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Greece First in Line to Give COVID-19 Green Passports, EU Dawdles

May 2, 2021

Greece will use its own idea to issue certificates on passports showing travelers are free of COVID-19 – with proof of vaccinations or negative tests – as it opens to tourists while the European Union is still quibbling about what to do.

The typical waffling by the EU, which requires unanimous consensus among its 27 member states, means there likely won't be a bloc-wide COVID-19 pass for the summer until deep into the summer, too late for many countries to get visitors.

The EU said Greece can go ahead with the scheme that was first recommended by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis months earlier, the EU standing pat and indecisive about how to proceed, which has also delayed an economic recovery.

The official, not named, said EU countries were divided into three groups based on how technically ready they are to issue certificates, while trials are expected to begin in the second week of May, said Greece's state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency (ANA-MPA).

Apart from Greece, countries belonging to the first group include Spain, Italy, Malta, Bulgaria, Estonia and Luxembourg. Cyprus is in the second group and will carry out tests a little later, still in lockdown for now.

The green digital certificate will be technically ready on June 1 and will operate fully on June 30, the official said, far past the date when many international travelers make their summer plans, another blow for economies.

EU lawmakers said the certificates should allow summer travel but that's at odds with the European Commission that still can't make up its mind about how proceed under President Ursula von der Leyen.

EU legislators said in their negotiating position on the European Commission’s proposal that EU governments shouldn’t impose quarantines, tests or self-isolation measures on certificate holders.

The EU’s executive arm proposed last month that the certificates would be delivered to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated, and also to those who tested negative for the virus or have proof they recovered from it.

The European Commission’s goal is to boost travel from one member state to another during the pandemic. But since border control is a competence of member states, each of the 27 EU countries will remain entitled to add extra requirements for entry.

STILL BICKERING

“What’s the point in having a common European scheme if then member states can, whenever they feel like it, ignore the certificate and impose additional restrictions?” lawmaker Sophie in ‘t Veld said during the debate. “Citizens want their rights, they want their freedom, they want to travel.”

Negotiations between the European Parliament and the European Council can start, with the goal of having a deal approved in June, before the summer season although that is the summer.

In their resolution, EU lawmakers added that member states should “ensure universal, accessible, timely and free-of-charge testing” to avoid discrimination against those who have yet to be vaccinated and will travel on the basis on PCR tests.

The European Commission said about 70 percent of the adult population will be vaccinated by the end of the summer, although it hasn't been able to deliver enough doses and by then it will be too late to help tourist-reliant countries.

In March, the European Commission proposed that the certificates should be suspended once the World Health Organization declares the end of the COVID-19 pandemic although no one has any idea when that might be.

Legislators said they should be in place for a maximum of 12 months and will “neither serve as a travel document nor become a precondition to exercise the right to free movement.”

“Member states must coordinate their response in a safe manner and ensure the free movement of citizens within the EU,” said Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the chair of the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee. “Vaccines and tests must be accessible and free for all citizens.”

The EU lawmakers agreed with the European Commission’s proposal that all vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA)hould be recognized. They also offered EU countries the possibility to include other vaccines listed by WHO for emergency use as well, even without EMA OK.

The European Parliament’s main demand is that the certificate should apply only to people inoculated with the vaccines approved by the EMA, which would exclude Hungary and Slovania, who allow use of Russia's Sputnik V.

Hungary has also used China’s Sinopharm vaccine which is considered to be dubious at best and unaccepted by the EMA, the other 26 EU countries prohibiting its use so far.

The European Council, made up of the heads of state, want countries to make their own choices, undercutting the whole principle of the EU which has bent to the will of authoritarian leaders such as Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban.

While the COVID-19 certificate will primarily be used for travel within the EU, it will be up to each member-state to require it domestically, for example, to admit people in restaurants or cinemas, said Kathimerini.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)

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