EU's COVID-19 passport closer than ever

Brussels, Belgium: The European Parliament decided on Thursday on how a Covid certificate could operate, taking the EU one step closer to launching a document to open up travel within the EU.

Europe plans to have a certificate displaying the bearer's vaccination status, Covid test results, and/or proof of having survived the disease available in June, just in time for the continent's summer vacation season.

Although technical work has been underway to ensure that the certificate is recognized by all 27 EU member states, final details must be worked out in collaboration with capitals, the European Commission, and the parliament.

The name of a Commission proposal is the first improvement MEPs have requested. Instead of calling it a "digital green certificate," they want to call it an "EU Covid-19 certificate" to avoid the implication that it would be used as a "vaccine passport."

They stated that the document should "neither function as a travel document nor become a prerequisite to exercising the right to free movement," and that it should only be valid for 12 months.

Parliament requested that Covid-19 travel assessments be free of charge, emphasizing that the credential does not result in discrimination. The commission has stated that this is a matter for member states to decide.

Following a vote late Wednesday, the parliament's negotiating stance was declared on Thursday, with 540 MEPs in favor, 119 opposed, and 31 abstentions.

'Safe travel'

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 idea is for EU people and residents to be able to use the certificate to bypass quarantine, testing, and other barriers to intra-EU travel that have arisen since the pandemic's start.

Member states, on the other hand, want to keep the option of implementing certain measures if they find them appropriate, arguing that public health problems are their responsibility, not Brussels'.

The EU plans to recognize certificates granted by non-EU countries for travel by their citizens in the future. Discussions are still underway with the United States, but not with former EU member Britain.

Before the program is launched in all EU countries, a credential trial will be performed in May. To prevent forgery and maintain data security, safeguards must be put in place.

The commission and the parliament have agreed that the only vaccines that will be accepted in the EU will be those that have been approved by the European Medicines Agency, which is currently from BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson.

Individual EU countries, they argue, may also encourage other vaccines, as Hungary and some other countries have done with Russia's Sputnik V vaccine or Chinese-made vaccines.

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