The return to borderless travel? The EU’s digital Green certificate

Photographer: Etienne Ansotte Source: EC – Audiovisual Service

The European Commission proposed its long-awaited Digital Green Certificate last week. The certificate, which is welcomed by countries that wish to open up their tourist sector this month but despised by anti-vax tweeters that think it’s the EU’s newest strategy to keep everyone prisoner, is meant to facilitate free movement again. This comes after a period of rather restricted movement, with more and more Member States recently stopping travellers at the border.

With the summer months approaching, countries are already setting up bilateral agreements to allow tourists to travel. Romania and Greece are trying to reach an agreement to recognize each other’s vaccine certificates while Austria’s Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, doesn’t even want to wait for the EU travel certificate and is already rolling out one by himself.

It seems the Commission was expecting the rush to open up borders again now that temperatures are increasing. In the proposal, the Commission already refers to the many different documents EU citizens have had to show trying to cross borders and especially points out the lack of a coordinated and standardised approach to requesting documents. ‘Travellers have been asked to provide various types of documentary evidence, such as medical certificates, test results, or declarations. The absence of standardised and secured formats has resulted in travellers experiencing problems in the acceptance of their documents, as well as reports of fraudulent or forged documents being presented’ the proposal says.

The Commission’s proposal should take these problems away. But how?

Firstly, the certificate is meant for everybody, not just for people who have been vaccinated. It will show if you’ve been vaccinated, if you’ve recovered from COVID before and it will show the results of recent COVID tests. A QR code and a digital signature will be used to make sure the certificate is authentic and the Commission will help Member States develop software to make sure all of them can verify the certificates without a problem. According to the proposal, the certificates will be free of charge.

However, it remains to be seen if the Commission can actually fulfil its ambition before summer tourists are blocking the roads in a couple of months. The Council already called in late February for work on a common approach for vaccination certificates to continue, but for the Digital Green Certificate to enter into force, both the Council and the European Parliament will have to have a vote.