Spain has not asked the European Union for an additional support plan for the tourism sector confirms Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition and Vice-President of the European Commission.
The European Commission approved support for a dozen measures related to tourism sectors for other EU countries, such as Greece, Italy or Portugal, Spain’s competitors in Mediterranean tourism. The Spanish government considers additional aid unnecessary despite the EC’s willingness to approve it. “The best help that governments can offer the sector is to provide certainty to reactivate mobility,” sources from the Ministry of Industry led by Reyes Maroto told El Mundo newspaper.
Vestager clarified Spain has launched several general aid programmes, including additional support for the tourism sector. The procedure is that if a country wants to grant state aid to a sector, it must request permission from Brussels, even if the money is provided by the Member State itself.
Vestager cites, as an example of aid granted by Spain that benefits the tourism sector, “a €2.5 billion scheme to compensate the self-employed and other businesses in all sectors for the damage suffered as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. This will be compensation in the form of, among other things, public guarantees for new repayable loans.”
No need for further support plan
Why does Spain think they don’t need a further support plan? The Ministry of Industry invokes the €7billion direct aid package approved in March last year. “There was no need to request authorisation for a specific system of aid to the sector because the last approved package of direct aid of 7 billion is compatible with the temporary framework for state aid of the European Commission.” The Ministry of Industry estimates the “money made available to the sector” at a total of €25billion.
However, this aid has not reached the sectors three months later. Its disbursement has been delegated to the Autonomous Communities, which accuse the central government of a lack of information and a cumbersome procedure.
The reactions in Spain were not long in coming. The first to speak was the Vice President of the Junta de Andalucía and Minister of Tourism, Juan Marín. He described the news as “terrible”. “It is terrible news for the sector because ultimately it will be the autonomous communities that will have to deploy resources, as Andalucia has already done,” Marín said.
José Ramón Bauzá, MEP from Ciudadanos and former president of the Balearic Islands, also criticises his government’s inaction in the EU. He argues Spain could request authorisation for a specific aid scheme for this important sector for the Spanish economy, which is compatible with other measures of a general nature.
Inmaculada de Benito, director of the tourism department of the trade association CEOE representing the business community, also believes that guaranteeing the return of mobility and tourists is not enough. “We have had no income for 15 months and we need to maintain the same quality levels as before Covid and be even more competitive to generate the necessary value to restore GDP levels. The sector has gone from 12% to 4% in 2020.”
In statements to El Mundo, De Benito points out one of her proposals is “to mobilise funds to compensate for the damage suffered by tourism businesses due to the pandemic, so that they can start reopening at the same quality level as before the pandemic” .
Help to other countries
In recent months, the European Commission has approved a dozen state aid programmes for the tourism industry from Italy, as well as several from Portugal, Greece, Croatia or Cyprus. All are competitors in southern Europe in this sector. “The Commission will continue to assess as a matter of priority Member States’ aid measures related to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” concludes Vestager.
Bauzá makes no secret of his criticism that the government is not asking for specific aid. “The first time I asked the European Commission about it and they confirmed that the government of Spain had not asked for the aid, unlike Denmark, this could be justified by negligence. The second time it was a scandal. But the government now still not asking for help is an absolute miscarriage that should lead in any normal country to the immediate resignation of a minister who has already tripped three times over the same stone that will lead the sector to ruin.”