MEPs call for free PCR tests and vaccination certificateas to avoid quarantine
Commission recalls price of tests is decided by each state and calls for debate on uses of certificate to be put on hold
BrusselsThe negotiations begin. The European Parliament on Wednesday set out its negotiating position on what the European digital vaccination certificate proposed by the European Commission a few weeks ago should look like and what it should be used for. MEPs are calling for the certificate to avoid quarantine and for travel PCRs to be free of charge, as well as being very cautious about data privacy. But both the European Commission and the EU governments represented in the Council qualify these demands and, therefore, will negotiate three-way from now with the aim of reaching an agreement in the coming weeks so that the certificate can come into force in June. Although the position of MEPs is clear, the result of the vote will not be known until Thursday.
The creation and possible implementation of this certificate is a complex and nuanced debate. To begin with, the European Commission proposed a digital certificate (not a passport) that would serve strictly to collect all the data requested at borders without discussing its uses. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders on Wednesday said "the Commission is proposing to keep the certificate and its possible uses separate for the time being. We should not get bogged down in discussions on whether or not to lift restrictions for certificate holders," he explained, and insisted that there is still a lack of scientific evidence on the contagiousness of vaccinated people, especially given the virulence of the new variants.
At the government level there are also discrepancies. When they set their position they stressed that it is their competence to implement quarantines or impose restrictions on travellers even if they are vaccinated, although countries like Spain and Greece, eager for tourists, have already said they intend to give free passage to immunised people. On this issue, there is yet another position to consider. The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) first issued a recommendation last week to start easing measures for vaccinated people and, among its proposals, gives governments the green light to exempt vaccinated travellers from quarantine.
The European Parliament, the Commission and the Council must also address discrimination that the use of the certificate may cause, especially in the economic field. In this case the position of the European Parliament is strong in favour of free compulsory PCR tests, which has backing from some governments. "The prices are prohibitive in some countries," said Juan Fernando López Aguilar, chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs. Ana Paula Zacarias, Portugal's Secretary of State for European Affairs, said that "they are aware of the importance of eliminating or reducing" the costs of the tests and said that European funds could be used to guarantee this. On the other hand, Reynders, who also believes that PCRs have to be "economical", recalled that it is a state competence: "The reimbursement of medical costs falls within the competence of governments, it is a complicated issue with many public and private actors involved".
This is at this point the situation of the debate on a digital certificate that should come into force in June. From now on, the three parties will discuss it during May with the aim of reaching a joint position in a tug-of-war over the competences of each EU institution. However, although the vaccination brings hope, the European Commission and Council have asked for caution, especially when it comes to managing the "expectations" of a citizenry that has to assume that this summer will not be normal yet.