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Source: ICEF Monitor Date: 31 Mar 2021

The European Commission (EC) is fast-tracking the approval process for its proposed Digital Green Certificate so that it can be available in June 2021 – in time to facilitate safe travel for Europeans to other EU countries. It is intended to ease border restrictions currently in place across the EU and to stimulate the recovery of tourism in time for the crucial summer season. Citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland would also have access to the certificate. Certificates may also be issued to “non-EU nationals who reside in the EU and to visitors who have the right to travel to other Member States.”

The certificate – which would be available free of charge, in digital or paper format – would serve as an individual’s proof that they had done at least one of the following three things:

Received a vaccination to protect them from COVID-19

Received a negative COVID-19 test result

Recovered from COVID-19.

The EC proposes to support member states in the technical and logistical implementation of the certificate.

The Digital Green Certificate may also expand to accommodate the unique needs of certain member states. The Guardian explains that, “The plan would also allow southern states such as Spain, Greece and Portugal, whose economies are most reliant on tourism, to make bilateral arrangements with non-EU members – including Britain – providing the deals are approved by the commission.”

Sectors with strong similarities and linkages with tourism – such as summer camps and language programmes – would naturally benefit from the Digital Green Certificate given that it would allow younger Europeans – who might not yet have been able to get the vaccine by this summer – to travel throughout Europe for study.

A flexible certificate rather than a vaccine passport

The reason that Digital Green Certificate allows for three types of proof is to avoid discriminating against people who have not yet received the vaccine. Those who fall into that category would be able to travel within the EU with the Green Certificate as long as they had received a negative test result or recovered from COVID, according to the proposal.

The decision to avoid discriminating against unvaccinated individuals is linked to heated debate about the ethics of issuing “vaccine passports” allowing some people more freedoms than others based on whether they have received a vaccine. Allowing for different kinds of proof of fitness for travel may make some European member states who might otherwise object to the Digital Green Passport more likely to accept it.

EC spokesman, Eric Mamer, emphasises that the Digital Green Certificate is “not a passport … but a document that will describe the medical situation of the individuals who hold it.”

The certificate will have a QR code verifying that it is authentic and to ensure security. There will be a minimal amount of personal information embedded in the certificate to further the security of card holders. Privacy and security concerns are paramount for those wary of digital travel passes based on people’s COVID profile, and some believe that paper-based documentation is a better way forward than a digital pass for this reason.

Věra Jourová, the EC’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency, said:

“The Digital Green Certificate offers an EU-wide solution to ensure that EU citizens benefit from a harmonised digital tool to support free movement in the EU. This is a good message in support of recovery. Our key objectives are to offer an easy to use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection. And we continue working towards international convergence with other partners.”

In a 25 March vote, the European Parliament approved an accelerated approval process for the measure. The June 2021 target is not guaranteed, however, as the EU Council has to approve the EU Parliament’s proposal for the certificate and the timeline for its rollout. The proposal will be debated throughout April and some amendments may be required if it is to be approved.

Cannot come soon enough for many stakeholders

Airports Council International (ACI EUROPE) announced that together with several other European airline stakeholders, they are strongly in favour of the Digital Green Certificate and consider it an “essential instrument to assist a safe and sufficient recovery of travel and tourism in Europe.”

ACI Europe has recently published data showing just how devastating the pandemic has been for Europe’s airlines: in the UK, for example, airlines were down 89.3% in passenger volume in February 2021 compared to February 2020.

President and CEO of World Travel and Tourism Council Gloria Guevara said, “The onus is now on member states and the European Parliament to adopt this new initiative, and we urge them to take the necessary steps to implement it as a matter of urgency.”


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