The vaccination certificate, on the desk of the European Commission

Gheorghe Iorgoveanu (TRANSLATED BY COSMIN GHIDOVEANU)
English Section / 19 martie

The vaccination certificate, on the desk of the European Commission

On March 18, the European Commission presented the proposal for the implementation of the digital Green Certificate, in order to reopen tourism and free circulation within the EU, amid the so-called Covid-19 pandemic. We are not talking about a document that strictly concerns vaccination, but an act which would prove the state of health of citizens concerning Covid-19.

The decision of Brussels officials was made as the Southern European countries - Italy, Spain and Greece - whose economies are dependent on tourism, need those activities to occur in conditions close to normalcy in order to reduce their GDP losses.

Practically, the Green Digital Certificate proposed by the Brussels Commission refers to three types of documents: Vaccination Certificate, Certificate of Testing for SARS-COV-2 (via RT-PCR tests or rapid antigenic tests) and certificates for people who have recovered from Covid-19.

Those documents will be issued in digital or paper format, will have a QR code that will contain the necessary essential information as well as a digital signature attesting the authenticity of the certificate.

The Commission will set up a portal and will support Member States in developing IT programs which the authorities will be able to use to check all signatures on those certificates across the EU. Personal data of certificate holders is not transmitted to the portal and is not kept by the Member State. Certificates will include a limited set of information, such as name, date of birth, issue date, relevant information on vaccine / test / healing and a unique document identifier.

Documents will be available free of charge in the official language or languages of the issuing Member State as well as in English.

In order to be ready before the beginning of the summer, this proposal must be passed quickly by the European Parliament and the Council. In parallel, Member States should implement the confidence framework and technical standards agreed upon within the e-health network in order to ensure the timely implementation of green electronic certificates, their interoperability and full respect for personal data protection. The aim is that the technical works and the proposal be completed in the coming months.

The green electronic certificates system is a temporary measure, which will be suspended as soon as the World Health Organization (WHO) announces the end of the Covid-19 "pandemic".

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, explained: "First, what is the function of this certificate? It shows or asserts whether the person was either vaccinated or had a recent negative test or recovered from Covid-19 - and thus has antibodies. Secondly, this certificate will ensure that the results - or what the data, the minimum set shows - are mutually recognized in each Member State. And, thirdly, with this digital certificate, we aim to help Member States restore freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trustworthy way".

Vera Jourova, Vice-President of the European Commission, further said: "The Green Electronic Certificate provides a solution at the EU level to ensure that Union citizens benefit from a harmonized digital instrument designed to support free movement. This is a positive message that comes in support of the economic recovery. Our main objectives are to provide an easy-to-use, non-discriminatory and safe tool that fully complies with data protection".

Didier Reynders, European Commissioner for Justice, said that the possession of a green electronic certificate will not constitute a prerequisite for free movement, and persons who do not have such a certificate will not be the subject of discrimination: "

"A common EU approach It will not only help us to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation, but will also be a chance to exercise an influence on world standards and give an example, based on our European values, such as data protection".

What is certain is that people who want to travel to another EU country will be able to do so immediately if they have one of the three types of certificates. Based on the statements by Didier Reynders, it appears that people can travel without that certificate, but upon entering a Member State of the Union requesting such documents, it will have to undergo the test, just as is currently the norm.

The European Commission proposal was made exactly a week before the European Council meeting, in which the 27 heads of states or governments will discuss the so-called vaccination passport.

The European People's Party (EPP) Group welcomed the European Commission's proposal, which it says would allow for a safer and easier freedom of travel in Europe.

"We can make this possible through the implementation of a vaccination certificate. The European Parliament should urgently adopt this proposal, in order to be ready for the summer. We expect to receive a powerful message in support of the proposal from the European Council next week," said Manfred Weber, EPP President, and Jeroen Lenasrs, spokesman for Civil Liberties, according to a press release.

Divided opinions in Bucharest concerning the future European document

Regarding the introduction of new documents, on March 17, Prime Minister Florin Cîţu said he could not see the point of the vaccination passport until every Romanian gets the chance to be vaccinated against Covid-19. "It would mean discrimination for those who want to get vaccinated and are unable to", he said on March 18th.

On the other hand, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Barna announced that the document could be a great advantage especially for those who often travel and would not have to stay in quarantine.

"From our point of view, it can be a temporary option, the solution is the quick success of the vaccination campaign. Speaking of those who feel they are discriminated, there is no discrimination, it is a matter of personal choice", Dan Barna said.

In his March 18th statement, president Klaus Iohannis avoided talking about the proposal of the European Commission. Nevertheless, after the videoconference of the European Council at the end of last month, Klaus Iohannis said that a coordinated and unified approach on an European level was needed and said that the respective vaccination certificate should be used for medical purposes, and the process for identifying the technical elements that a European-level certificate should contain would have to continue.

"The green digital certificate is designed as a document that facilitates freedom. We will travel more easily and with less worries. At this moment, every country every country has diferent demands from those that travel. Some countries ask for negative tests, others ask for all kinds of statements, others ask for medical or vaccination certificates. All of these documents are issued in various formats, in various languages and the verification procedures are lengthy and clumsy. There is also the risk of these documents being forged. A single certificate, issued by one country, which can be verified using a common platform, using a barcode, will simplify this process", said Adina Vălean, the European transports commissioner.

She said that this is not at all a discriminatory document.

