A new subsidy for hitting the beach.
Liberté, égalité, St. Tropez. That could be the motto of the European Union’s “social tourism” project, which advocates subsidized holidays for the underprivileged. According to European Commissioner Antonio Tajani, visiting foreign countries is a “right,” and one that could soon be financed by EU taxpayers. This gives a whole new meaning to the concept of “paid vacation.”
The EU last year launched a €1 million project to promote social tourism throughout the Continent. The program, which goes by the slight misnomer Calypso—the lonely nymph from Greek mythology was famously confined to an island—seeks, among other things, to identify and promote measures governments have already taken to help the needy to go on holiday. Calypso specifically targets the disabled, poor families, senior citizens and “youth,” a group that in geriatric Europe includes people up to 30 years of age.
Cash for tanners is also being touted as good economic policy. At a “Calypso Awareness Building Meeting” in October, the main theme was “Social Tourism: An Opportunity to Overcome the Crisis?” The conference highlighted the example of the Spanish government, which already helps more than one million senior citizens go on organized trips at a cost of €75 million. Thanks to the VAT and other taxes, Madrid claims it’s getting back €1.70 for every euro spent.
It probably didn’t occur to the sages in Spain that without the subsidies, the seniors would have either still gone on vacation, spent the money on other goods or services or saved it, which would have made it available for other investors. The subsidies merely directed spending to a politically favored purpose without creating additional wealth.
At an EU meeting last week, Spanish Tourism Minister Miguel Sebastian said tourism “should be an asset all citizens can enjoy, in particular those with physical disabilities or financially disadvantaged.” With 19% unemployment and rising, Madrid will no doubt have ample demand for its new growth industry. And given the European policy arc in Congress, look for vacation subsidies here too.