Senior MEP lambasts ‘prohibitive’ charges for COVID-19 testing

Dutch member Sophie in ‘t Veld voiced “real concern” at pricing for the tests in most of the EU.
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By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

28 Apr 2021

Speaking in a parliamentary webinar on the new Digital Green Certificate, the Renew Europe deputy said France was among a small number of EU countries not charging for a test.

She singled out Finland for particular criticism, saying that Finnish people were being charged around €240 for a test. She said, “The commercial rates are going through the roof and this means that, for many people, a test is simply unaffordable and therefore out of reach.”

She said that current charges illustrated the need to make such tests free of charge or, where that is not possible, to introduce a price cap.

“Many of the rates for tests, such as in Finland, are prohibitive. They are free in France and in some, though not all, parts of Germany. But in most other Member States there is a fee,” said the deputy, a member of Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

Speaking from Parliament, she said, “All the Coronavirus vaccines are free everywhere and no one has raised an issue about this. We have also done the same with credit card fees, bank transfer fees and roaming so why not with Coronavirus tests? These tests are essential for everyone so let’s have free tests for everyone.”

She pointed out that that having a test will be a pre-condition for obtaining a vaccine certificate.

Parliament will this week enter into talks with Council about introducing a certificate which comes in digital or paper format.

“All the Coronavirus vaccines are free everywhere and no one has raised an issue about this. We have also done the same with credit card fees, bank transfer fees and roaming so why not with Coronavirus tests?”

Sophie in ‘t Veld, Renew Europe

By introducing a common certificate as proof of vaccination, proof of a negative COVID-19 test or proof of having recovered from COVID-19, the EU aims to make it easier for people to travel freely and safely over the next year.

In ‘t Veld added, “The certificate is not just about holiday but it is a fact that those who need a holiday the most are also the ones who cannot afford a test.”

She said, “The right to free movement is a fundamental right but because of the Coronavirus this has become a theoretical right. This is because Member States have adopted different measures about entry and borders in the EU are back.”

“I hope that a single certificate will make travel freedom practicable in reality but a big battle is looming over this issue with those Member States that still want to adopt their own approach and take their own measures.”

“In doing so they are creating barriers for citizens at a time when everyone is desperate to regain their freedom.”

She said there was a “large consensus” in Parliament for the certificates which, she believes, will give people “hope that they can travel again this summer.”

“The costs for these tests are outrageous; they cost as much as €300 in some Member States. We are in the middle of a crisis and to expect people to pay such prices for a test is wrong. Let’s not reinforce existing social discrimination” Renew Europe spokesman

She added, “This is not just for holidays but also for those people who do cross-border work such as in the transport sector who need to travel from one EU country to another for their work. We are doing this for everyone.”

In a Q&A session, she was asked what would happen if a Member State refuses entry to someone who has had a vaccine not approved by EMA.

She replied, “It must be for a vaccine approved by EMA – that is the body in the EU that can give its stamp of approval to a vaccine. There is no discrimination here. If the Russian or Chinese vaccines want approval they can go before the EMA like others.”

She said, “We must stress that this is not a passport; it is a temporary measure and I hope that Member States are ready to compromise on this. If they do then this scheme can be in place by the end of June I believe.”

“This is going to be the best way to go back to free travel so I hope Member States do not impose further measures to make this impossible. At present we have a patchwork of different measures and it is high time Member States took responsibility for the common good.”

In reply to a question about possible data protection she said, “I am also keen that Member States do not misuse this vaccine certificate scheme by building databases but for other uses, what we call function creep.”

Speaking in the same online webinar, Spanish Socialist Juan Fernando López Aguilar said, “For the European Parliament, it is essential that certificates be free-of-charge and equally available to every EU citizen.”

“We must be clear that the certificate will not be a requirement to being able to move freely and must not lead to further restrictions from Member States. We also need to reassure people that this is only a temporary measure and that in using these certificates personal information and the right to privacy will be fully protected.”

Later this week Parliament will finalise its position and mandate for the negotiations with Member States.

A Parliament spokesman said it was hoped the negotiations will “promptly start” in order to adopt the Digital Green Certificate by the summer.

MEPs this week are also expected to call for affordable and accessible COVID-19 testing in order to avoid potential discrimination against those not vaccinated, and for high data protection standards.

A Renew Europe spokesman, speaking at a pre-plenary briefing in Parliament on Monday, said, “The costs for these tests are outrageous. They cost as much as €300 in some Member States.”

“We are in the middle of a crisis and to expect people to pay such prices for a test is wrong. Let’s not reinforce existing social discrimination.”

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