On Thursday, the European Parliament, Council and the Commission reached agreement on the much-mooted certificates, which aim to make travel easier.
If approved by MEPs at their June plenary, the legislation will come into force just in time to be fully rolled out for the summer tourism season.
Importantly, the certificate will be available in either digital or paper format and aims to be operational in every EU country.
But the issue of reciprocity with non EU states, such as the UK and US, still remains uncertain.
It is unclear whether a citizen holding a vaccine certificate will still be able to travel to, say the UK, without then having to quarantine, as they currently do now.
“With the vaccine strategy and the recovery plan, the EU has already faced the COVID-19 pandemic with coordinated and European solutions. We went into these negotiations in that same spirit. Negotiations were not easy but we made every effort to deliver an urgent agreement in time for the summer season” Juan Fernando López Aguilar MEP
The deal agreed on Thursday says that EU Member States “shall refrain” from additional travel restrictions, such as quarantine or additional testing, unless they are “necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health.”
This clause still allows Member States to impose restrictions but scientific evidence, including epidemiological data published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)”, should first be taken into account.
Those Member States that are still not ready to roll out certificates on 1 July will be granted a maximum of six weeks to do so.
The deal comes after what the European Parliament’s rapporteur Juan Fernando López Aguilar, called “long and tough negotiations.”
Negotiations were believed to be difficult because MEPs wanted to make it easier for citizens to travel freely again, while some Member States were keen to preserve their national competencies.
López Aguilar told a press conference on Thursday evening that Parliament will monitor, on a daily basis, how the regulation is implemented in practice.
All Member States must accept vaccination certificates issued in other EU nations for anyone given a vaccine authorised for use in the EU by the EMA. Currently, that is either the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca or Janssen vaccines.
The certificate should be in place for 12 months and will be verified to prevent fraud and forgery, along with the authenticity of the electronic seals in the document.
To make “affordable and accessible testing” more widely available, the European Commission has also allocated €100m under the Emergency Support Mechanism to support the availability of affordable tests.
A commission spokesman said, “This should particularly benefit persons who cross borders daily, or frequently to go to work or school, visit close relatives, seek medical care, or to take care of loved ones.”
The deal will now be put to the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee next Wednesday but approval is expected to be rubberstamped.
López Aguilar led parliament’s negotiators in the talks and told reporters, “This will make it easier for citizens to travel in the EU. After a year of patchwork responses from national governments, the Schengen area and free movement have suffered like never before and this is the chance to restore the EU’s greatest asset.”
“We welcome national governments’ commitment to see free movement fully restored through the new EU-wide certificates.”
“This is the happy end to a very difficult negotiation. We will have a unified European digital COVID certificate which will be recognised all over the EU and will massively simplify cross-border travelling. It is a major success that we have prevented contradictory national procedures and certificates” Jeroen Lenaers MEP
He added, “With the vaccine strategy and the recovery plan, the EU has already faced the COVID-19 pandemic with coordinated and European solutions. We went into these negotiations in that same spirit. Negotiations were not easy but we made every effort to deliver an urgent agreement in time for the summer season.”
“Throughout the talks we constantly relayed the serious concerns that we listen to every single day from the people we represent: inconsistent restrictions across Member States make travel complicated, while the cost for PCR tests makes travel very costly for many.”
The knock-on effect of restricted travel has been devastating for many people’s livelihoods. It is clear there will be no recovery without free movement.”
“After four rounds of negotiations, it was paramount for the EU to find an agreement. While we wanted to see more commitment from member states on the cost of tests, as well as a more coordinated approach to ending restrictions for users, the certificates are a crucial starting point in the EU making the vital return to free travel for everyone.“
“The commitments for an extra €100m to finance testing will also be a huge help to many people feeling the pinch in the face of the pandemic.”
On Friday, further comment came from Jeroen Lenaers, EPP spokesman on the Parliament’s Civil Liberties and Home Affairs Committee, who said, “This is the happy end to a very difficult negotiation. We will have a unified European digital COVID certificate which will be recognised all over the EU and will massively simplify cross-border travelling.”
“It is a major success that we have prevented contradictory national procedures and certificates.”
"At some point in the negotiations, I had the impression Member States care more about their sovereignty than the rights of their citizens. Luckily, we have now found a compromise.”
Renew Europe Group leader in the European Parliament, Dacian Cioloș said, “We welcome this agreement which establishes common and non-discriminatory rules. This certificate is very much expected by all those who need to travel for their work, such as cross-border workers and transport workers.”
“European citizens will soon be able to travel again and plan their summer holidays with confidence.”
He continued, “In this negotiation, our group particularly insisted on access to affordable testing. This is important for all Europeans who will still be waiting to be vaccinated in the coming weeks and months.”
The Romanian MEP added, “They too must be able to travel. We welcome an easy to understand system. It was important not to add new administrative burden to citizens and businesses.”
“The price must not be a barrier for all those with limited financial means. It is a question of social justice at a time when the health crisis has increased inequalities.”