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Digital proof of vaccination: MEPs warn of huge traffic jams

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The practicability and efficiency of the planned digital proof of vaccinations against Covid-19, test results and survived infections with Sars-Cov-2 in Europe are not yet entirely clear to many MEPs. Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs covered Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski with so many questions during an initial debate on the draft regulation on Tuesday that they exceeded the time frame of the meeting and still did not have many answers got.

Jeroen Lenaers from the conservative group of the European People’s Party (EPP) welcomed the Commission’s approach to facilitate freedom of travel again towards the summer. It should make it easy for citizens to show that they meet the necessary conditions. The planned “digital green certificate” must reflect new scientific findings, for example on antibodies, and be internationally interoperable. In addition, the Commission should not wait for the World Health Organization to declare the end of the corona pandemic in order to restore full freedom of movement. It was also unclear to the Dutch how the evidence should be adequately protected against forgeries.

The social democrat Birgit Sippel wanted to know whether the member states could not use the certificate for other purposes and whether the auditing authorities could create profiles about the users. The Council of Ministers is already putting pressure on “more flexibility” around the use of the instrument. What will happen with the data collected after the pandemic is also not clear from the draft.

Will it really be the case that citizens would be allowed through at the border even if they did not have a certificate? Liberal Sophie in ‘t Veld was concerned with this question as well as with the interoperability of the tool with national systems, on the basis of which interested parties could return to museums, restaurants or concerts. The representative of the Renew group asked the Commission for a proposal for easy-to-use and free tests. As with roaming, upper price limits would have to be set by the provider. In addition, it is a mystery to her how all traffic points should be equipped with reading devices.

For the Greens, Tineke Strik signaled to support the initiative in principle. However, data protection and the principle of non-discrimination still need to be strengthened. For the conservatives and reformers, Nicola Procaccini underlined that the EU countries should not demand further measures such as additional tests and quarantine.

Die Linke Cornelia Ernst found it irritating to speak of a digital certificate when analogue evidence should also apply. It is incomprehensible why the instrument is linked to the Schengen area if it is supposed to get by without border controls. In view of the 12 million daily commuters between member states and many truck drivers alone, she fears “huge traffic jams like in the Suez Canal”, since border crossings would somehow have to be checked. The German is also concerned that, for example, people who already had Covid-19 but did not have antibodies fell through the grid.

Justice Commissioner Reynders countered that no new national border controls should come. The free certificate embeds additional factors but less data than a vaccination card. It will help, for example, at the airport to “avoid long discussions at the gate”. The same conditions for freedom of movement should apply to all EU citizens as soon as the member states relaxed the lockdown. For purposes of use other than the freedom to travel, states would need their own law, which would have to be in full compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Reynders warned against building a separate national system as this would only lead to fragmentation and additional hurdles for citizens. It should also be possible to travel without a vaccination and a certificate.