Thursday

13th May 2021

MEPs: EU travel certificate must put end to 'patchwork' rules

  • EU member states stressed that the forthcoming certificate is not a travel document - insisting that each country must have the power to impose more restrictions on travellers entering their territory if necessary (Photo: Nelson L.)

The EU's Covid-19 travel certificate, the so-called 'Digital Green Certificate', is set to trigger a clash between MEPs and member states on what advantages this document would actually bring for free movement.

In a debate on Wednesday (27 April) ahead of the vote in the European Parliament, the lead coordinator on the negotiations, socialist MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, stressed that the forthcoming scheme needs to end "the current chaotic situation" of "unilateral and discriminatory measures".

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"There cannot be additional measures imposed by member states [once the system is in place], the certificate must be sufficient to reactivate free movement," López Aguilar said.

That was also echoed by MEP Jeroen Lenaers (European People's Party), who said earlier this week that "people are fed up with the complete lack of coherence of measures across the EU".

Until now, Europeans have been subject to different travel restrictions, such as Covid-19 tests and quarantines, when travelling from one member states to another.

But the EU Parliament wants to harmonise the EU's approach to travel restrictions.

For liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld, this will be "the sticking point" during negotiations between the parliament and the EU Council next month.

"We cannot agree to another patchwork of measures in which member states can do whatever they please. We have to agree on a system that brings predictability and certainty to citizens and businesses," she said.

"We have done our homework, now the question is whether member states be equally willing to find a compromise and a quick solution. They need to demonstrate that they work in the interest of citizens," she added.

In their position, adopted unanimously earlier this month, member states stressed the certificate is not a travel document, insisting that each country must have the power to impose more restrictions on travellers entering their territory.

During the debate, the EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders warned of the possibility of having 27 different systems if an agreement on the common certificate could not be reached.

"If we can deliver politically, the technical solution will be ready in time. If we do not, we risk fragmentation across Europe, with a multitude of possibly incompatible national solutions," Reynders said.

"We would risk having a variety of documents that cannot be read and verified in other member states. And we risk the spread of forged documents, and with it, the spread of both the virus and the mistrust of citizens," he warned.

Expire after 12 months

This certificate will provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination, recovery, or test results (both PCR test or rapid antigen test), with a QR code to ensure security. It will be free and available in digital form or on paper.

But MEPs pointed out that tests need to be free, or at least have a reduced fee, in all member states to be a true alternative for vaccination.

"It is important to look at this proposal, because if you do not do something about the cost of tests, then you also contradict the proposal itself - which calls for equality and equal opportunities," said Lenaers.

The Portuguese minister for foreign affairs, Ana Paula Zacarías, whose country currently holds the presidency of the EU Council, said "member states are quite mindful of the importance of eliminating or reducing the cost, facilitating testing".

Although this is a national competence, she also said that member states could apply either reduced or zero rates to testing kits.

MEPs also stressed that the green certificate must expire after 12 months and must be fully aligned with the EU data protection rules.

Meanwhile, digital privacy activists have raised concerns about the certificates, which many consider another threat to fundamental human rights.

"We believe we are losing our resources [by] thinking about a digital solution, that could create privacy and discriminatory problems, when the priority should be the vaccine rollout," Verónica Arroyo from NGO Access Now told EUobserver.

Opinion

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With the prospect of rolling non-lethal pandemics, and border-checks based primarily on vaccination status, the assertion in the EU's 'green certificate' memorandum that the proposal "cannot be interpreted as establishing an obligation or right to be vaccinated" seems disingenuous.

MEPs raise concerns on vaccine 'travel certificates'

While most MEPs have been vocal in support of the proposal by the European Commission for EU-wide vaccine certificates, key questions remain - ranging from fundamental rights, to its scientific validity.

First glimpse of new EU 'vaccine certificate' for summer

The European Commission has presented a common approach to vaccine certificates to facilitate travel. All EU-wide approved vaccines will be accepted for this document, but member states can decide to accept other vaccines too.

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