May 13, 2020 / 10:51 AM / 15 days ago

EU sends letters to countries over holidaymakers' rights

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BRUSSELS, May 13 (Reuters) - The European Commission is sending letters to EU countries reminding them that all customers have the right to cash refunds over cancelled travel or holidays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commission executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager had told a news conference that letters were only being sent to countries breaching EU law in this respect and that they represented the start of legal "infringement" proceedings.

However, transport commissioner Adina Valean subsequently said that the letters were being sent to all 27 EU countries to remind that EU rules on passenger rights had to be respected.

"This is not an infringement letter. We do not evaluate at this stage who is in infringement. Let's call it a letter of encouragement," Valean said.

Vestager later tweeted that she was sorry for creating confusion. Infringement letters could still be sent at a later stage. They would be the first step in legal proceedings that could lead to a challenge at the EU Court of Justice.

The EU is in a fix over whether to stick firmly to the rule that EU citizens be given cash refunds in the event of cancellations or to take account of the travel industry crisis caused by coronavirus restrictions and allow companies to offer only vouchers for future travel. A majority of EU countries favour the latter approach.

Both Vestager and Valean said that travel firms, including airlines, might create incentives for people to accept vouchers, such as offering a greater monetary value than the refund amount. (Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Philip Blenkinsop and Kate Abnett; editing by John Stonestreet)

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