destination in Europe attracting more flights than in previous years — at least of British tourists. Some southern European countries are rethinking their tourism strategies (Find out why).

FI, for filibuster

Finland’s parliamentarians last week made some headway dispelling rumours that theirs is not a talkative population, writes Valentina Pop.

For four days, members of the Eurosceptic Finns party not only voiced their opposition to taking on any common debt with other EU nations, but they also filled speaking time by reading out fairy tales, hymns and Bible passages.

It was a classic filibuster move, even if the procedural manoeuvre is not as common in Europe as it is in the US Senate. “This is a once in a decade kind of thing,” said Johanna Vuorelma, a political scientist at Tampere University. Previous filibusters occurred in the 1990s in the run-up to Finland’s EU membership and in the early 2010s around bailouts in the eurozone financial crisis. 

The Finnish parliament debated the EU recovery plan for four days © AP

In Finland, the “own resources” decision needed to fuel the EU’s €800bn recovery plan already has a higher hurdle to pass than in most countries. A previous attempt by the Finns party-led opposition to thwart the initiative was successful in imposing a two-thirds threshold for the actual vote. 

But if the vote goes ahead as planned tomorrow, pundits including Vuorelma expect it to pass — even though some members of the ruling coalition have indicated they may oppose it. Passage would be met with considerable relief in Brussels, which has anxiously watched the progress of national votes on its unprecedented recovery fund borrowing powers.

A more consequential delay was averted last week when the chamber’s vice-chair from the Finns party, Juho Eerola, was sidelined. He had admitted that he could have used procedural quirks to delay the own resources vote until autumn — which would have created a massive problem for the bloc.

“It showed that they are willing to go quite far, this is a strong ideological position for them,” Vuorelma said. With municipal elections in June and the Finns party having polled first in the weeks prior to this debate, the filibuster may have also had tactical intentions. “It certainly raised their profile, even if some party members resented the move,” she said. 

Two things to watch today

  1. European parliament resumes its plenary session

  2. European affairs ministers hold an informal council

. . . and later this week

  1. France hosts a number of African leaders for a summit on Tuesday, and on Friday, Italy and the European Commission host a Global Health Summit in Rome

  2. EU finance ministers meet in Lisbon on Friday and Saturday for informal talks

Notable, Quotable

  • The EU and US are expected to announce a temporary truce on Monday in their dispute over Trump-era steel and aluminium tariffs. The deal would mean the EU would shelve plans to boost tariffs on certain US products next month, giving the sides space to negotiate a settlement to the metals dispute. (Bloomberg)

  • Italy’s digital transition minister tells FT Rome correspondent Miles Johnson why he wants to roll out a nationwide digital platform for public services as part of the €248bn recovery plan designed to reignite the eurozone’s third-largest economy.

  • Marine Le Pen is allegedly at the core of a fraudulent scheme funnelling EU funds from the European parliament, according to a French police report seen by Journal du Dimanche.

  • The UK is not very keen on Joe Biden’s global minimum corporate tax proposal, arguing that a digital tax should come first. (Read more here)

  • The Polish government has put forward a plan, in part funded by the EU, to boost health spending and cut income tax.

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Today’s Europe Express team: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]. Follow us on Twitter: @Sam1Fleming, @Elbarbie, @valentinapop



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