Monday, January 18

Pressure on Austria: is Europe banning skiing?

So Should ski tourism be put into a prescribed hibernation throughout Europe? What the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte proposed at the beginning of the week was obviously not going it alone from Rome. The matter is being discussed with President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel, said Conte.

Stephan Löwenstein

Matthias Rüb

Matthias Rüb

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta, based in Rome.

Michaela Wiegel

Macron has already canceled the ski season for his country until mid-January, and neither France nor Italy can have an interest in their citizens traveling to their neighboring Alpine countries instead during the Christmas holidays. The Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder has also expressed himself in this sense. On he advocated that “we not only say in Germany: no ski areas, no tourism – but also bring Austria to it”. That would be “an act of European solidarity”.

But that does not mean that there will actually be a ban or even a politically binding recommendation by the European Council, as envisaged in Paris and Rome. Vienna was the first to signal a clear rejection. Winter tourism is of eminent importance for the Austrian economy, and the Christmas holidays are, in turn, a focus.

Söder is not alone. Many other minister-presidents of German federal states would like the federal government to work towards a European ban. Their tourism officer Thomas Bareiß held against it on Wednesday. In Berlin he said that to a certain extent and under clear safety regulations, skiing was possible without any problems. “We should make things possible where security can be created.” According to reports, the EU advisers to the heads of government took part in a switching conference in which not only the Alpine neighbors, but also other countries with winter sports tourism such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Sweden took part have also expressed concerns from several quarters.

Skiers on the terrace of a hut in the Austrian skiing area Flachau-Wagrain-St.  Johann in February 2019 (symbol picture)

Skiers on the terrace of a hut in the Austrian skiing area Flachau-Wagrain-St. Johann in February 2019 (symbol picture)

Image: dpa

In Austria, Minister of Tourism Elisabeth Köstinger said that she “couldn’t get anything from the Italian advance”. In Austria, she assured me, thanks to comprehensive safety concepts, skiing holidays would be safe; There will be no après-ski. Above all, Vienna does not want to accept a politically binding, but legally non-binding European recommendation. If so, it would have to be specified at EU level that the ski areas should be closed, said Finance Minister Gernot Blümel, who, like Köstinger, is a close confidante and party friend of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. But then the EU must also bear the costs; In Austria, according to Blümel’s calculations, losses and compensation of two billion euros would be due.

It is not to be expected that the EU Commission will take an initiative for a binding cancellation of the ski season. Your declared goal is to keep the borders open in the second corona wave. Apart from that, Switzerland would be excluded from any EU regulation, and it makes no move to cancel the winter season entirely.

Ski season is out of the question for Rome

For Franco Locatelli, President of the Supreme Health Council in Rome, the question of the 2020/21 ski season in Italy does not currently arise. In view of the very high number of victims – 853 Covid-19 deaths were registered nationwide on Tuesday, the highest value since March – reopening the ski slopes is “not possible” for the time being. The best solution is also a Europe-wide ski ban until about mid-January, said Locatelli: “Otherwise there is a risk of a renewed increase in infections”.

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