"A country cannot block the access of unvaccinated people on its territory - it can demand a negative test, it can ask for proof of natural immunity, but it cannot receive just vaccinated people. That would undoubtedly be an abuse against the right to free travel. No airline, let's say, can condition the providing of its transportation services on a vaccine. Ensuring that a person is healthy when they travel is not equivalent to making travel conditional on a vaccine", European commissioner Adina Vălean said.

The leader of the Renew Europe group, Dacian Cioloş, claims that "a thorough weighing of this issue is needed in order not to discriminate against some citizens who either do not yet have access to the vaccine or are not allowed to become immunized for medical or other reasons. The solution proposed by the Commission now is the right one because it does not discriminate, but at the same time it facilitates travel. Avoiding the term "passport" or any word that can be associated with the idea of borders in the European Union is another important thing," said Dacian Ciolos.

USR PLUS MEP Nicu Ştefănuţă thinks that the project of the digital green certificate is an initiative which responds to the need to facilitate circulation and a step towards the normalization of circulation across Europe.

"The European Commission explained as clearly as possible that these certificates can not constitute conditions for travel. We need to thinlk in terms of the current situation, not that of two years ago, before the pandemic. (...) In three months we want to have a solution so we have enough vaccinated people, in order not to create discrimination and, at the same time, ensure mobility. I want to assure Romanians that the digital green certificate is a step forward to resume our pre-pandemic life," said Nicu Ştefănăuţă.

If for states such as Romania and Bulgaria, this digital green certificate would translate as a document needed for their citizens to travel within the European Union for those in the Schengen Member States it represent a suspension, if not an outright elimination of total freedom of movement in the area. In this context, we would expect the first to oppose the introduction of this digital green certificate to be the citizens of the Schengen area.

In the document presented yesterday in Brussels, European officials claim: "Free movement of people who do not pose a risk to public health, for example because they are immune to and can not transmit SARS-COV-2, should not be restricted because such restrictions would not be necessary to achieve the objective pursued".

This claim seems to contradict the statements experts have been making lately. Until now, epidemiologists in the World Health Organization and European and national level claimed that those who have become immune to disease by vaccination can transmit the virus after vaccination, and would still be required to continue wearing the protective mask.

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Countries' openness to the Green Digital Certificate

The implementation of the green digital certificate, even though it was seen by most countries as a solution for the reinvigoration of tourism and for free circulation, has also drawn fears and distrust.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously expressed concern that priority vaccination of travelers is detrimental to the most vulnerable populations in other parts of the world, while doses are limited. Its Emergency Committee stated that "persons who do not have access to the vaccine would unjustly be hindered from traveling when proof of vaccination becomes mandatory", according to the foreign press.

France was saying, at the end of last month, that the debate on vaccination certificates was "premature", when only 222 million doses had been administered throughout the world, out of a total world population of approximately 7.8 billion.

Germany has also been reluctant to this idea, fearing that, this would de facto force vaccination and would be discriminatory. Its Ethics Committee also stressed that the effective efficiency of the vaccine in reducing the transmission of coronavirus was not known.

In the other camp, we find Israel, which managed to vaccinate more than half of the population and created, on February 21, the "Vaccination Passport" - a physical document or application that displays the "Green Pass" for activities that had been previously banned because of the restrictive measures imposed by the politicians. The internal "Green Passport" is required for access to the sports halls in the country, theaters, synagogues and hotels. The official document is only valid for six months, and citizens can get it a week after the second dose or have already caught Covid-19.

Also, agreements have been concluded with Greece and Cyprus so that their vaccinated citizens can travel without restrictions between the signatory countries. Greece began working on vaccination passports, as it wants to open its tourism to foreign visitors this spring. A pilot phase of flights that will bring visitors from some European countries, Israel and the United Kingdom will begin in April. In this context, the Greek Tourism Ministry has signed a "Green Pass" agreement with Israel and is working on similar bilateral agreements with ten other countries: United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Australia, Serbia, Russia, Ukraine, China, Arab Emirates United and Saudi Arabia.

Cyprus, which seeks the forced implementation of the passports, has announced it would eliminate some requirements, such as testing and quarantine, for residents that prove they have been vaccinated.

On the other hand, Sweden and Denmark announced the imminent introduction of electronic vaccination certificates that allow inhabitants to eat in restaurants or attend concerts.

Poland, in turn, is in favor of the vaccination passport.

Slovakia expressed its support for the introduction of the Green Permit, which the government believes would allow free movement in the community space.

For Portugal, the vaccination certificate is considered to be easier to manage than the current requirements imposed by the politicians. But several countries are mainly relying on vaccine passports to facilitate the arrival of tourists.

Thailand is seriously considering similar measures, the quoted sources further write.

Iceland, in turn, began to create vaccination certificates for its own citizens at the end of January, which should facilitate circulation between countries.

The United States expressed interest in the idea of the digital vaccination passport. Joe Biden signed an executive order in the early days of his presidency asking his government agencies to "study the feasibility of the idea".

The UK also intends to take advantage of the G7 Presidency to advance the implementation of a vaccination passport recognized by all countries.

Canadian authorities are working on issuing a digital vaccination passport.

Austria is in favor of this type of passports and calls on other EU countries to adopt them to support the recovery of the affected tourism industry.

In Estonia, Romania, Georgia and Poland, it will be enough for people to prove that they were vaccinated to be exempt from quarantine upon arrival.

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