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European nations split on whether to close ski slopes for Christmas

Berlin - European countries are divided on whether ski slopes should be opened over the Christmas holiday, with Austria and Germany - for whom winter sports are a big draw - against a general ban, as Italy and the European Commission call for a coordinated approach.

General ban on skiing

"Safety also comes first in winter, but I am convinced that skiing to a certain extent and under clear criteria, such as a maximum number of daily ski passes, is possible without any problems," Thomas Bareiss, the German government's tourism commissioner, has told dpa.

Bareiss said that he did not think a general ban on skiing is necessary this season, despite the coronavirus pandemic. "We should make things possible where security can be created," he added.

In addition to the understandable desire of many people to get out and about, the ski season is also an important economic factor for many regions in Germany, the parliamentary state secretary in the Ministry of Economics said.

According to Bareiss, the entire travel, tourism and events industries have reached their economic limits. "Further lockdown measures and financial aid must go hand in hand. It will be a financial challenge, but people can rely on it, we won't leave anyone out in the rain."

Avoiding a "third wave" of the virus

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has brought up the issue when he said ski holidays would not be allowed in Italy to avoid a "third wave" of the virus, and called for "European coordination" on the issue.

According to a government source, the Italian leader has asked European Union partners to agree to a shutdown of ski slopes at least until January 10. "If we have a coordinated, common European response I would like that, and I think it would be opportune," Conte said Wednesday at an Italy-Spain summit in Palma de Mallorca.

However, he acknowledged that there could be no EU trampling on national sovereignty, "so everyone will then be free to adopt the measures they wish."

In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen warned in a speech at the European Parliament that "relaxing too fast and too much risks a third wave after Christmas." "Weeks ago, I said that this Christmas will be different. And yes, it will be quieter. This is also a question of solidarity between member states," she added.

Uniform agreement at European level

And French President Emmanuel Macron has said that coronavirus-related risks made it "impossible" to allow winter sports to resume quickly.

Anyone who goes skiing in coronavirus risk areas should quarantine for 10 days, he said. "I would prefer we had a uniform agreement at European level: no ski lifts open anywhere or no vacation anywhere."

But Austria, which has been emphasizing for months that it wants to open ski areas with appropriate precautions at all costs, vehemently rejected the idea of closing down ski resorts.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz rejected a later opening date for winter sports agreed across nations: That decision "always has to do with infection figures, namely the infection figures here in Austria."

Finance Minister Gernot Bluemel demanded compensation in the billions from the EU if ski lifts are in fact to be shut down over the Christmas holidays.