The European Commission has presented a proposal for a digital green certificate to facilitate free movement within the EU.

Speaking at a press conference, the president of the commission Ursula von der Leyen introduced plans for the digital health passport, which would allow “free and safe movement in the EU” and “a common path to gradual, safe and lasting reopening”.

The digital green certificates will be free of charge, bilingual and valid in all EU Member States, allowing every EU citizen or third-country national legally staying or residing in the EU to be exempt from quarantine restrictions. The certificate will also be open to Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

The document will provide proof that an individual has been vaccinated against Covid-19, recovered from the virus or received a negative test result, preventing discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated. The Commission states that it would “expect [Member States] to take this proof of people’s Covid-19 status into account to facilitate travel” and that “being in possession of a certificate is not a prerequisite of exercising the right to free movement or other fundamental rights”.

Citizens can also request a paper alternative, with both digital and paper versions featuring a QR code containing essential information and a digital seal to “make sure the certificate is authentic”.

National authorities such as hospitals, test centres and health authorities will be tasked with issuing the certificate. In the case that a country still wishes to put in place a requirement to quarantine or test holders of the certificate, the member state must explain the reasons for such measures to the Commission and all other member states.

The digital green certificate will contain data such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a QR code with a digital signature to ensure security and authenticity. This will be scanned and verified by the member states – the European Commission will work with countries to develop software for authorities to check the QR codes.

The European Commission will create a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU. The personal data will be secure and the information “cannot be retained by visited countries”.

A technical framework will need to be defined at EU level and put in place by Member States to allow for inter-operability. This system is set to be in place by the middle of June, and will “allow for the possibility to extend to compatible certificates issued in third countries” and take into account new scientific evidence and guidance.

In terms of the next steps, the proposal will need to be debated and adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on March 25. Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders stressed that the certificate will be a temporary solution to the crisis, and will be suspended once the WHO declares that the pandemic has ended.

Reynders commented on the news:

“With the Digital Green Certificate, we are taking a European approach to ensure EU citizens and their family members can travel safely and with minimum restrictions this summer. The Digital Green Certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way. A common EU-approach will not only help us to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation. It is also a chance to influence global standards and lead by example based on our European values like data protection.”

Europe’s aviation sector has welcomed the proposal, with the leaders of associations Airlines for Europe (A4E), ACI EUROPE (Airports Council International), ASD (Aerospace and Defence Industries Association of Europe), CANSO, European Regions Airline Association (ERA), and International Air Transport Association (IATA) stating:

“We welcome the European Commission’s adoption of the proposal for a Digital Green Certificate. The EC has our full support, and we call on the European Parliament and Council to work on its swift adoption via an emergency procedure. We need a clear path out of this crippling situation, and appeal once again to the EU Member States to implement common solutions and plan ahead in a fully coordinated and aligned way. We repeat: a safe restart of air travel is possible, and we can save both lives and livelihoods – but we need the EU to lead from the front. States must now do their part by acting in a coordinated manner, to avert yet another patchwork solution of fragmented agreements borne out of frustration and necessity”.

Additionally, Gloria Guevara, President and CEO of The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), said that the proposal is “a major step towards the recovery of travel and tourism in the region”, adding:

“We would like to congratulate the European Commission for its incredible efforts in bringing this to life in such a short period of time. The onus is now on member states and the European Parliament to adopt this new initiative, and we urge them to take the necessary steps to implement it as a matter of urgency.

“The proposed Digital Green Certificate, along with enhanced health and hygiene measures and mandatory mask wearing, will provide the reassurance consumers need to book their trips and ensure the return of safe international travel.”

At the same press conference, Von der Leyen addressed the “tough” start to the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines across the EU:

She also suggested that the EU could block vaccine exports to countries with high vaccination rates such as the UK, emphasising the importance of trust and reciprocity:

“The EU has been exporting vaccines in support of global cooperation. But open roads run in both directions. If needed we’ll reflect on how to adjust our exports based on reciprocity and, in the case of countries with higher vaccination rates than us, proportionality.”

She later added that the EU is “ready to use whatever tool we need to deliver on that. This is about making sure Europe gets its fair share.”

For a look at the pros and cons of “vaccine passports”, and the different options being developed, see our recent features: