How the EU Covid-19 ‘pass’ will work and who will benefit

The European Commission is working with EU member states to roll out Covid-19 certificates that should allow travels across Europe to resume this summer.

The Covid-19 pass has been promoted by southern countries such as Greece and Spain to boost tourism. It is also meant to benefit EU citizens who work and live abroad. But there are still many questions on how it will work in practice.

Who is eligible

According to the European Commission proposal, EU citizens and their family members, non-EU nationals who live in the EU and visitors who have the right to travel across the Union will be eligible for the so-called ‘digital green certificate’.

The certificate will prove that the holder has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has recovered from the virus, or has tested negative.

EU citizens and their family members who have received a vaccine authorised in the EU from a non-EU country can also request the certificate from a member state, if they provide “reliable proof of vaccination” to the national authorities.

The pass will be issued free of charge in the official languages of the emitting country and in English. It will be in digital format but can be requested on paper too.

It will contain a QR code including the holder’s name, date of birth and country, a unique identifier, and a digital signature of the issuing hospital, test centre or health authority to guarantee its authenticity.

Its validity will be determined by scientific data on the period of immunity, and national rules. In any event, the system should remain in place for no more than 12 months, according to EU lawmakers.

A new condition for border crossings?

The European Commission said the pass “will not be a pre-condition to free movement nor being vaccinated will 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,” the Commission said. “The digital green certificate will make it easier to exercise that right”.

According to MEPs, it should be clear that certificates’ holders should not be subject to additional travel restrictions, such as quarantine, self-isolation or testing.

“A digital certificate allowing people to regain their mobility in Europe would be a major step forward to give perspective to the tourism sector but also for citizens in border regions who live and work in different countries,” said Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers during a Parliament debate.

The pass should also make life easier for EU citizens who live in other EU countries. European Citizen Action Service (ECAS), an organisation working on free movement and democratic participation, said this group has been “disproportionally affected” by the pandemic.

“Everyone has had to endure the crisis, but the pressure placed on those exercising freedom of movement has been particularly high,” ECAS commented.

Risk of discrimination

Some 59% of respondents in a survey by Euroconsumers have said to be favourable to the pass, but a majority is concerned it might discriminate and 64% believe people who are not vaccinated should be offered free tests.

European civil rights group Liberties fears the pass could “exacerbate existing inequalities” and “create a two-tier society” where some people enjoy extensive freedoms and rights, while others are excluded. The group called Covid-19 tests should be “quick, cheap and easy to get” or people without vaccination will face “undue barriers”.

Members of the European Parliament went further and asked EU countries to ensure tests are free, like vaccines are, so they can be considered as a viable alternative.

Privacy concerns

Other concerns are related to the privacy of certificate holders, given the use of their personal health data.

The European Commission said it will build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU, but “no personal data” will pass through them or be retained by the verifying member state. EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders assured MEPs that no central database will be created at the EU level with certificates’ data.

The European Data Protection Board, the independent body made of representatives of national data protection authorities, said the use of the data by member states should not be permitted once the pandemic is over and there should be safeguards for the transfer of personal information to non-EU countries.

Linking other ‘vaccine passports’

Beyond the EU, participation in the ‘digital green certificate’ will be open for Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, and the residents of Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican.

The plan is to also link the pass to other global initiatives, such as those by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The Commission said arrangements can be made so that certificates from non-EU countries are accepted under the same conditions of EU ones, on a reciprocal basis.

Israel, for instance, has begun the trial of ‘green passes’ that allow fully vaccinated individuals to travel to and from Greece. The EU has said to be open to talks with the UK, where international travel should resume from May 17.

Making national schemes compatible

The European Parliament and Council have agreed to to approve the Commission proposal swiftly so that certificates can be ready by summer.

Meanwhile, EU countries such as Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia have started to develop their national schemes. Greece will open its borders to people who can prove they had a vaccine, a negative test or immunity on May 14. Spain will exempt visitors with ‘digital green certificates’ from tests and quarantines from June.

All these systems will have to be compatible and connected for certificates to work across borders. This will be a main challenge for the European Commission. “Our common and realistic aim is to have the digital green certificate rolled out by June, both from the legal and technical side,” a European Commission spokesperson told Europe Street.

Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved

This article was updated on April 21 with information about EU citizens who live outside the EU and on May 2 about the position of the European Parliament. Image by Russell_Yan from Pixabay

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