The aim is to enable anyone vaccinated against COVID-19 or who has tested negative or recently recovered from the virus to again travel within the EU’s borders.
The Commission says the so-called ‘Digital Green Certificate’ aims to give Europeans the “chance to be able to move, work, travel and reside freely” across the whole of Europe again.
Member states will decide how to use the new digital certificate but the initiative, outlined by the Commission on Wednesday, generally seeks to coordinate the lifting of national COVID-19 travel restrictions.
With Europe’s battered tourist industry hoping to finally re-start this summer, the Commission said it hopes such documents may be available as soon as mid-May.
But some have questioned the timing of the announcement, given that most of Europe is way behind the UK and others in the vaccination programme.
So bad is the rate of new infections of Coronavirus in Europe that some Member States, such as Italy, now fear entering a third wave of the pandemic.
With the number of EU COVID-related deaths now over 550,000 and less than a tenth of Europe's population inoculated (compared with almost 50 percent in the UK) the feeling is that quarantine will still be necessary for months to come, effectively rendering such certificates meaningless.
Reaction to the certificate proposal was swift, with the Socialist group in Parliament saying it will closely scrutinise the legislative proposal and seek assurances “that public health is not put in danger.”
The group, Parliament’s second biggest, also wants assurances about the use of personal data and that the “freedom of movement across Europe will be protected and ensured.”
Birgit Sippel, S&D spokesperson on justice, home affairs and civil liberties, said, “EU coordination of national COVID-19 travel restrictions is welcome in principle, especially after the patchwork of measures we have experienced for the past year.”
“A coordinated European approach to movement within our Union is vital to provide certainty for businesses and citizens and to avoid the chaos of 27 national approaches … But we must get it right and ensure that discrimination is limited and all privacy concerns are addressed”
Dacian Cioloș, Renew Europe leader
“However, it remains to be seen if the Digital Green Certificates presented today represent the milestone we hoped for. Due to the impact on fundamental rights and the Schengen area, one of the greatest achievements of the EU, we still need to closely examine the proposals.”
She added, “The certificates must not introduce internal border controls through the back door by imposing conditions for border crossings in the Schengen area. We cannot discriminate when it comes to freedom of movement.”
“Close scrutiny on the protection of personal data is essential, such as a person’s vaccination status or information on previous COVID-19 infections.”
Renew Europe leader Dacian Cioloș added, “A coordinated European approach to movement within our Union is vital to provide certainty for businesses and citizens and to avoid the chaos of 27 national approaches.”
He wants the certificate to be fast-tracked, adding, “but we must get it right and ensure that discrimination is limited and all privacy concerns are addressed.”
“We want a certificate based on European values, which is accessible to all EU citizens. The promised efficiency of this certificate will be conditional on the trust citizens have in it.”
Announcing details of the certificate at a press conference in Brussels, Commission Vice-President for Promoting our European Way of Life Margaritis Schinas, said, “In lifting restrictions, we must learn the lessons of 2020 and avoid damaging and costly cycles of opening and closing.”
A Commission spokesman said the vaccine certificate represents “an EU-level approach to issuing, verifying and accepting certificates to facilitate free movement within the EU, based on a strict respect for non-discrimination and of the fundamental rights of EU citizens.”
The comments were echoed by EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides, who said: “Today we are proposing a common EU approach that will lead us on the way to our goal of re-opening the EU in a safe, sustainable and predictable way.”
Elsewhere, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned that the EU could withhold vaccine exports to the UK and other countries.
“It remains to be seen if the Digital Green Certificates presented today represent the milestone we hoped for. Due to the impact on fundamental rights and the Schengen area, one of the greatest achievements of the EU, we still need to closely examine the proposals” Birgit Sippel, S&D spokesperson on justice, home affairs and civil liberties
She told reporters, “Europe is trying to make international cooperation work, but open roads run in both directions. It is hard to explain to our citizens why vaccines produced in the EU are going to other countries that are also producing vaccines, but hardly anything is coming back.”
She suggested the bloc will consider blocking supplies to countries that have failed to reciprocate or which already have high vaccination rates.
The UK is, so far, the biggest importer of doses from the EU, with 10 million doses having been exported to the UK in the last 6 weeks alone.
She said, “The UK is country number one where exports from the EU is concerned and indeed, the UK is producing AstraZeneca. We are still waiting for doses to come from the UK, so this is an invitation to show us that there are also doses from the UK coming to the EU.”