As Europe races to set up a Digital Green Certificate in place to save the holiday season from the pandemic, the European Parliament is targeting the end of June as a realistic deadline for rolling out such a scheme. Meanwhile, developers are grappling with issues ranging from the practical – such as what to accept as proof of being COVID-19 free – to the philosophical, including debates over discrimination and personal privacy.
Addressing a press briefing organised by the European Parliament Press Office, Dutch MEP Sophia In ‘t Veld argued that this target was essential to ensure people around the continent would be able to travel this Summer. “Free movement is a fundamental right but borders have been re-introduced because of Covid-19. To compensate, we hope that with the single certificate, we make that right practicable in reality”.
She insisted that the Parliament wants this certificate to be a true deal-breaker for travel this Summer, and as such will be taking a strong position, encouraged by a cross-party consensus, against Member States seeking to re-introduce travel restrictions in other ways. The Dutch MEP added that while many are looking forward to a Summer break, “this is not just about holidays. It is also for people who travel for work, who work across borders, who travel for family, transport workers and so forth”.
MEPs also addressed key concerns related to data protection, recalling that the certificate will not include a track and trace of travelling and no centralised database will be created.
Southern countries that depend on tourism like Spain, Greece and Portugal are clamouring for a quick rollout of the promised European Union “digital green pass”, saying their economies will not withstand the loss of another summer season.
However, a thorny issue that is expected to dominate proceedings is that of testing.
While in many countries testing at borders is free, some countries have commercialised the process, with reports of swabbing in Finland reaching an exorbitant 240 euro. “The effectiveness of regulation will undermined if tests will be pricey”, Tineke STRIK, another Dutch MEP, representing the Greens, argued.
There are several logistical challenges that still need to be addressed – including how to issue digital health passes to the millions of people in the EU who have already been vaccinated. One issue still to be resolved is whether antibody tests provide adequate proof that a person who has recovered from COVID-19 is immune, sources say, following cases of reinfection by some variants of the coronavirus.
The EU Commission plans to award a contract this month for a central system for verifying the digital passes, which will use QR codes that can be scanned into a smartphone app. It will also provide a template to help member countries develop their own apps – though some have already readied their own versions.
The European Parliament is expected to vote on its position this Thursday. The Council adopted its mandate for negotiations with the European Parliament on 14 April 2021.