EU edges closer to deal on COVID-19 travel certificate

An employee waits for travelers to be tested for the coronavirus disease at a COVID-19 testing center at Brussels international airport, in Zaventem, Belgium on Wednesday.

The European Parliament on Thursday agreed on its position on how a COVID-19 certificate should work, bringing the EU closer to launching a document to open up travel within the bloc.

Europe intends to have a certificate showing the bearer’s vaccination status, COVID-19 test results and/or evidence of having survived the disease up and running in June, in time for the continent’s summer holidays.

While technical work has been ongoing to ensure the certificate is recognized across all 27 member states, final details have to be worked out involving capitals, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

The first change MEPs have called for to a commission proposal is the name.

Instead of a “digital green certificate” they want to call it an “EU COVID-19 certificate” — to avoid any implication of it becoming a “vaccine passport.”

They said the document should “neither serve as travel document nor become a precondition to exercise the right to free movement” and should only be in use for 12 months.

Stressing that the certificate should not result in discrimination, parliament demanded that COVID-19 tests for travel should be free of charge. The commission has said that this issue should be left up to member states.

The parliament’s negotiation position was announced yesterday following a vote late on Wednesday, with 540 MEPs in favor, 119 against, and 31 abstentions.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the result, but ignored the proposed renaming of the certificate.

“The (European Parliament) adopting its position on a Digital Green Certificate is a key step towards free and safe travel this summer,” she tweeted.

She urged a “swift conclusion” to the final negotiations on the document, adding: “We will have the EU (virtual verification) gateway up and running by June, while supporting the timely rollout of national systems.”

Initially, the plan is for EU citizens and residents in the bloc to be able to use the certificate to avoid quarantine, testing and other obstacles to intra-EU travel that have sprung up since the start of the pandemic.

But members want to retain the option of those measures, stressing public health issues are their own responsibility, not Brussels.

The commission and the parliament agree that the vaccines accepted across the bloc will be those authorized by the European Medicines Agency.

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