EU member states agree to extend COVID certificate by one year

Staff of the Trenord transport company checks the QR code confirming that people received the Covid-19 vaccine, at Cadorna Rail station in Milan, Italy, 06 December 2021. [EPA-EFE/MOURAD BALTI TOUATI]

The Council of 27 EU member states has agreed to extend the regulation establishing the EU Digital COVID Certificate by one year, until 30 June 2023, but the extension now needs to be negotiated with the European Parliament.

The European Commission proposed the COVID certificates last year as a way to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the pandemic. The current regulation establishing the EU Digital COVID Certificate expires on 30 June 2022, 12 months after it came into effect. 

Although the numbers are not nearly as high as they were last year, the COVID-19 virus continues to be prevalent in Europe and it is not yet clear what the epidemiological situation might look like in the second half of 2022. 

To avoid country-specific patchwork solutions across the bloc when it comes to travel rules, the Commission proposed on 3 February to extend by one year the regulation establishing the EU Digital COVID Certificate

Back then, Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: “We cannot predict how the pandemic will evolve, but we can make sure that citizens continue to benefit from a certificate that works and is accepted wherever they go”.

“Without this extension, we risk having many divergent national systems, and all the confusion and obstacles that this would cause,” he highlighted.

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Council’s position

Following the Commission’s proposal, the Council agreed to extend the Digital COVID Certificate regulation on Friday (11 March). 

The Council proposed an obligation for the Commission to submit a detailed report by 1 February 2023 regarding the need to extend the certificate based on the “health situation”, as is stated in the Council’s press release. It could be followed by legislative proposals. 

Additionally, member states want to have a possibility to request proof of identity and a vaccination or recovery certificate in order to be able to include all doses in a vaccination certificate, regardless of the place of vaccination.

“This possibility would make it easier for the member states to fulfil their obligation to issue a valid vaccination certificate, regardless of the place of vaccination,” said Council’s press release.

Among other changes, countries want to have a possibility to issue a certificate of recovery following an antigen test, citing a Commission delegated act.

COVID-19 could be incentive to give EU more health powers

With citizens more concerned about health due to the pandemic, questions are raised as to whether the EU’s current instruments are enough, or whether it is time to discuss member states sharing more health competencies with the EU.

Commission’s amendments

But for the EU-wide approach to remain valid before the current regulation expires, the Council and the European Parliament must reach an agreement in time. The Council agreed its negotiating mandate last Friday.

The Commission’s proposal to extend the certificate’s validity was followed by other amendments, such as to extend the range of authorised antigen tests and to allow vaccination certificates to be issued to persons participating in clinical trials.

“We propose to bring our certificate up to date with the latest scientific developments and epidemiological changes, the need to speed up booster campaigns and to support vital on-going clinical research, acknowledging citizens taking part in it,” said the EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides. 

The domestic use of the EU Digital COVID Certificates remains a matter for the member states to decide. 

As of the beginning of February, EU member states have issued more than 1.2 billion COVID certificates. Thirty-three non-EU countries have also been connected to the EU Digital COVID Certificate system since 31 January 2022. 

Starting on 1 February, the certificate is valid for intra-EU travelling for nine months since the completion of the primary vaccination series. The validity after the booster was not determined. 

Starting February COVID certificate valid for nine months

A new EU-wide rule enters into force on Tuesday (1 February), which will see the EU Digital COVID Certificate for the primary vaccine series be used for cross-border travel for a maximum of 270 days, equal to nine months.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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