EU Digital COVID Certificate: we will be able to travel again

Yesterday the European Parliament signed off the deal agreed with national governments on the EU Digital COVID Certificate previously known as the Digital Green Certificate. The Certificate is set to waive travel restrictions for those who have been vaccinated, have recovered from the virus, or can show a negative COVID-19 test. During the whole length of this legislative process, Euroconsumers has advocated for consumers’ right to free movement to be fully regained. The adoption of the EU Digital COVID Certificate is a good step forward to make sure citizens will be able to travel across borders again. However the success of this new tool will greatly depend on the good will of individual Member States. Will they live up to the commitment they made to ensure the Certificate makes cross-border travel easier and that it doesn’t discriminate against the non vaccinated? Euroconsumers and its member organisations will keep on making sure of it.

A deal to ensure we can travel within Europe this summer despite COVID-19

After intense negotiations and a real uncertainty about whether common ground could be found at EU level, Euroconsumers is relieved that a deal was finally reached on the EU Digital COVID Certificate. The proposal for a Certificate was born to find a way to facilitate free movement during summer, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, in a context of a proliferation of unilateral border restrictions and mutual distrust among Member States. Although the entirety of consumers’ concerns that were defended by the European Parliament were not translated into the final agreement, a no deal would have damaged the European Union’s credibility and further hurt citizens’ fundamental right to free movement.

EU States commit not to put in place further restrictions unless strictly necessary for public health reasons

The adopted text on the EU Digital COVID Certificate will help free movement by ensuring that Member States’ restrictions currently in place can be lifted in a coordinated manner. In principle, consumers who travel with the Certificate should be exempted from further restrictions such as quarantine. The text suggests that Member States should only impose travel restrictions on the holder of an EU Digital COVID Certificate if those are necessary and proportionate to preserve public health. Such exemptions would apply for example when there is a variant outbreak. If this happens, Member States will be obliged to notify the Commission and all other Member States and explain their decision to impose further restrictive measures.

Extra requirements on top of the Certificate will still depend on the good will of Member States

Euroconsumers has tirelessly advocated for no additional restrictive measures to be imposed to those holding an EU Digital COVID Certificate. Such provision was accepted by EU Ministers after intense negotiations with the European Parliament. Euroconsumers and its members will continue to closely monitor whether Member States stick to their commitment to respect the EU Digital COVID Certificate and only add requirements if strictly necessary for obvious public health reasons.

The EU has committed to making COVID-19 tests ‘affordable’ but will Member states deliver?

Euroconsumers has led an intensive campaign to ask for tests to be free of charge. The agreed text on the EU Digital COVID Certificate aims instead at affordability. Despite strong calls from other consumer organisations and the European Parliament to tests being made available free of charge, Member States have only agreed to the affordability of testing as an objective. The European Commission will put forward 100 million euros to support that objective and we understand rapid antigen tests are thought to play a key role to support it.

The current divergence of test prices across the EU creates unequal access to travel, at the cost of the less fortunate and the youngest. It is now up to Member States to make sure those who haven’t received a vaccine yet are not discriminated against by this reform having to pay for expensive tests just to cross a border.

Still a few unclear aspects on the EU Digital COVID Certificate

Euroconsumers has identified a number of unclear points in the proposed Certificate that risk making it complex to use and discriminatory against parts of the population:

Number of vaccine doses required to get the Certificate

We understand that Member States will be free to choose if consumers who only got one dose of a two-dose vaccine are to be accepted into their country without an additional COVID test. Given it is highly uncertain that most adults will have a chance to be fully vaccinated by the time they go on holiday, that means the most used option to get the Certificate is still likely to be a negative COVID test.

Rapid antigen tests vs PCR tests

Officially, rapid antigen tests are also set to be accepted to get a Certificate, as long as they are carried out less than 48 hours before departure. Rapid antigen tests are usually cheaper than PCR tests. They could therefore be a tool to ensure affordability of tests. However, it remains unclear if all Member States will accept rapid antigen tests.

What about children?  

The text of the EU DIgital COVID Certificate seems to have forgotten that children will need to travel this summer. The only option left for them in the text is to have a COVID test.

The European Commission has made an attempt at clarifying some of these points in a recently proposed update to the Council recommendation on a coordinated approach to the restriction of free movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. EU ambassadors will be looking at the deal in the coming days, after which we will hopefully have a full picture of what to expect this summer. Stay tuned as we will continue to update you on what will be possible to do for your summer holidays!