Government urged to be ready to adopt EU Covid travel cert for summer

European Parliament backs plan for certificate to reopen travel quickly for tourism

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has called for a “swift conclusion” to final negotiations on the certification so that it will be “up and running” by June. Photograph: Olivier Matthys/Getty Images/Bloomberg

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has called for a “swift conclusion” to final negotiations on the certification so that it will be “up and running” by June. Photograph: Olivier Matthys/Getty Images/Bloomberg

 

The Government has been urged to be ready to adopt EU plans for a Covid-19 travel certificate so the tourism industry can benefit from overseas visitors this summer.

The European Parliament has adopted proposals to introduce a new “EU Covid-19 certificate” to open up travel across the bloc for people who have been vaccinated for the coronavirus disease or those who test negative for the virus or who have recovered from a Covid-19 infection.

In a vote, 540 MEPs backed the proposal with 119 against and 31 abstentions.

The parliament wants to scrap the commission’s proposed name of “digital green certificate” to avoid it being seen as a “vaccine passport” as MEPs do not want it to be seen as a travel document or “a precondition to exercise the right to free movement”. They also want it to be free of charge.

The parliament’s vote paves the way for negotiations to begin with the European Council, which comprises the leaders of the 27 EU member states, on how to implement the scheme.

Once agreed, the regulation establishing the certificate will become legally binding in each EU country but, as currently proposed, each government will then have six weeks to implement it.

Plans to develop a certificate to restart travel across the EU are being advanced as the vaccination programme progresses in each country.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has called for a “swift conclusion” to final negotiations on the certification so that it will be “up and running by June”.

Phase-in period

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said the Government is working on an IT system to connect with the EU green certificate travel system.

Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews has expressed concern that the Government will seek to use the six-week phase-in period so it would not be introduced until late summer.

He fears that the country will lose the benefits from the certificate in the summer because of technical challenges recognising Covid-recovered people or people with a negative test.

“I am urging the Government to be ready for day one and not to avail of any transition period because you would miss out on the summer period and the benefits of the certificate,” he said.

Minister of State for European Affairs Thomas Byrne said he hoped the EU negotiations on the certificate would be concluded as soon as possible as the plan “will be to everyone’s benefit”.

“My wish is to get this done as soon as possible. Nobody is going to be travelling for the next few weeks but at some point we have to open the country again. Lots of jobs depend on it,” he said.

‘Early summer’

Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh urged the Government to “ensure that the work needed at national level to implement this certificate takes place quickly to allow for it to be used by early summer”.

The Department of Health, as the lead authority responsible for the implement of the certificate, did not respond to a query on when it would seek to introduce it domestically.

Former Fine Gael minister Senator Regina Doherty warned that Ireland “must be ready to implement the EU’s ‘Covid-19 certificate’ for cross-border travel within the EU, so as not to be left behind the rest of Europe as safe international travel reopens in coming months”.

Ms Doherty said that this temporary travel certificate provided a lifeline to our struggling aviation industry and gave hope to the 150,000 people directly employed by the industry here.

“With the EU moving full steam ahead, all relevant bodies here, especially the Departments of Health, Justice, Foreign Affairs and Transport must immediately provide reassurance that they will be ready to implement both the paper and digital systems as soon as they are developed and launched by the European Union, ” she said.