Today the European Commission has proposed to create a Digital Green Certificate to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is it and how does it work?
The EU’s vaccine passport – officially called Digital Green Certificate – will be free of charge, bilingual, interoperable, secure, non-discriminatory and available in digital and physical format via QR code. It will serve as an assurance that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19.
Its goal will be to facilitate “safe and free movement” inside the EU during the pandemic.
The Digital Green Certificate will comprise three distinct certificates:
- Vaccination certificates, stating brand of the vaccine used, data and place of inoculation and number of doses administered.
- Negative test certificates (NAAT/RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test).
- Medical certificates for people who have recently recovered from COVID-19.
What about the EMA-approved stipulation?
The vaccination certificates will be based on jabs approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). But, in a very important clarification, the Commission said that individual member states could decide whether or not they accept vaccines that EMA has not yet green-lighted. Countries like Hungary are already deploying shots from Sputnik V, from Russia, and Shinopharm from China.
“Where member states accept proof of vaccination to waive certain public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine, they would be required to accept, under the same conditions, vaccination certificates issued under the Digital Green Certificate system,” the Commission said in a statement.
“This obligation would be limited to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorisation, but member states can decide to accept other vaccines in addition.”
The instrument will be valid in all EU countries and will be open for Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway as well as Switzerland. It will be issued to EU citizens and their family members, regardless of their nationality.
Additionally, non-EU nationals who reside in the bloc and visitors who have the right to travel to other member states will also be allowed to apply for the certificate.
Digital, physical and with QR code
A QR code will be the most visible element of the passport. The code will ensure “security and authenticity” and will contain only the “essential information”, such as date of birth, date of issuance, relevant certificates and a unique identifier.
To overcome the digital divide, the certificate will be available in both digital and physical (paper) forms and will be displayed in two languages: the official language of the issuing member state as well as English.
The Commission will not create a database from scratch, but instead will build a so-called “gateway” and support member states to develop software that national authorities can use to verify all certificate signatures across the European Union. Personal data won’t be retained by the verifying country.
The EU certificate will facilitate cross-border movement for work and tourism but will not automatically exempt holders from complying with public health restrictions in place.
“Member states remain responsible to decide which public health restrictions can be waived for travellers but will have to apply such waivers in the same way to travellers holding a Digital Green Certificate,” the Commission said.
“If a member state continues to require holders of a Digital Green Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other member states and explain the reasons for such measures.”
A temporary but long-awaited solution
The implementation of EU-wide certificate is eagerly anticipated by tourism-reliant countries like Portugal, Spain, Greece and Croatia, which need a summer rebound in order to kick start their badly damaged economies.
The legal text was presented by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen alongside Commissioners Thierry Breton (Internal Market) and Didier Reynders (Justice).
The Commission is aware that, if it wants to have the certificate ready in time for the summer, the proposal will have to go through a faster-than-usual adoption process in both the European Parliament and the Council.
The Digital Green Certificate system is a temporary measure, the Commission underlined. The instrument will be suspended once the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of the international health emergency.
“The Digital Green Certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way. A common EU-approach will not only help us to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation,” explained Commissioner Reynders.
Not everybody is on board the idea of vaccine passport. In early February, the World Health Organization (WHO) published an interim position paper establishing its unambiguous opposition against “proof of COVID-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry”.