The European commission has unveiled a “digital green certificate” that could allow EU citizens who have been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from COVID-19 to travel more freely within the bloc this summer.
The plan would also allow southern states such as Spain, Greece and Portugal, whose economies are most reliant on tourism, to make bilateral arrangements with non-EU members – including Britain – providing the deals are approved by the commission.
“We aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner,” the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said as the scheme was unveiled on Wednesday.
The digital document, containing a QR code and carried on a mobile phone, has deliberately not been called a “vaccine passport” because some member states felt that would discriminate against those who had not yet been offered a shot.
The certificate, which may yet face stiff resistance from some members states, is “not a passport… but a document that will describe the medical situation of the individuals who hold it”, the commission spokesman, Eric Mamer, said.
The plan stresses that it “cannot be a pre-condition to exercise free movement rights, nor can it be a pre-condition for using cross-border passenger transport services such as airlines, trains, coaches or ferries”.
The certificate would be available to all citizens who can provide evidence that they have either been vaccinated against COVID-19, have recently tested negative or have acquired antibodies after recovering from the virus.
It follows several months of lobbying for a common, Europe-wide system aimed at easing free movement within the bloc, led by southern European holiday destinations, such as Greece, whose economies have been devastated by the pandemic.
Greek Prime Minister reacts to EU certificate announcement:
In a wide-ranging interview with CNN on Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said that he can foresee implementing the EU’s “digital Green certificate” scheme for travellers coming from non-EU countries.
“Most of our travelers are from the EU, so when it comes to travel from outside the EU, of course we’re open to put into place a similar arrangement,” Mitsotakis said during the interview.
“We are starting out with Israel because Israel has vaccinated more than 50% of its population and Greece is a very popular destination for Israeli tourists.
“So we intend to replicate this new vaccine certificate system with countries that are outside the EU. And I expect these passports will be the standard tool that we will use for facilitating travel.”
The Prime Minister then went on to say that tourists in Greece will get ‘the full Greek experience.’
“Apart from the vaccine certificate, Greece will see to it that travelers come to Greece in a safe manner. All the appropriate protocols will be in place… while ensuring they all get the full Greek experience without any compromises, while placing their safety as the absolute priority,” Mitsotakis said.
“We did it last year, and we can certainly do it again — much better — this year, with all these new tools at our disposal.”