Vulcan Insight

European Commission presents digital COVID travel certificate

18 March 2021

With the EU’s vaccine rollout beginning to gather steam and the beginning of the continent’s coveted summer season only a few months away, the European Commission this week presented its much-anticipated digital green travel certificate.

Designed to bring some badly needed relief to citizens desperate for some holidays abroad, a travel industry which has in essence been shut down for almost a year, and the southern European economies heavily reliant on tourism, the certificate is seen by many as the solution to reinvigorating the free movement of people within the EU and EEA while vaccinations are ongoing.

For this, however, the Commission’s proposal is carefully balanced to prevent any potential discrimination between those vaccinated and still in line. Naturally, the “Digital Green Certificate” will include and show all necessary information on the vaccine received, but crucially to prevent any potential discrimination, will also show negative test certificates (PCR test or rapid antigen test), as well as certificates for persons who have already recovered from COVID-19.

According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the Certificate, which will be available in a digital and paper version, will be built by the Commission as a gateway through which national authorities can verify certificates from other Member States. Data usage will be limited to a set of information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a unique identifier of the certificate. To ensure the highest levels of data protection, the data can be checked only to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of certificates.

In addition, the EU-wide interoperable certificate will automatically recognise all vaccines authorised by the European Medicines Authority, meaning Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm vaccines as of now won’t be recognised despite some countries such as Hungary administering them to their population. Acceptance of these vaccines will be at the discretion of the individual Member State.

Yet, the proposal is also a sign of the Commission’s growing frustration with Member States ignoring, sometimes even within hours of being agreed at EU leaders’ level, its Recommendations and Guidelines trying to prevent unilateral and often discriminatory border closures over the past year. As a result, the Commission this time cracked down on this, by putting forward a legislative proposal for a Regulation.

While having to go through the full legislative procedure with the European Parliament and Council of the EU will, indeed, take some time, it ensures a fully harmonized, EU-wide approach. So far, both co-legislators have shown their intention for a speedy process.

While some tourism-heavy countries such as Austria, Greece and Spain are calling on their colleagues to swiftly adopt the proposed Regulation so it can be in place by May or June at the latest, some countries are more reticent. There is still concern about the feasibility and potential for discrimination of the system, as well as the yet unclear scientific data on how long immunity from previous infections or vaccinations would last and whether the vaccines are actually able to prevent transmissions.

Despite the concerns, it is highly likely that the Commission’s digital green certificate will in some shape or form see the light of day and allow a return to travel this summer.