A.When the debate on free travel for vaccinated people began in January, the EU Commission was still on the brakes. Now she is pushing the pace. “The vaccination certificate should be used until the beginning of summer, and summer begins on June 1st,” said Vice President Margaritis Schinas, who is responsible for the subject, on Tuesday of the FAZ. On Wednesday, Schinas and Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders want to present a draft law.
Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.
You are in a hurry for two reasons. On the one hand, all governments want to give their citizens a perspective for the summer. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was initially skeptical, also took this course at the European Council at the end of February. In the federal government, the situation is described as follows: If all the beaches are already occupied before the Germans come, you will get the receipt for the federal election. The UK could resume travel abroad as early as May 17th. On the other hand, the Commission fears that the process will slip away. “If we do not introduce this together with a legally binding instrument and interoperable, the private sector will develop solutions and impose them on us,” says Schinas.
In just three weeks, the Commission prepared a proposal for the “digital green certificate”, as it is now called. The name is derived from the Israeli model, a solution for smartphones. As in Israel, it should not only make traveling in Europe possible again, but also visits to restaurants and the theater. “We are taking back our European way of life,” said Schinas, “but in a safe way.” What the states want to allow, they will decide for themselves. The Commission just wants to define the legal framework and ensure that it is done without discrimination.
Approved vaccines are privileged
If a state allows vaccinated people back into the football stadium, the only decisive factor is the vaccination status, not the origin. Therefore the applications have to be interoperable. The digital proof consists of a QR code that leads to a national database. There you can check the name of the person, when they were vaccinated with which vaccine and who issued the proof. This is necessary because the EU police authority has already warned that criminals could trade in forged certificates. By the end of May, the Commission wants to have developed an interface that allows data to be exchanged between all member states and requires a minimum of data.
In the Commission there was a dispute about how to deal with vaccines that have not yet been approved by the EU Medicines Agency. This applies to Hungary, for example, where both the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and the Chinese one from Sinopharm are inoculated. This solution was found in the final version of the draft law, which is before the FAZ: The member states “can” treat such vaccinated persons equally – but do not have to. “It makes sense to give Ema-approved vaccines privileges in opening up Europe because they meet our quality requirements and correspond to our common vaccination strategy,” said Schinas.
The Commission’s proposal is not just about vaccinations. That was important to the states that – like Germany – have spoken out against compulsory vaccination. “Free travel in the Schengen area is a basic right for every citizen, so we do not make it dependent on a vaccination certificate,” says Schinas. Otherwise, all people under the age of 18 would be excluded, because so far the vaccines have only been approved for adults. The commission therefore also proposes digital evidence for testing with approved PCR tests and rapid antigen tests as well as for people who have been “cured” from an infection with the coronavirus. What the latter should look like is not regulated. Is a certificate from the doctor sufficient? A positive test that was at least ten days ago? Or does it have to be evidence of antibodies? Germany is critical of this point. Vaccinations resulted in greater protection against the virus than low-symptom infections, it said. However, each state can decide for itself whether it allows free travel on the basis of a proof of recovery.
The Commission wants to make the legal framework as binding as possible for everyone. It is therefore aimed at a regulation that applies directly to all states. However, this requires a due legislative process involving the Council and Parliament. Such procedures usually take longer than a year – then the “green certificate” might not be available until summer 2022. Schinas spoke about this with the group chairmen in the European Parliament last week. “The leaders of the three major political groups have promised an accelerated procedure,” he said. Nevertheless, the southern EU states in particular are pressing for a less binding but quicker recommendation from the Council.
Schinas believes the real challenge is “that Member States have their applications ready on time”. In any case, this also applies to Germany, where the contract has only just been awarded and vaccination data are not recorded centrally. In all negotiations, Berlin therefore insisted that the “green certificate” can also be provided on yellow paper, in the classic vaccination pass – this is also what the commission draft says.
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