EU reaches deal on COVID-19 travel passes to save the summer

The certificate will be accepted by authorities in all EU member states on paper or via smartphone, from 1 July, although some countries are accepting it already. [EPA-EFE/EVERT ELZINGA]

The European Parliament and the member states reached a provisional deal on Thursday (20 May) on COVID-19 certificates designed to facilitate travel and help revive tourism in Europe.

Once the political compromise on the EU digital COVID certificate, previously known as the European digital green certificate, is approved by the Parliament and by the Council representing the 27 EU countries, it will come into force on 1 July.

The agreed text will be put to the Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) on 26 May. If confirmed, it will be tabled for adoption during Parliament’s plenary session on 7-10 June. In parallel, the Council will have to confirm the agreement as well.

“This will obviously will mark summer 2021. […] We won’t be repeating the nightmare of summer 2020,” Parliament’s rapporteur, Spanish lawmaker Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, told a press conference on Thursday evening, after the negotiations were finalised.  Lopez Aguilar is the chair of the LIBE committee.

The EU digital Covid Certificate, which may be in digital format as a QR code, or on paper, will attest that a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus, has had a recent negative test result or has recovered from the infection. This will let authorities determine the status of a visitor based on records in their home EU country.

The certificate will not be a precondition to exercise the right to free movement and will not be considered a travel document. The scheme also covers non-EU members of the border-free Schengen zone – Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

What has been agreed 

An agreement for budgetary support was also reached to make tests more affordable for all citizens. The European Commission committed to mobilising “at least €100 million” under the Emergency Support Instrument to help the member states offset the cost of the tests.

Additional travel restrictions such as quarantine, self-isolation or testing should not be imposed by the member states.

“This was a point that we found difficult to negotiate over the four meetings over the four trialogues. But now the general rule is that the certificate guarantees an open door,” said Aguilar.

One exception will be if additional restrictions “are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health” –  such measures should be notified to other member states and the Commission at least 48 hours in advance.

Member states are obliged to accept vaccination certificates issued in other member states for persons inoculated with a vaccine authorised for use in the EU by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The member states can decide whether they also accept vaccination certificates from other member states following national emergency authorisation procedures for vaccines listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for emergency use.

The authenticity of the electronic seals included in the certificate will prevent fraud and forgery. Personal data obtained from the certificates cannot be stored in destination member states and there will be no central database established at the EU level.

Parliament gives green light for COVID-19 certificate negotiations

European lawmakers adopted their negotiating position on the European Commission’s proposal for the digital green certificates on Thursday (29 April), paving the way for what is likely to be a tough inter-institutional negotiation with the Council representing the 27 member states.

Done under emergency procedure

Aguilar stressed that the Parliament had only one option, “to legislate”, while the Council “had a plan B”, meaning that member states had an option to issue individual certificates, potentially leading to a  patchwork that the EU institutions wanted to avoid.

He explained that finding common ground for test price, restrictions of individual member states, duration of the certificate and vaccination outside of the EU were the hardest parts.

“Unfortunately, we have not managed to achieve everything we wanted. But this is what European democracy is about,” the rapporteur said, adding that Parliament managed “to improve” the Commission’s proposal and the Council’s negotiating mandate.

On Wednesday (19 May) four parties: EPP, S&D, Renew Europe and The Greens/EFA, has sent the letter signed by their presidents to the Council’s and the Commission’s representatives, asking for facilitation of free testing for the use of the Covid-19 certificate and avoiding additional travel restrictions from the member states. 

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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