The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in all sectors of the global economy, not least the tourism industry. With an estimated loss of circa €1 billion per month, the EU tourism industry which employed some 13 million people pre-pandemic, is literally on its knees. While Malta is no exception to this unprecedented worldwide scenario, and despite relying heavily on the tourism industry, it’s fair to say that the Maltese Government has managed to alleviate some of the effects of the pandemic.
Apart from hugging our loved ones, returning to our traditional offices and getting rid of the face mask, travelling is for sure the topmost priority on everyone’s post-COVID agenda, with hotels and tourism businesses hoping for what is being referred to as post-COVID revenge travelling.
Talks about a “safe European corridor” or a “COVID passport” have been ongoing for over a year in Brussels and although many view it as a lifesaver for the European economy, we have seen opposing views on how to implement it, whether it will hinder freedom of movement and even on its name!
The Council of the EU has approved the Commission’s legislative proposal for a “Digital Green Certificate” earlier in April. The certificate establishes a framework through which all EU citizens can be able to move freely across the bloc by providing evidence that they have been vaccinated, have recently tested negative or have COVID-19 antibodies. The proposal sets out the guidelines and it will then be up to individual Member States to specify the conditions according to their current situation.
EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders confirmed that this Certificate will become operational by June, following this week’s Parliament’s assent.
Passport – Certificate…what’s in a name?
Originally, the idea envisaged an EU COVID passport that would allow holders to travel across the bloc, similar to our regular passport. Southern EU Member States including Malta, whose economies have been adversely affected by the pandemic have pushed the idea of having a document that would restart their tourism industries in a safe manner.
Yet the “passport” idea was met with harsh criticism from other Member States, particularly Nordic countries and France who claimed that such passport would be discriminatory especially when most Member States were lagging behind in their vaccination rollout. It would have been discriminatory to prohibit non-vaccinated EU citizens against those residing in other Member States whose vaccination rollout was quicker.
This was also criticised by the WHO claiming that certification should not be a pre-condition to travel.
Perhaps the most vociferous opposition came from Freedom of Movement advocates who claimed that a COVID passport would hinder Freedom of Movement, a fundamental principle of the European Union.
Within the European Parliament, Political groups, especially those on the left of the political spectrum, have strongly argued that in the Schengen Area, no passport is needed to travel and no new passport is to be introduced.
“Freedom of movement of citizens across the European Union is a fundamental value to citizens and we must protect it,” a source in the Socialist and Democrats told TheJournal.mt.
The European Parliament in its emergency discussions on this certificate was also united also in changing the name of the certificate itself. Arguing that the word ‘green’ is out of place since this term should be used for other positive issues the European Union is working on, including the just environmental transition, it also is bewildered at the word ‘digital’ in the title, since for many it will be in paper format.
For those reasons, the European Parliament agreed to the term ‘EU COVID Certificate’ instead.
So how will it work?
EU citizens will be provided with an individual digital certificate containing a QR code issued by the health authorities, which they could be asked to present to be able to travel to another Member State. A paper version may also be requested.
The certificate contains proof that the individual has been
- Received a negative PCR test; or
- Recovered from COVID 19
Holders of the certificate cannot be forced to quarantine and are free to travel safely within the EU.
Details on how each Member State will be implementing this certificate are still scant, nevertheless, a number of Member States, such as France, have started testing a new app which will be incorporated into the EU-wide scheme.
France is testing its new app on travel to Corsica and its other overseas territories. Denmark and the Netherlands have also confirmed that they are working on developing their apps in similar fashion.
Will this be a permanent requirement?
No, the European Parliament agreed that this interim solution will be valid only for one year and that from summer 2022, certification would not be needed any longer. Albeit, it states that any decisions after that would need to be taken based on scientific evidence at the time.
It seems that there might be light at the end of the EuroTunnel after all and we will be able to travel safely again in the coming months. Have you started packing yet?