Certification should allow for vacations and negotiations to restart.

Editor’s Blog: Produced in collaboration with the EU Buzz team 

Will we or won’t we be able to go on holiday this summer and once again be able to travel freely for business and pleasure? Questions millions of Europeans, and indeed global citizens, have been asking for over a year now. As we begin to finally approach some clarity, what can we expect from the Digital Covid Certificate? 

In its plenary this week, the European Parliament endorsed the highly contentious Digital Covid Certificate. ‘Contentious’ because it had originally been labelled a “Covid passport”, then a “Digital Green Certificate”, then promoted as a travel document for only those who had been vaccinated, and then later, and potentially still, a discriminatory mechanism by which only those who could afford to fulfil all the criteria, would benefit. 

The Certificate proposal is to facilitate safe and free movement within the EU during the health pandemic. It can be used across all EU Member States as well as in Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. It will serve as proof that a person has been either vaccinated against Covid-19, and/or received a negative test result and/or recovered from the virus. All EU citizens and their family members, as well as non-EU nationals legally staying or residing in the Member States and who have the right to travel to other Member States, would be eligible to receive such certificates free of charge.

Being vaccinated will not be a pre-condition to travel. All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not. In this way, as many persons as possible will be able to benefit from the EU Digital COVID Certificate when travelling and be able to avail the right to free movement within the European Union without discrimination. 

During the inter-institutional negotiations, on behalf of citizens, the European Parliament secured an agreement that EU countries will not be able to impose additional travel restrictions on certificate holders – such as quarantine, self-isolation or testing- “unless they are necessary and proportionate to safeguard public health”. In such a case, the Member State will be obliged to inform the Commission and all other Member States in a timely manner and provide reasons for such new measures.

A common EU framework will make certificates interoperable and verifiable across the European Union, as well as prevent fraud and forgery. All Member States must provide digital solutions for the issuance of the EU Digital COVID Certificate free of charge. This includes an app or portal for issuing both digital and paper certificates, a solution for citizens to store them, and a scanning solution for verification. To facilitate this work, the Commission is offering open-source reference software and apps for the issuance, storage and verification of certificates. Member States can also develop their own apps or use existing storage apps. The Commission has promised to mobilise €100 million under the Emergency Support Instrument so that Member States can implement the digital certificates.

The EU certificate only requires a minimum set of information necessary to confirm and verify the holder’s vaccination, testing or recovery status. Information such as name, date of birth, the certificate issuer and a unique identifier of the certificate will be included alongside: for a vaccination certificate, vaccine type and manufacturer, number of doses received, date of vaccination; for a test certificate: type of test, date and time of test, place and result; and for a recovery certificate: date of positive test result, validity period.

The certificate will be introduced in all EU Member States by 1 July 2021. If a Member State is not ready to issue certificates on time, the Regulation provides for a phasing-in period of six weeks, when other formats can still be used and should be accepted in other Member States. The Certificate is expected to be in place for 12 months.

Despite a common approach, and in accordance with the principles of subsidiarity, it will be up to each Member State to decide whether they also accept certificates for vaccines authorised following national authorisation procedures or for vaccines listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for emergency use.

So in essence, European citizens should now be able to go on holiday in their own country or in another European State. Let us hope that rolling out the EU Digital Covid Certificates does not face the same fate as the EU’s vaccination programme, as most Europeans are looking forward to a change of scenery and something to smile about. 

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