New EU digital COVID certificate paves way for Europeans to get freedom back, says MEP

Juan Fernando López Aguilar, Parliament’s rapporteur on the issue, said the certificate means that after severe restrictions caused by the crisis, the EU’s much-vaunted Schengen free travel area will be “back on track.”
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

08 Jun 2021

Speaking on Tuesday after a debate in Parliament on the certificate, López Aguilar said, “This is not just for tourists or tourism but is about re-launching mutual trust between Member States and among EU citizens.”

The Spanish MEP, who is chair of the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs. admitted the timing could not be better as “the current situation is hardly bearable any longer.”

The European Commission wants EU countries to issue and verify certificates.

López Aguilar said that the new regulation will replace a “patchwork” of schemes at national level which has seen an estimated five countries adopting their own travel certificates.

According to the agreement reached on 20 May, people will be entitled to a certificate if they have been vaccinated, tested negative or are immune.

The final agreement and practical rollout of the new certificate was debated by MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday morning and will be voted on later today. The outcome will be announced on Wednesday but the vast majority of members are expected to give approval to the certificate.

López Aguilar said the purpose of the certificate is to facilitate intra-EU travels and contribute to the post-pandemic economic recovery. Once formally adopted by the Parliament and Council it will apply in all EU Member States from 1 July, he said.

“The summer of 2020 was a nightmare, but this has been pushed through and is ready for summer 2021. It means that free movement has been given back to citizens” Juan Fernando López Aguilar, S&D

He told reporters, “I must stress that all Member States will be bound by this same EU law. It respects EU data protection standards and means that while there will be free movement of people there will be no free movement of data.”

“The EU faces a challenge when comes to communicating the work we do but this is one of those cases where we have broken through the communications ceiling.”

He said agreement on the certificate had been reached in record time - less than two months - and comes after “ferocious negotiations” with Council.

“The summer of 2020 was a nightmare, but this has been pushed through and is ready for summer 2021. It means that free movement has been given back to citizens.”

He pointed out that the EU was providing a total of up to €135m towards the cost of implementing the travel scheme, adding “now is the time for Member States to comply with this.”

On implementation and any possible back-tracking by EU nations, he said, “We will be vigilant and most demanding in ensuring full implementation by 1 July.”

Asked if a surge of variants of the virus might derail the certificate, he said, “we will keep a close eye on the evolution of the virus, but I am confident the vaccination programme will reach its potential; that is, that, by summer at least 70 percent of the population will be vaccinated.”

“I must stress that all Member States will be bound by this same EU law. It respects EU data protection standards and means that while there will be free movement of people there will be no free movement of data”

Juan Fernando López Aguilar, S&D

“I do hope we will not see a new panic or stampede of unilateral measures because of some out-of-control variant. This certificate is all about giving people trust that they can book a hotel or a flight and plan a holiday or visit family and loved ones.”

Replying to another question about the legal basis of the law, he said, “This is EU-wide law and should be binding on all Member States who will be obliged to comply with it and put in place the technology to implement it. If there are any violations we will use the infringement procedure and go to the ECJ.”

“If any Member State takes its own decisions on this then that will be out of the scope of this regulation and that Member State must then draw all the consequences.”

The regulation, he said, replaces the current “patchwork” of regulations at national level, adding, “it is a fact that some Member States have reacted on their own and at least 5 have issued their own certificates but this is untenable. EU certificates will be issued by the health authorities in each Member State, but all Member States will be bound to accept a paper or digital EU certificate.”

He added, “I hope this summer will be better and this means people can be confident to enjoy free movement which we hear so much about but which we have missed so much.”

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