EU lawmakers are picking up the pace in their race against the clock to have vaccine certificates ready for the summer, although a number of technical problems remain to be addressed.
The European Parliament on Thursday (25 March) approved an urgency procedure to fast-track the approval of the Digital green certificate, the European Commission’s tool conceived to ease restrictions on freedom of movement during the summer season, despite the pandemic.
The certificate provides evidence that people have been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from the COVID illness, enabling them to travel freely within the EU while staying safe.
MEPs decided to trigger the clause in the Parliament’s rules of procedure that allows for faster parliamentary scrutiny of a Commission’s proposal, as the timeline to approve the regulation is particularly tight.
The aim is to have the certification system up and running before summer.
Before the vote in the plenary on Thursday, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen sent a letter to Parliament’s president David Sassoli calling on MEPs to work swiftly towards adoption of these proposals” and “starting inter-institutional negotiations immediately.”
Some lawmakers did not appreciate the intervention.
According to Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, von der Leyen was forcing a false choice between freedom and democracy upon the European Parliament.
“Every time it is about arbitrating between security and freedom, there must be a democratic and public debate. It is a colossal mistake starting an emergency procedure,” the Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts told lawmakers.
However, the plenary approved the fast-track procedure with 468 votes in favour, 203 against and 16 abstentions, aiming at adopting its mandate for starting negotiations with ministers in the next plenary session due for 26-29 April.
Portugal’s EU Presidency has said it will do everything to have the health certificates in place by June, which is particularly important for countries which rely heavily on tourism, such as Spain and Greece, to save the summer season.
In their conclusions after the European Council on Thursday (25 March), the EU leaders agreed to take forward as a matter of urgency “legislative and technical work on COVID-19 interoperable and non-discriminatory digital certificates, based on the Commission proposal.”
Speaking on condition of anonymity a senior diplomatic source said that there is a good chance that the procedure will be closed provided that the European Parliament approves its mandate before May, so as to finalise the negotiations with the EU Council by the first half of June.
According to sources, there is broad consensus on the value of certificates in the EU Council, although discussions will continue in the coming months.
Concerns are mostly about technical aspects, as the development of national digital systems and the gateways for the interoperability of the mechanism are required.
“The main challenge is how to put in place this digital infrastructure within a month or two,” the source said.
Another diplomatic source recently told EURACTIV that the interoperability of the project is a difficult task, given that there are different infrastructures across EU countries.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]