EU countries reach agreement on vaccine certificate

Step forward to agree digital system aimed to ease travel in the summer

Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa described the agreement of a common position  between member states on digital certificates as a ‘positive step’. Photograph:  Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images

Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa described the agreement of a common position between member states on digital certificates as a ‘positive step’. Photograph: Horacio Villalobos/Getty Images

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European Union member state governments reached an agreement on digital certificates to show vaccination status on Wednesday, a step towards approving the system in a bid to ease travel in the bloc by summer.

The certificates would show if a person has received a vaccine, enabling member states to exempt such people from requirements such as testing and quarantine if they wish to do so under national Covid-19 rules.

Portuguese prime minister Antonio Costa, who chairs discussions as his country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, described the agreement of a common position between member states as a “positive step”.

“The current epidemiological situation remains of great concern, but when looking ahead, we need to have solutions that work across member states,” he said in a statement.

“The Digital Green Certificate comes in to facilitate safe and free movement. It is most important for our citizens, for our societies and for the recovery of our economies. I welcome this first step.”

In order not to discriminate against people who have not been vaccinated, the certificates can also show if the person has received a negative test result, or has recovered from Covid-19.

Reciprocal agreements

EU member states would also be able to make reciprocal agreements with no-EU countries to mutually recognise other vaccine certificates, a route to allow Ireland to recognise people vaccinated in Northern Ireland or Britain, for example.

The proposal must now go forward for additional negotiations and debate in the European Parliament in order to be approved. The parliament last month agreed to fast-track the proposal in a bid to have the system in place by summer.

In a statement, the EU Council said it would be possible to use the certificate across all EU member states, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, and that the EU was open to international systems.

The initiative was pushed by group of EU member states dependent on tourism led by Greece, which called for the development of the system in order to facilitate travel this summer and shore up economies struggling with the impact of the pandemic.

It was met with some resistance from northern member states concerned about a potential discriminatory effect on people who had not been vaccinated, particularly at a time when vaccines were not freely available.

Special provisions

To accommodate these concerns, the 27 member states agreed that the document could also show if a person had tested negative for the virus, or if they had recovered from the virus. In addition, the certificate in itself does not entitle the bearer to free travel. Instead, each member state would decide individually whether to make special provisions for vaccinated people, such as exempting them from mandatory hotel quarantine in Ireland’s case.

The draft text now includes “a reference to the fact that a Digital Green Certificate is not a precondition to exercise free movement rights and it is not a travel document”, the council said in a statement. This is “In order to stress the principle of no-discrimination, in particular towards no-vaccinated persons”, it added.

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