EPP backs digital vaccination certificate, Socialists wary of backdoor restrictions to free movement

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The two major political groupings in the European Parliament have expressed their support in principle to the proposed a single European Vaccination Certificate (Digital Green Certificate). The proposal, put forward last week by the Commission, is intended to facilitate safe free movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. This certificate will be proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19

“The digital vaccination certificate for those who have already been vaccinated or tested negative, must be introduced as quickly as possible, in order to save this summer”, said Manfred Weber MEP, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament, during a joint video summit of Chairpersons of national parliamentary groups from the EPP family and EPP Group MEPs.

The parliamentarians met yesterday to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the creation and protection of jobs, and relations with Russia. The video summit took place ahead of the EPP Summit and the EU Summit on Thursday this week.

“The right path ahead of us is the vaccination rollout in combination with the digital vaccination certificate which was initially proposed by the Greek Government. It will facilitate safe and free movement within the European Union”, stated Vangelis Meimarakis MEP, Vice-Chairman of the EPP Group responsible for relations with national parliaments.

“In this way, a gradual restart of the economy will take place, enabling companies of all sizes, mainly in the fields of tourism, to stand on their own two feet again and create jobs and multiple economic benefits for the communities in which they operate. Job creation is a key priority of the EPP Group”, said Meimerakis.

The proposal for a vaccine certificate has received the backing of various tourism lobby groups, particularly the European Tourism Manifesto alliance, which gathers more than 60 public and private tourism organisations and the representatives of the sector: “The Digital Green Certificate proposal is a major step in the right direction. But time is of essence now. We need a clear plan outlining conditions and timing to prepare for the safe restart of travel and tourism in Europe to be ready for the critical summer season 2021! Europe should work on this together, leaving no place for fragmentation and unilateral actions,” its Chairman, Eduardo Santander, said.

Other statements backing up this proposal were issued by the Airports Council International (ACI EUROPE) announced that together with Industry associations Airlines for Europe, Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe, European Regions Airline Association, and International Air Transport Association.

Critics of the plan argue it would be unfair to restrict people’s travel rights simply because they are still waiting for their turn to be jabbed.

Speaking to Cde.news, Tony Zahra, President of the The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association recalled that “When the Digital passport was first mentioned, theMHRA had expressed its support for the passport and added that this should one of two ways to visit the islands, the second way was to have a negative PCR test within a maximum of 72 hours before boarding the plane for Malta.”

The MHRA had argued that only people aged 65 and over will be vaccinated by May, expressing concern that should a vaccine certificate be the only criteria to travel it is likely that summer travel will be reserved to this group only.

Air Malta also welcomed the news, with David G. Curmi, the company’s Chairman, saying that the airline “welcomes the EU Commission’s proposal for the Digital Green certificate. This certificate offers various benefits in that travellers, who have been vaccinated, can be exempt from travel restrictions that might be applicable, and recognises our belief that vaccinations should not be mandatory in order to travel.”

To prevent discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated, the Commission proposes to create not only an interoperable vaccination certificate, but also COVID-19 test certificates and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.

The Socialists and Democrats, the second largest group in the EP, also welcomed the proposal but insisted that it will be seeking assurances that public health is not put in danger, but also that personal data and the freedom of movement across Europe, also in light of the upcoming summer tourist season, are equally protected and ensured.

Birgit Sippel MEP, S&D spokesperson on justice, home affairs and civil liberties, said that “EU coordination of national Covid-19 travel restrictions is welcome in principle, especially after the patchwork of measures we have experienced for the past year. However, it remains to be seen if the Digital Green Certificates represent the milestone we hoped for. Due to the impact on fundamental rights and the Schengen area, one of the greatest achievements of the EU, we still need to closely examine the proposals. The certificates must not introduce internal border controls through the back door by imposing conditions for border crossings in the Schengen area.

To be ready before the summer, this proposal needs a swift adoption by the European Parliament and the Council. In parallel, Member States must implement a trust framework and technical standards, agreed in the eHealth network, to ensure timely implementation of the Digital Green Certificate, their interoperability and full compliance with personal data protection.

This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The European Parliament is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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