European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gestures during a press conference following a college meeting to introduce draft legislation on a common EU COVID-19 vaccination certificate at the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium March 17, 2021. John Thys /Pool via REUTERS
The European commission has unveiled a “digital green certificate” that could allow EU citizens who have been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from Covid-19 to travel more freely within the bloc this summer.
The plan would also allow southern states such as Spain, Greece and Portugal, whose economies are most reliant on tourism, to make bilateral arrangements with non-EU members – including Britain – providing the deals are approved by the commission.
"We aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner,” the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said as the scheme was unveiled on Wednesday.
The digital document, containing a QR code and carried on a mobile phone, has deliberately not been called a “vaccine passport” because some member states felt that would discriminate against those who had not yet been offered a shot.
The certificate is “not a passport … but a document that will describe the medical situation of the individuals who hold it”, the commission spokesman, Eric Mamer, said.
People make their way on Monastiraki square, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Athens, Greece, March 10, 2021. Picture taken March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Louiza Vradi
The plan stresses that it “cannot be a pre-condition to exercise free movement rights, nor can it be a pre-condition for using cross-border passenger transport services such as airlines, trains, coaches or ferries”.
The certificate, should mean travellers will not need to quarantine, would be available to all citizens who can provide evidence that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have recently tested negative, or have acquired antibodies after recovering from the virus.
It follows several months of lobbying for a common, Europe-wide system aimed at easing free movement within the bloc, led by southern European holiday destinations whose economies have been devastated by the pandemic.
The commission’s plan, which it hopes will be approved by national governments and the European parliament by mid-June, says all vaccines approved by the EMA should be automatically recognised by member states.
Despite a sluggish rollout so far, the EU aims to vaccinate three-quarters of its adult population by the end of summer and officials remain hopeful that if national delivery speeds up, many restrictions could be lifted in time for the holidays.