BRUSSELS (AP) — With summer looming and tourism-reliant countries anxiously waiting for the return of a steady influx of tourism income amid the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union’s executive body presented a proposal Wednesday that would allow European citizens and residents — vaccinated or not — to travel freely across the 27-nation region by the summer.
The plan, which will be discussed next week during a summit of EU leaders, foresees the creation of vaccine certificates aimed at facilitating travel from one member state to the other.
The topic has been discussed for weeks and proved to be divisive. The travel industry and southern European countries dependent on tourism like Greece and Spain have been pushing for the quick introduction of the measure, which could help avoid quarantines and testing requirements.
But several member states, including France, argued that it would be premature and discriminatory to introduce such passes since a large majority of EU citizens haven’t had access to vaccines so far.
According to data compiled by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, less than 5% of European citizens have been fully vaccinated amid delays in deliveries and production of vaccines. The European Commission, however, remains confident it can achieve its goal that 70% of the EU adult population is vaccinated by the end of the summer.
To secure the adhesion of all member states, the commission proposed that its so-called Digital Green Certificates, which should be free of charge, would be delivered to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated, but also to those who tested negative for the virus or have proof they recovered from it.
“Being vaccinated will not be a precondition to travel,” the commission said. “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 Digital Green Certificate will make it easier to exercise that right, also through testing and recovery certificates.”
The commission proposed that all vaccines rubberstamped by the European Medicines Agency should be automatically recognized, but also offered governments the possibility to include vaccines like Russia’s Sputnik or China’s Sinovac, which haven’t received EU market authorization.
The European Commission guaranteed that “a very high level of data protection will be ensured” and said the certificates will be issued in digital format to be shown either on smartphones or paper.
EU officials also hope that vaccine certificates will convince the member states which have introduced travel restrictions aimed at slowing down the pace of new infections to lift their measures. The EU’s executive arm has previously warned six countries that their travel-limiting measures, which in Belgium go as far as a ban on nonessential trips, could undermine the core EU principle of free travel and damage the single market.
The commission said the certificates should be suspended once the World Health Organization declares the end of the COVID-19 pandemic.
If agreed by the EU leaders, the proposal will need to be approved by EU lawmakers to enter into force.