EU split over plan for Covid vaccine passports

Southern ‘sun belt’ wants tourism back for summer but other countries say idea is unfair 

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Monday 01 March 2021 19:42 GMT

EU countries are split over plans to introduce a vaccine “pass” that would allow people who have had a jab to bypass coronavirus travel restrictions.

European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen said on Monday she would bring forward legislation for a “digital green pass” later this month.

The proposal was welcomed by summer holiday destinations that rely on tourism such as Spain, Greece and Portugal, but other member states including France and Belgium have warned it could be unfair.

Sophie Wilmès, Belgium’s foreign minister, said there was no question of linking vaccination to the freedom of movement around Europe.

“Respect for the principle of non-discrimination is more fundamental than ever, since vaccination is not compulsory and access to the vaccine is not yet generalised,” she said.

But the commission appears intent on pressing ahead with the idea, arguing that EU freedom of movement is well within the competences delegated to Brussels.

“The aim is to gradually enable them to move safely in the European Union or abroad, for work or tourism,” Ms von der Leyen said.

A spokesperson for the European Commission added that the legislative proposal was “aimed at free movement of people, which is a European competence”.

“We’re of the view that in collaboration with WHO [the World Health Organisation], there should be a way to scale this up globally. We work on a European solution now – this is where we start – and then anything else would need to come after.”

The question of whether the UK could be included in such a system is an open one. EU sources said it was too early to say whether the UK might be affected by the proposals.

“It is early days, and there are many dimensions,” one EU source said, adding: “We cannot answer all questions at this stage.”

Asked about the issue, a Downing Street spokesperson told Westminster journalists: “We’ve said we are looking at the issue of vaccine passports.

“As you can expect, the Department for Transport will work, and do speak to countries across the world in terms of how they may look to introduce passports. But I can’t pre-empt the outcome of that review.”

The commission is expected to publish draft legislation on 17 March on the format of a common EU vaccination certificate, which officials say could include other information such as test results and whether someone had recovered from Covid-19.

Leaders will discuss how the certificates will be used in practice at an EU summit eight days later.

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