Refund for cancelled travel during the pandemic: Commission decides to refer SLOVAKIA to the Court of Justice

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This article is brought to you in association with the European Commission.


The European Commission has decided today to refer Slovakia to the Court of Justice because its national rules infringe EU law on package travel rights (Directive (EU) 2015/2302). Although initially Slovakia had announced an amendment to its legislation, the national provisions on reimbursement for package holidays cancelled because of COVID-19, adopted in May 2020, remain in force.

Under these national rules, travellers whose package holiday is cancelled because of COVID-19 have to either accept an amended package travel contract or a substitute package offered by the organiser of the package. Alternatively, the travellers are entitled to a refund only after 31 August 2021. These rules breach Union law as under the Package Travel Directive, travelers are entitled to a refund within 14 days if their package travel contract is terminated because of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances.

In July 2020, the Commission launched an infringement procedure against Slovakia (and 9 other Member States) for introducing rules on package travel, which were not in conformity with the Package Travel Directive. In October 2020, the Commission proceeded to the next stage of the infringement procedure and sent Slovakia a reasoned opinion. In December 2020 Slovakia replied to the reasoned opinion and shared a draft legislative amendment. It was planned that the amendment would be adopted in March 2021 and enter into force on 1 May 2021.

At the end of March 2021, the Slovak authorities informed the European Commission that the draft amendment had not been adopted and that a new legislative process would be initiated. As Slovakia has not yet amended its legislation, the Commission decided today to refer Slovakia to the Court of Justice to ensure that this important consumer right on package travel becomes a reality again under Slovak legislation.

Background

Due to COVID-19 pandemic, many travel arrangements had to be cancelled. Nonetheless, under the Package Travel Directive, travellers have the right to be refunded or reimbursed without undue delay and in any event not later than 14 days after the package travel contract is terminated because of unavoidable and extraordinary circumstances. However, many Member States adopted national rules allowing organisers of package travel to deviate from these rules. Those national rules breach the provisions of the Package Travel Directive and weaken consumer rights. In May 2020, the Commission adopted a specific Recommendation on vouchers to support Member States in setting up attractive, reliable and flexible voucher schemes, reiterating that Union law must be respected and consumers must have an option to choose the type of compensation.

In July 2020, the Commission launched infringement procedures against 10 Member States for their rules on package travel. The 10 Member States allowed organisers of package travel to issue mandatory vouchers, instead of reimbursement in money, for cancelled trips during COVID-19 pandemic, or to postpone refund or reimbursement far beyond the 14-day period set out in the EU Package Travel Directive.

In October 2020, the Commission proceeded to the next stage of infringement procedures and sent reasoned opinions to Croatia, Lithuania and Slovakia, which at the time still had not brought their legislation in conformity with the Directive. At the same time, the Commission launched an infringement procedure against Bulgaria for introducing similar rules on package travel and closed infringement proceedings against seven Member States (Czechia, Greece, France, Italy, Poland and Portugal) where the provisions derogating from the Package Travel Directive had expired or been repealed. The Commission also closed the infringement that was opened against Cyprus as there was no evidence that the national provisions infringed the Package Travel Directive.

The Commission also decided today to close the infringement procedures against Lithuania and Bulgaria. Lithuania repealed its temporary derogation from the Package Travel Directive in February 2021 and Bulgarian national provisions deviating from the Package Travel Directive expired on 31 December 2020.

Croatia has informed the Commission that its national provisions derogating from the Package Travel Directive will be repealed in June 2021. The European Commission continues to monitor the situation in Croatia closely.

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