European Union lawmakers and member states on Thursday reached an agreement that would allow anyone in the bloc to obtain a digital proof of coronavirus vaccination status, COVID test results, or recovery from an infection.
Called "green certificates" by the European Commission, the travel pass is designed to allow restriction-free travel within the EU ahead of the busy summer tourist season.
“In a couple of weeks, we will have a unified European digital COVID certificate, which will be recognized all over the EU and will massively simplify cross-border traveling," said Jeroen Lenaers, MEP from the center-right European People's Party bloc, the largest in the European Parliament, which had spearheaded the initiative.
"It is a major success that we have prevented contradictory national procedures and certificates," he added.
How will the pass work?
The travel pass will be a QR code on a smartphone or printed on paper.
By accepting the travel pass, member states agree to drop additional travel restrictions, such as further testing or quarantine, unless the measures are necessary.
"This is an important step towards restarting EU free movement as safely as possible, while providing clarity and certainty for our citizens," said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides.
France, Malta and the Netherlands will be the first EU countries to test out the scheme.
The pilot run involves making sure the digital authentication keys work properly, and the passes are interoperable across systems of different countries.
What held up the deal?
The EPP said in a statement that negotiations between the Parliament and member states were complicated "because the Parliament wanted to make it easier for citizens to travel freely again, while the national governments wanted to preserve their national competencies."
As border controls are a national responsibility, EU member states had been reluctant to give up control.
Some also raised concerns about fairness, with only around 10% of EU citizens currently vaccinated, although that figure is now rising rapidly in much of the bloc.
The plan also called for tests to be provided free of charge, and the Commission eased member states' concerns by pledging to set aside €100 million ($122 million) to purchase COVID tests compatible with the certificates.
Thursday's agreement will still have to be approved at the next European Parliament plenary session set for June 7.
wmr/msh (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)