The planned immunity certificate system of the European Union could face irrelevance as various member states, among them Hungary, are introducing their own solutions to allowing vaccinated people to travel, either internationally or domestically. While the main concern is that the development of the European database is taking too long, Hungary’s use of bilateral agreements could likely be tied to its licensing of vaccines not authorized by the European Medicines Agency.
European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders stated to the European Parliament that member states impede on the effectiveness of a single, joint vaccination certification system if they introduce their own vaccination certificates.
We would risk having a variety of documents that cannot be read and verified in other member states. And we risk the spread of forged documents, and with it, the spread of both the virus and the mistrust of citizens.”
Italian prime minister Mario Draghi said that Europe needs clear and simple rules for travel. Italy has allegedly been waiting for the green certificate’s finalization by the second half of June and has already created its immunity certificate for travel within the union.
It would be especially important for Draghi that tourism return this summer, considering that it accounted for 13 percent of Italy’s GDP before the pandemic.
Southern Europe is hopeful that it will be able to secure large numbers of tourists for the summer, but analysts are fearful that the various credentials of different member states will create overcomplicated technical issues.
A specific date for beginning such continental travel is also slightly worrying, since countries with fewer people vaccinated and worse pandemic conditions may not be ready to reopen.
There are also concerns over those who are not vaccinated. Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin believes the continent is limiting the freedom of people who are not yet vaccinated, while the World Health Organization worries that vaccine passports may altogether not be a good idea since those who have been inoculated could still spread the virus.
EU Vaccine Passport Too Slow
Countries around Europe have begun taking matters into their own hands, realizing that the universal registry system will take too long for their preference, and possible worrying that they will fall behind other nations if they wait for it.
The finalization of a Europe-wide system requires consensus from significantly more actors, and due to its scale, its completion is impeded by a long political and bureaucratic process.
Officials of the European Commission stated that the union’s system would enter testing next month, but the various nations of the European Union have already begun their own systems of ensuring that their citizens can travel following vaccination.
Member States Act Autonomously From the Union
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that he would like it if a unifying certification for all of Europe would be created quickly, but he fears that this wish will not become a reality anytime soon.
According to the chancellor, the union would complete its vaccination certificate during the summer, which is too late for Austria, tourism needs to kick in much sooner.
Kurz announced certification for Austrians who have been vaccinated, tested, or had recovered from the coronavirus.
Greece, Iceland, and Croatia have all started opening up their borders to vaccinated tourists from the United States, Britain, Israel, and the European Union, not requiring quarantine. Croatia, for example, allows tourists to register their vaccinations online in order to receive a Croatian immunity document.
Opportunities for bilateral recognition of immunity certificates for travel, regardless of the European Union, have become much more popular recently as well.
Bilateral Agreements to Replace European Registry?
Following Romania and Hungary’s agreement to recognize each other’s immunity certificates, Romanian Prime Minister Florin Cîțu said that they are willing to accept any EU member state’s vaccination certificates, and that they do not see why other countries would not recognize theirs.
These bilateral agreements are especially relevant to Hungary, which has been able to secure several of them after the European Parliament voted not to automatically authorize non-European Medicines Agency approved vaccines.
Hungary has made agreements with Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Slovenia, Bahrain, Romania, and is continuing negotiations with, according to Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás, “a countless number of countries.”
Such travel negotiations offer Hungary a solution to its use of Non-EMA approved vaccines, and the more countries it finalizes such agreements with, the less meaning it will have to follow the union’s proposed green certificate system.
It is possible that this mosaic of various preexisting agreements in the EU will complicate the universal vaccination registry system into a bureaucratic nightmare, but it is understandable that member-states want a solution sooner, rather than later.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI