The European commission has unveiled a “digital green certificate” that could allow EU citizens who have been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from Covid-19 to travel more freely within the bloc this summer.
The plan would also allow southern states such as Spain, Greece and Portugal, whose economies are most reliant on tourism, to make bilateral arrangements with non-EU members – including Britain – providing the deals are approved by the commission.
“We aim to help member states reinstate the freedom of movement in a safe, responsible and trusted manner,” the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, said as the scheme was unveiled on Wednesday.
The digital document, containing a QR code and carried on a mobile phone, has deliberately not been called a “vaccine passport” because some member states felt that would discriminate against those who had not yet been offered a shot.
Commission officials have been at at pains to stress it should be considered as a common framework to help national governments manage intra-bloc travel as vaccination programmes advance and restrictions gradually ease.
The certificate, which may yet face stiff resistance from some members states, is “not a passport … but a document that will describe the medical situation of the individuals who hold it”, commission spokesman Eric Mamer said.
The plan stresses that it “cannot be a pre-condition to exercise free movement rights, nor can it be a pre-condition for using cross-border passenger transport services such as airlines, trains, coaches or ferries”.
The certificate, should mean travellers will not need to quarantine, would be available to all citizens who can provide evidence that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have recently tested negative, or have acquired antibodies after recovering from the virus.
It follows several months of lobbying for a common, Europe-wide system aimed at easing free movement within the bloc, led by southern European holiday destinations whose economies have been devastated by the pandemic.
Some indicated they might otherwise have opened their borders unilaterally, with Greece saying last month it was in “technical talks” with the UK over a scheme to allow vaccinated Britons to travel to its tourist hotspots despite concerns in Brussels.
Cyprus also said last week it would allow fully-vaccinated Britons in as early as 1 May, although the British government has said it will not be lifting its ban on non-essential travel before 17 May. Portugal has said it hopes to welcome Britons from that date.
Divisions have also arisen over how to deal with vaccines, such as Russia’s Sputnik V and the Chinese Sinovac and Sinopharm shots, that have not yet been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) for use in the bloc.
Some EU countries, such as Hungary, have allowed inoculation with Russian and Chinese vaccines. The commission’s plan, which it hopes will be approved by national governments and the European parliament by mid-June, says all vaccines approved by the EMA should be automatically recognised by member states.
But governments will also be able to decide unilaterally whether they also want to authorise non EMA-approved shots, meaning countries that rely heavily on tourism will be able to allow travellers with Russian or Chinese to enter if they choose.
Despite a sluggish rollout so far, the EU aims to vaccinate three-quarters of its adult population by the end of summer and officials remain hopeful that if national delivery speeds up, many restrictions could be lifted in time for the holidays.