European experts differ on idea of “green passports” introduction
16 March 2021. PenzaNews. On March 17, the European Commission plans to present a draft vaccination certificate – the so-called “green passport.” Its introduction is expected to facilitate entry and travel within the EU, as well as accelerate the removal of major restrictions imposed due to the threat of the spread of coronavirus infection.
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It is assumed that the “green passport” will contain information about the vaccine against coronavirus, recently received negative results of PCR tests for infection or whether the owner of the document has suffered COVID-19.
The idea of introducing the certificate, which was voiced by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the virtual EU summit held at the end of February, was supported by Greece, Italy, Spain, Slovakia, Croatia and other states.
In Belgium, France, Germany, they are actively raising the issue of citizens' right to free movement within the European Union and believe that it should not depend on whether a person has access to a vaccine.
The leadership of Serbia, which claims to join the EU, completely criticized the idea. President Aleksandar Vucic called the forthcoming decision “completely meaningless, shameful and anti-European.”
Commenting on the initiative to introduce a COVID-19 vaccination certificate, Michael Emerson, Associate Senior Research Fellow at Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), former Ambassador of the EU to Russia, said that when considering this issue, the countries should pay special attention not only to the content, but also to the validity period of the document, and also to appoint an authority responsible for its issuance.
“There are precedents, with the need to show vaccination against some tropical diseases for entry into some tropical countries. Some EU countries already want to go ahead, for example Greece having in mind the exceptional importance of the tourism sector. But the EU Schengen area will want to avoid this becoming a requirement for intra-Schengen travel,” he told PenzaNews.
When asked how the rights of those who could not access the vaccine would be protected, Michael Emerson suggested using an already proven method of testing for COVID-19.
“The simplest alternative would be for travelers to show recent ‘negative’ results from a Covid-19 text. Disadvantage: need to be repeated for each travel,” the expert explained.
Meanwhile, according to him, it is possible that this issue will simply fade away as mass vaccination is established.
In turn Fabio Masini from Department of Political Science at University of Roma Tre, Vice-President Italian Council of the European Movement, Managing Editor History of Economic Thought and Policy, Managing Director International Centre on European and Global Governance, expressed the assumption that the emergence of “green passports” is inevitable, but stressed that he does not support this idea.
“[Certificates will be used] not just to enter the EU, but also to get into some Member States or specific regions of their territories. In Greece, for example, the government is pushing for COVID-free islands, where you are supposed to have access only provided you were vaccinated. Italy is studying something similar, in order to avoid competition from Greece in view of next summer,” he said.
“However, the speed of vaccination is rather uneven across the EU; and not all who would be glad to receive the vaccine will be able to get it before the summer season, thus creating problems of social injustice, very difficult to tackle,” Fabio Masini explained.
He also spoke in favor of using the coronavirus testing method, which, in his opinion, could balance the situation to some extent.
“The only viable alternative, which is actually not an ‘alternative’ but a complementary measure, would be to provide a massive system of high-speed-response tests, freely available to all those who did not have access to the vaccine, in order to allow them free circulation around the EU and valid for at least a fortnight,” the expert added.
Meanwhile, Roberto Castaldi, Research Director of International Centre for European and global governance, Director of the Research Centre on Multi-Level Integration and Governance Processes at eCampus University, believes that “green passports” introduction can be a useful step forward.
“So far there are significant restriction to the free movement of people, even within the EU, the green passport can allow overcoming these restrictions to a certain extent,” he said.
However, in his opinion, the current restrictions should not be relaxed for those who have not yet received the vaccine.
“It is reasonable that the people who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons, allergies etc. will have to respect special rules, like now, regarding quarantine if they want to travel. The same for those who have not been vaccinated yet, as all citizens are supposed to be vaccinated by the end of the summer,” Roberto Castaldi said.
From his point of view, the green passport will be an improvement for many, if not for all.
“It is particularly important in view of the summer season to avoid another collapse of the tourism sector. During the pandemic there are no easy first best solutions available. And as people get vaccinated it is important to find way to re-start the economy, even if this implies a short-term differentiation among those vaccinated and those who are not,” the analyst explained.
In the meantime, Paul Smith, Associate Professor of French and Francophone Studies at School of Cultures, Language and Area Studies, University of Nottingham, noted that Paris, which was quite resistant to the idea when it was raised, has recently been more open about the possibility of introducing a certificate or mobile application that would allow people to travel.
“One of the problems will be rolling out such a passport to populations that have already been vaccinated, given the low take-up rates of track and trace apps in some countries. Another concern is the situation with those who have legitimate objections to the vaccination. The discussion is ongoing. A document for those who have simply tested negative is also being suggested. On the other hand, it is already the case that people who refuse to be vaccinated or refuse to have their children vaccinated, are already banned from sending their children to playgroups etc., so there does not seem to me to be any reason to permit freedom of travel to those who voluntarily reject the possibility of vaccination,” Paul Smith said.
According to him, at the center of the debate today is the issue of how to extend a “green passport” to as many people as possible and thereby get the continent moving again.
“However, legally, the Commission is not competent to do that, even if it is Ursula von der Leyen who is one of the key sponsors of the idea. Ultimately, though, the roll-out would have to be approved by each country individually or by the European Council, not by the Commission,” the expert concluded.