MEPs throw weight behind growing calls for an EU-wide vaccination certificate

The idea, first mooted by Greece, is due to be debated by EU leaders at a special virtual summit to discuss the pandemic on Thursday 21 January.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

19 Jan 2021

EU Leaders will discuss whether to proceed with a bloc-wide vaccination certificate as a way to get people travelling again.

European Council President Charles Michel, on Monday, said, “The vaccination process opens the debate on certification. We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification, as well as, if appropriate, under which circumstances certificates could be used.”

He adds, “There are two questions," adding, “do we introduce such a certification and if so, when?”

He said, “It is clear to me that more people must be vaccinated before it (a certificate) is pertinent. Without that, if it was implemented too early it would provoke great frustration in Europe.”

Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, though, rejected the proposal, saying “it is not good to divide Europe in two”.

But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has welcomed the Greek government's initiative and called for a "mutually recognised" vaccination certificate.

She said, “We have to have a medical requirement that proves that people have been vaccinated.”

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that while he did not wish to make the vaccine certificate “compulsory or a pre-requisite for travel” he believes “people who have been vaccinated should be able to travel freely”.

“If someone has been vaccinated in one Member State that should be recognised elsewhere. A certificate would be recognised all over Europe and would allow people to travel”

Further support comes from the European Parliament’s centre-right EPP group, the assembly’s, biggest grouping, whose spokesman Daniel Koster told reporters on Monday that it was calling for such a certificate.

Speaking at a pre-plenary press conference in the parliament in Brussels, he said, “If someone has been vaccinated in one Member State that should be recognised elsewhere. A certificate would be recognised all over Europe and would allow people to travel.”

A Polish MEP reportedly complained that, despite being vaccinated in his own country, he was still refused entry to Belgium where his Polish vaccination certificate was not recognised.

Koster added that there was “no alternative” to the current EU vaccine procurement, adding, “Imagine if every Member State had selected their own vaccines themselves. This would have triggered unfair competition increased prices and amplified inequalities.

“The EPP will also tell this week’s debate on vaccines that there must be a greater effort to fight vaccine scepticism and disinformation. We still need to defend science and an evidence based approach to the crisis.”

The European Parliament’s Socialist group spokeswoman Utta Tuttlies told the briefing, “It is crucial that we roll out the vaccines in all Member States but we are calling for the maintenance of unity and no nationalism over this.”

Pia Kohorst, spokeswoman of the Greens/EFA Group, said, “We need more and better EU coordination on the vaccine strategy but we also need to remember that no one is safe until everyone is safe. The Greens call for a swift and fair distribution of vaccines.”

“The prospect of vaccinations is encouraging but we must maintain our vigilance and continue our testing and tracing approach while allowing EU cross-border movements" European Council President Charles Michel

Meanwhile, Michel, speaking ahead of this week’s EU pandemic summit, said that the infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants of the virus “warrant the utmost caution.”

He said, “The prospect of vaccinations is encouraging but we must maintain our vigilance and continue our testing and tracing approach while allowing EU cross-border movements.

“Our most pressing issue is vaccines. The good news is that today we have access to two vaccines approved in the EU and we have secured agreements for four others.

Accelerating vaccination across the EU is our absolute priority.”

He said the European Commission, at the summit, will be asked for a state of play on the vaccination roll-out, future production increases and the equitable access to vaccines.

“Member States can then share their experience on the implementation of vaccination campaigns.”

Michel also said the summit should discuss cooperation with third countries in relation to vaccines” which should be treated as a global public good.”

“We will look at how we can assist partners in the neighbourhood and beyond.”

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