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What does an EU COVID-19 travel certificate mean for us?

The European Parliament has agreed on exactly how a COVID-19 certificate should work, which brings the EU closer to launching a document to open travel back up, within the bloc.

What is the COVID-19 travel certificate?

In a nutshell, Europe intends to have a certificate, which shows the bearer’s vaccination status, COVID-19 test results and/or evidence of having survived the virus up and running by June, just in time for summer vacation period!

Though technical work has been ongoing, to make sure that the certificate is recognised across all 27 EU member states, the final details still have to be ironed out, involving the capitals, the European Commission and Parliament.

What changes have been made or are pending?

Well, the first change that MEPs have called for to a commission proposal is the name. Instead of calling it a ‘digital green certificate’, they want to call it an ‘EU COVID-19 certificate’, to avoid any implication of it becoming a ‘vaccine passport’.

It was also said that the document should not serve as a travel document and it should not become a precondition to exercise the right to free movement either. Also, it should only be in use for 12 months.

It was stressed that the certificate should not result in discrimination, so therefore, Parliament demanded that COVID-19 tests for travel should be free of charge. The commission said that the issue should be up to member states.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, welcomed the result, but ignored the proposed renaming of the certificate.

“The (European Parliament) adopting its position on a Digital Green Certificate is a key step towards free and safe travel this summer,” she tweeted. She also urged that there be a swift conclusion to the final negotiations. “We will have the EU (virtual verification) gateway up and running by June, while supporting the timely rollout of national systems.”

The initial plan was for EU citizens and residents to be able to use the certificate to avoid having to quarantine and get tested. Member states, however, wanted to retain the option of those measures should they deem it necessary.

What about non-EU citizens?

At a later stage, the EU intends to accept certificates issued by non-EU countries for travel by their citizens. Talks are already moving towards that direction with the United States for instance. A certificate trial is to be conducted in May, before the initiative is launched across all EU countries. Safeguards are to be in place against forgery and to uphold data protection, too.

Which vaccines are to be ‘accepted’?

The commission, as well as the Parliament, agree that the vaccines accepted across the bloc are those authorised by the European Medicines Agency. This currently applies to BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

Individual EU countries may allow other additional vaccines, as would likely be the case of Hungary for instance, who have opted to use Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.

What do you think?