The European Commission proposed on Wednesday to create a “Digital Green Certificate” to facilitate safe, unencumbered travel inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Certificate was an idea proposed by Greece, which together with other Mediterranean nations, have been pushing the EU to adopt the scheme, in order to unlock international travel for the summer holidays.
Greece began issuing a digital vaccination certificate in February for citizens who have received both doses of the coronavirus shot.
The Digital Green Certificate will serve as proof that a person has either been vaccinated against COVID-19, received a negative test result or recovered from COVID-19.
It will be available, free of charge, in digital or paper format.
The document will include a QR code to ensure the security and authenticity of the certificate.
The Commission will build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the EU, and support member states in the technical implementation of the certificates.
Member states remain responsible for deciding which public health restrictions can be waived for travelers but will have to apply such waivers in the same way for travelers holding a Digital Green Certificate.
Let’s find a common path to the safe re-opening of Europe.
This path forward requires a sustainable approach for the benefit of all Europeans.
— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) March 17, 2021
Green Certificate to support free movement
EU Vice-President for Values and Transparency Vera Jourova said “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.”
Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders said that the Certificate will not be a pre-condition to free movement and it will not discriminate in any way.
“A common EU-approach will not only help us to gradually restore free movement within the EU and avoid fragmentation. It is also a chance to influence global standards and lead by example based on our European values like data protection,” he added.
Key elements of the Green COVID-19 Certificate
The Digital Green Certificate will cover three types of certificates -– vaccination certificates, test certificates (NAAT/RT-PCR test or a rapid antigen test), and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
The certificates will be issued in a digital form or on paper. Both will have a QR code that contains necessary key information as well as a digital signature to make sure the certificate is authentic.
The Commission will build a gateway and support Member States to develop software that authorities can use to verify all certificate signatures across the EU. No personal data of the certificate holders passes through the gateway, or is retained by the verifying Member State.
The certificates will be available free of charge and in the official language or languages of the issuing Member State and English.
Need to ensure non-discrimination
All people – vaccinated and non-vaccinated – should benefit from a Digital Green Certificate when traveling in the EU.
To prevent discrimination against individuals who are not vaccinated, the Commission proposes to create not only an interoperable vaccination certificate, but also COVID-19 test certificates and certificates for persons who have recovered from COVID-19.
Under the same right for travelers with the Digital Green Certificate, where member states accept proof of vaccination to waive certain public health restrictions such as testing or quarantine, they would be required to accept, under the same conditions, vaccination certificates issued under the Digital Green Certificate system.
This obligation would be limited to vaccines that have received EU-wide marketing authorization, but member states can decide to accept other vaccines in addition to those.
In addition, if a member state continues to require holders of a Digital Green Certificate to quarantine or test, it must notify the Commission and all other Member States and explain the reasons for such measures.
Essential information only, using secure personal data
The certificates will include a limited set of information such as name, date of birth, date of issuance, relevant information about vaccine/test/recovery and a unique identifier of the certificate.
This data can be checked only to confirm and verify the authenticity and validity of certificates.
The Digital Green Certificate will be valid in all EU Member States and open for Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, as well as Switzerland.
It should be issued to EU citizens and their family members, regardless of their nationality, as well as non-EU nationals who reside in the EU and to visitors who have the right to travel to other member states.
The Digital Green Certificate system is a temporary measure. It will be suspended once the World Health Organization (WHO) declares the end of the COVID-19 international health emergency.
To be ready before the summer, this proposal needs a swift adoption by the European Parliament and the Council.
In parallel, Member States must implement the trust framework and technical standards, agreed in the eHealth network, to ensure timely implementation of the Digital Green Certificate, their interoperability and full compliance with personal data protection.
The aim is to have the technical work and the proposal completed in the coming months.
Background of the Green COVID-19 Certificate
To comply with the measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, travelers in the EU have been asked to provide various documents, such as medical certificates, test results, or declarations.
The absence of standardized formats has resulted in travelers experiencing problems when moving within the EU. There have also been reports of fraudulent or forged documents.
In their statement adopted following the informal video conferences on February 25 and 26, 2021, the members of the European Council called for work to continue on a common approach to vaccination certificates.
The Commission has been working with the Member States in the eHealth Network, a voluntary network connecting national authorities responsible for eHealth, on preparing the interoperability of vaccination certificates.
Guidelines were adopted on January 27 and updated on March 12, and the trust framework outline was agreed on March 12, 2021.
On March 17, the Commission adopted a legislative proposal establishing a common framework for the Digital Green Certificate.