The European Union (EU) has announced that it plans to introduce a document referred to as a “Green Certificate” to allow safe travel between member states during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The EU Green Certificate will show information about any coronavirus vaccinations or tests the individual has received. Travelers can then use the certificate as proof that they are safe to travel. Officials say the document will be given to all EU citizens and residents without discrimination.
The European Commission (EC), who proposed this digital tool, has offered support to member states in developing and implementing software to verify visitors’ Green Certificates.
The EC has announced that it plans to roll out the program to be ready ahead of the high season for tourism in summer 2021.
What Is the EU Green Certificate?
The Green Certificate will be a document that will prove that the holder is safe to travel in the EU. It will be accepted by border authorities of EU and Schengen member states.
It will be available as both a digital or paper copy. It will have a QR code that will be scanned and verified upon entering another country.
The EC has said that it will be a temporary measure until the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the pandemic over.
There will be 3 types of Green Certificate depending on the medical status of the traveler:
- Vaccination certificates
- Test certificates (NAAT/RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test)
- Certificates proving the holder has recovered from COVID-19
Certificates will be issued in the official language of the EU member country where it is obtained and also in English.
Who can get a Green Certificate?
The Green Certificate will be provided to the following groups of people:
- Citizens of EU countries
- Non-EU nationals residing in member countries
- Visitors who have the right to travel to other EU member states
It will also most likely be available to nationals of the 4 EFTA member countries, who form the Schengen Area with the majority of EU countries. Travelers with the certificate will be able to visit these countries (Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland).
There has also been the suggestion that the Green Certificate may be expanded via bilateral agreements between the EU and close partners outside the bloc, such as the UK.
How much will the Green Certificate cost?
The EU’s Green Certificate will be free, according to the EC. The document will be made available to all citizens and residents of European Union countries in an attempt to reopen travel and tourism around the bloc.
“Green Certificate” Vs “Vaccine Passport”
The Green Certificate for the EU is not a “vaccine passport”, as it is not exclusively available to those who have been vaccinated. This has been a conscious effort to avoid discriminatory measures against those who cannot or have not received a vaccine.
A number of countries around the world have already begun implementing such measures. For example, China recently launched a COVID-19 vaccination passport. Other countries require a travel health certificate to enter.
The idea of a “vaccine passport” for the EU has previously been raised.
The EC has taken care to avoid policies that could be discriminatory, such as mandating vaccines for travel. However, it was agreed that a document was needed to allow travel to reopen with the EU. A standardized format was needed across the entire bloc.
By creating one system that issues certificates for those who have been vaccinated, tested, and/or have recovered from COVID-19, there will be a way for countries dependent on tourism, such as Spain and Greece, to reopen their borders.
According to Vice-President for Values and Transparency, Věra Jourová:
“The Digital Green Certificate offers an EU-wide solution to ensure that EU citizens benefit from a harmonized digital tool to support free movement in the EU. This is a good message in support of recovery. Our key objectives are to offer an easy-to-use, non-discriminatory and secure tool that fully respects data protection. And we continue working towards international convergence with other partners.”
Reopening Travel for Summer with the Green Certificate for Europe
The aim of the Green Certificate scheme is to have the system operational by summer 2021.
The coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the European economy — particularly on countries with a large tourism industry. EU member states around the Mediterranean were hit hard during summer 2020, with the number of visitors falling substantially from previous years.
Hoping to avoid a repeat of that situation, the EC is offering help in implementing the Green Certificate to all members of the European Union and Schengen Area. It has said it will support authorities in each country in developing and implementing software to verify the certificates of incoming travelers.
Freedom of movement is a key tenet of the EU and Schengen Area. Returning to this policy has been a priority for European authorities, while still managing the pandemic.
“We aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner,” said EC president Ursula von der Leyen.
Thanks to the Green Certificate, travel between EU countries in summer 2021 is starting to look like a real possibility.