The EU is facing a patchwork of travel rules across the bloc despite having a fully operational EU digital COVID certificate, MEPs have warned and called for harmonised measures instead of national restrictions.
“The idea was to kickstart Schengen again, to rebuild trust between citizens and member states so that they could feel safe to travel once again,” said Spanish lawmaker Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar during the plenary session on Wednesday (7 July).
More than 200 million digital certificates have been already issued by member state in the week since its official launch on 1 July. However, MEPs expressed disappointment over the roll out.
“I think the Commission has delivered, parliament has delivered […] and the member states went their own way,” Dutch MEP and Renew Europe group member, Sophie in ‘t Veld told the plenary session.
The “ink hadn’t dried on the common approach and the member states went their own way again. And now again, we are dealing with a spaghetti of national rules,” she added.
Lawmakers bemoaned a lack of clear information. Dutch MEP Tineke Strik said that “not only do member states make up their own rules but there’s also a huge lack of clear information. Citizens are totally confused and uncertain.”
Emergency brake mechanism can be used as delta variant surges
Member states have the right to use the emergency brake mechanism that was agreed on during the interinstitutional negotiations. The mechanism allows member states to adopt additional travel restrictions such as quarantine, self-isolation or testing, if necessary, to safeguard public health.
Such measures should be notified to other member states and the Commission at least 48 hours in advance. They must also be communicated to citizens, in a clear and user-friendly way, at least 24 hours in advance.
A surging delta variant made member states reconsider implementing additional travel restrictions. Germany previously imposed a 14-day quarantine requirement for travellers coming from Portugal but has since eased restrictions again.
The delta variant was proven to be the most infectious and transmissible of all the strains of the coronavirus so far. It is already dominating in the UK, Portugal and is expected to be responsible for 90% of infections in Europe by August.
Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders reminded the plenary that the EU countries can impose additional restrictions: “It cannot be excluded that some member states will reimpose restrictions, in cases where the epidemiological situation in another member state worsens quickly, in particular, as a result of a variant of concern”.
Parliamentarians agreed that additional measures should be taken to stem the spread of the variant, but as a joint action rather than national restrictions. They called for protecting national health in a non-discriminative and proportionate way.
Sophie in ‘t Veld said that “the Delta variant is going around so of course measures need to be taken, but they should be taken on a harmonised European basis, not a national basis.”
Reynders ensured the plenary that the Commission is advocating for a coordinated approach and gradual lifting of restrictions: “Obviously, we want to avoid any disproportionate action or discriminatory measure. And of course, we want to avoid any bans on travel”.
Some countries are still joining
All member states together with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway have connected to the EU gateway. However, seven member states still haven’t started issuing all three types of certificates. Fully implemented certificates should attest that a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus, has had a recent negative test result or has recovered from infection.
The countries which are lagging behind are Slovakia, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Malta, Ireland and Spain. “This is a limited and temporary phenomenon, which is part of the phasing-in period,” assured Reynders.
In the meantime countries from outside the EU are willing to connect to the EU system.
The Commissioner said that the EU will work with international partners that wish to connect their COVID-19 certificates to the EU system if they share the same core principles of security and data protection.
Switzerland should be the first country to join the EU system, while “concrete discussions” are ongoing with Andorra, Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, New Zealand, San Marino, Singapore, Ukraine, UK and the US.