The European Commission has proposed the creation of a “digital green certificate” to allow free movement inside the EU again.

The new system – to be made available by June 2021 in all member states via a QR code on the smartphone and on paper – would serve as proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result recently or has recovered from a Covid-19 illness. The Commission said it would build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU, and support member states in the technical implementation of the scheme. Member states would remain responsible to decide which public health restrictions could be waived for travellers, but would have to apply such waivers in the same way to all travellers holding such a certificate.

Member states free to determine scope of certificate

The “green passports” would be issued free of charge. Where any country would allow the certificate to waive public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine, it would be required to accept, under the same conditions, vaccination certificates issued under the EU’s digital green certificate system. This obligation would be limited to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation, but member states would be allowed to other vaccines in addition. If a member state continues to require holders of a certificate to self-isolate or test when for example entering the country, it must notify the Commission and all other member states and explain the reasons for such measures.

The idea of a “green passport” for those vaccinated against the Coronavirus was pioneered in Israel, where currently around half of the population carries a so-called green passport. It is required if people wish to dine in restaurants or go to concerts. The World Health Organisation in Geneva is currently not recommending the introduction of such schemes.

The Commission said the certificates would only include a limited set of information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a unique identifier. That data could be used only to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of certificates. The scheme will also be valid in Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. It would be issued to EU citizens, residents and their family members, regardless of nationality.

The proposal comes in the form of a regulation, which is directly applicable and binding for all EU member states. The proposal still needs the approval by the European Parliament and the Council, which represents the member states. In parallel, the Commission said, member states had to implement the technical standards, agreed in the eHealth network, to ensure interoperability and full compliance with personal data protection.

Tougher line on vaccines exports

On Wednesday, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also lambasted the vaccine producer AstraZeneca for not honouring its contractual commitments. A few days ago, the company cut back its delivery schedules to the EU drastically, from 180 million doses to only 70 million for the second quarter of 2021. “AstraZeneca has unfortunately underproduced and underdelivered. This painfully reduced the speed of the vaccination campaign”, von der Leyen told journalists at a virtual press conference.

She also announced a tougher line regarding the export of vaccines produced in the European Union. “We will reflect on whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate. Open roads run in both directions. This is why we need to ensure that there is reciprocity and proportionality.”

The Commission chief said that if the situation did not change, the EU would “have to reflect on how to make exports to vaccine-producing countries dependent on their level of openness. We are exporting a lot to countries that are themselves producing vaccines, and we think this is an invitation to be open, so that we also exports from those countries coming back to the European Union.

“We will reflect on whether exports to countries who have higher vaccination rates than us are still proportionate. In other words: We want reliable deliveries of vaccines, we want to increase in the contracts, we want to see reciprocity and proportionality in exports, and we are ready to use whatever tools we need in order to deliver on that”, von der Leyen pointed out.

In January, the Commission adopted a mechanism under which companies need to seek authorization of member states when exporting Covid-19 vaccines to countries outside of Europe.

Author: Michael Thaidigsmann