The Commission has presented a regulatory proposal, which, above all, shall enable travel within the EU. The idea behind it is to take a step towards “normality” before the summer. However, there are medical and legal concerns, which require clarification.
Since the start of the Covid-19 crisis, freedom to travel has been severely restricted for the protection of public health. Since then, some countries, in particular those with a relatively high vaccination coverage, have introduced “passports” for all immunised and tested people, which will remove restrictions on freedom to a certain degree.
Plans of the EU Commission
On 17 March 2021, the European Commission presented its Proposal on the Digital Green Certificate, which would restore at least partially the freedom of movement within the EU. It shall provide information on vaccinations, tests and recovery from an infection. It is important that this Certificate will be recognised by all EU States, which in turn will remove any restrictions of freedom of movement and travel.
Its implementation is currently being prepared and should be completed by June 2021. The responsibility for a free-of-charge issue will lie with individual Member States. Apart from its digital form, the Certificate shall also be available as a hard copy.
In addition to the Proposal for EU citizens and their relatives, there is also a Proposal concerning third-country nationals legally staying or residing in den Member States.
The Commission´s Proposal is currently being debated by European Parliament and Council. In its negotiation mandate, the Council has already agreed some amendments. The EU Parliament argued in support of changing its name to “EU COVID-19 certificate” and demands for it to be limited to maximum 12 months. Other open issues, which require clarification in the negotiation process between the institutions, concern national quarantine regulations and the aspiration of Parliament for free tests for all.
Parallel to this development, the Austrian government plans to gradually introduce a “Green Passport” from the end of May 2021. To begin with, access to the food service industry, events etc. shall be made possible on presenting proof of tests, vaccination and recovery from infection. A common QR-Code shall be in place from mid-June, which will then form the national basis for the European solution.
Concerns against the Certificate
The WHO, among other, has voiced medical concerns against such plans. As it is still not clear, for how long vaccinations will protect and whether any transmission by vaccinated people can be excluded, such a “carte blanche” would medically not be sensible – but comprehensible in economic and social terms.
This might also be regarded as problematic from a fundamental rights perspective. Due to the current shortage of vaccines, it is currently not guaranteed that all people prepared to be vaccinated are able to get an injection, which might result in them missing out in participating in public life. Vaccine sceptics regard such a vaccination passport as a “mandatory vaccination through the backdoor”, as it would not be possible to deny all people, who have not been vaccinated, the participation in public life in the long run. However, by including tests in the certificate, these concerns could be removed.
Apart from that, there are huge data protection worries, as the information provided concerns sensible health data. Hence, when implementing such a digital certificate, particular priority has to be given to data security. The Austrian Chamber of Labour therefore demands that medical, fundamental rights and data protection concerns will also be taken into account. In addition, administrative difficulties regarding the concrete implementation also exist. The national systems of individual EU States have to be coordinated and must – at least at technical level – be comparable.