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EU Officials Propose Digital Travel Certificates — Vaccination Not Required

Tourists arrive at Palma de Mallorca, Spain, last summer. The EU's executive arm has proposed a certificate to ease travel across its member states.
Jaime Reina
AFP via Getty Images
Tourists arrive at Palma de Mallorca, Spain, last summer. The EU's executive arm has proposed a certificate to ease travel across its member states.

As Europe struggles to get enough vaccine and to contain a third wave of the coronavirus, the European Commission has created a plan for a digital certificate to facilitate travel across its 27 member states.

The proposal from the European Union's executive body will be discussed next week at a summit of EU leaders.

One aspect of the plan is important to note: it does not require vaccination as a pre-condition to travel.

The proposed Digital Green Certificate would serve as proof that a person has either been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19. It will be available free of charge in digital or paper form, and use a QR code for security and authenticity.

"All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU and this applies regardless of whether they are vaccinated or not," the Commission explains, noting that the same principle applies to non-EU nationals staying in the EU and who have the right to travel to other member states. "The Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right."

By incorporating negative test result certificates and certificates for people who have recovered from COVID-19, the system creates a mechanism to prevent discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated, the Commission says.

EU Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said in a statement that the certificate will ensure that EU citizens and their family members can travel safely and with a minimum of restrictions this summer.

"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," Reynders said.

The system also aims to ensure the rights of eligible travelers when it comes to public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine. Member states which accept proof of vaccination in order to waive certain restrictions, would now be required to accept the Digital Green Certificate as well.

That requirement would only apply to the vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorization – which currently includes the vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Member States would have the option to accept certificates issued for other vaccines. Hungary, for example, has started administeringChina's Sinopharm and Russia's Sputnik V vaccines.

The certificate will be valid in all EU member states and available for use by Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland as well, which are members of the visa-free Schengen Area but not the EU.

"It should also be issued to non-EU nationals who reside in the EU and to visitors who have the right to travel to other Member States," the Commission said in a press release.

If it's approved by EU leaders, the proposal would need to be approved by the European Parliament.

And it's not meant to last forever: the system will end when the pandemic is declared over by the World Health Organization.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.