European vaccination passport: a QR code to certify vaccinations, tests or whether you have had covid

Document may be printed or digital and will be free, bilingual and not required to travel inside EU n

3 min
Passengers arriving from London in Bilbao on Monday.

BrusselsThe European vaccination passport is taking shape. President Urusula Von der Leyen presented the proposal on Wednesday, which has been dubbed a digital green certificate, and which is intended to facilitate mobility in the run-up to the summer and open the door to a new, post-lockdown yet controlled normality. Brussels's proposal is a certificate that authorities will have to issue to all people immunised with one of the four vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA): Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen. It will be free and bilingual (the official language of the state and English) and will also certify negative tests or whether the disease has been overcome. A QR code will ensure its authenticity and validity, and it can be kept digitally or in print.

The creation of this instrument is not without controversy and many governments consider it still premature, considering the low percentage of vaccinated population, 4.2% with two doses and 9.8% with a single dose according to official data from the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC). But pressure from countries dependent on tourism such as Greece, Cyprus, Spain or Italy and also from some Nordic countries that had already launched their own certificates accelerated the debate and also the response of the European Commission, which wanted to avoid lack of coordination and fragmentation in an initiative that should be key to recovering one of the more precious treasures of the Union: the free movement of goods and people. In order for it to be up and running by the summer, however, the Commission is calling on the European Parliament and the 27 member states to approve the proposal as soon as possible

What the new certificate will look like


In view of the scepticism of governments such as Germany and the Netherlands, which consider it premature, Brussels stresses that the measure cannot be discriminatory. The European Commission has also involved the Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, and the Commissioner for Transparency, Vera Jourová, in the creation of this passport to dispel legal, privacy and discriminatory doubts. "All people, vaccinated and unvaccinated, should benefit from the certificate to travel within the EU," says the Commission, which therefore proposes that not only information on vaccines but also PCR or antigen tests and whether the person has recovered from the disease should be taken into account. "It will not be a precondition for travel," says the EU executive, which insists that if a person has not been vaccinated, he or she must still be able to travel, but subject to conditions such as tests or quarantines. Brussels ensures that it will only contain "essential" personal information: name and surname, date of birth and date of issue and information on vaccinations or tests.

What is clear, then, is that the vaccination passport will allow vaccinated people to enjoy fewer restrictions when moving freely in the EU and also to access other services if governments end up deciding it is required, for example, to access cultural events. This, however, is not the Commission's current proposal, which focuses on restoring freedom of movement and therefore also stresses that the certificates cannot be an excuse to introduce border controls but must serve precisely to make it easier to avoid them. Non-essential travel is currently discouraged throughout the EU and in countries like Belgium it is absolutely forbidden.

"With the digital green certificate we can ensure that European citizens and their families can travel safely with minimum restrictions this summer. It will not be a precondition for travel or discriminate in any way. A European approach not only helps us to gradually restore freedom of movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation, it also gives us the opportunity to have a global influence and lead by example on European values such as data protection," said Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders.

With this global will, the European passport, which favours vaccines approved by the EMA, also provides for national governments to accept certificates on immunisation with other vaccines. It should be remembered that in Hungary and Slovakia, for example, the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and also the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine are already being administered. This means that while vaccines accepted by the EMA imply automatic recognition within the EU to allow the lifting of restrictions, a person vaccinated with Sputnik V, for example, will only be able to travel without restrictions to a country that decides to accept this vaccine as well, until the EMA gives the green light. The passport will be valid in all EU states and also Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland and must also be granted to non-EU nationals residing in the EU and visitors who have the right to travel within the Union. In addition, it is intended as a "temporary" measure that would be suspended once the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of the coronavirus pandemic