Does international corona solidarity reach the ski slopes? In recent days, a heated discussion has arisen in Europe about the approaching ski season. A repetition of the poor European coordination at the beginning of this year threatens, as well as a déjà vu of fishing for each other’s tourists.
Like the annual summer holidays, skiing trips around Christmas are an almost sacred ritual in many parts of Europe. But now that a second wave of the corona virus has only just peaked, the season is very inconvenient. In Italy, where the contamination figures are still high, the slopes remain closed for the time being, Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte announced this week. “We cannot afford this,” he said. The Italian prime minister also expressed the hope of being able to make agreements with fellow government leaders about European coordination of the restrictions. In Italian solism, Conte explained, “Italian tourists can simply cross the border to take back infections.”
Brussels is very reluctant to get involved in a ski battle
French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have also indicated in recent days that they are open to European agreements on ski restrictions. On Wednesday, the German states agreed that the Federal Government will make an effort to keep the pistes closed throughout Europe until at least 10 January. But, Merkel admitted at a press conference, “I’ll be honest: these talks probably won’t be easy.”
National ski policy
After all, Austria has already announced that it does not feel any interference with national ski policy. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called a European regulation “excessive”. A possible reopening of ski resorts will, according to Kurz, be part of an overall assessment of the current lockdown in his country, which ends December 6. “Walking alone is just as dangerous as someone going on a ski tour alone,” said Kurz.
It is causing growing annoyance in Italy and Germany. All the more so because it was Austria that was accused this spring of taking lax action against corona outbreaks in winter sports areas, which allowed the ski village of Ischgl to develop into a source of infection for the whole of Europe. In Germany, ‘Ischgl’ has been cited as a specter for months. Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder called on Austria this week to “act of European solidarity”, but also hinted at closing the border again. The German tabloid image already spoke of a ‘Ski Schlacht’ between Söder and Kurz.
Major economic interests are at stake. In Italy, about 11 billion euros is earned annually on winter sports, one third of which during the Christmas holidays. Tourism revenues make up about 10 percent of the Austrian economy, most of which is earned in winter. The Austrian minister Gernot Bluemel (Finance) calculated aloud this week the costs of closure until mid-January at 2 billion euros. “If the EU forces us to do so, they should pay us for it,” said Bluemel.
There is no question of forcing: Brussels is not very keen to get involved in a ski battle. When asked, European Commissioner for health Stella Kyriakidis said that there were no one-size-fits-allapproach is for the whole of Europe, because the contamination figures differ.
Martin Selmayr, until recently the most powerful EU official in Brussels but now a Commission representative in Austria, also joined the discussion on Wednesday. “Of course the EU has no skiing competences,” said Selmayr, who emphasized that Austria itself decides on the opening of its territories.
Austria is looking with suspicion at the main winter sports rival Switzerland, where some of the pistes are already open. This week, the country (not an EU member state) announced that it wanted to talk to other Alpine countries about a safe skiing season. But there is no closure. In fact, Switzerland, the newspapers headline on Thursday, could easily become the ‘biggest beneficiary of a European ski lockdown’.
Also read this piece over the Corona Apres Ski at the beginning of this year in Ischgl, Austria