The European Parliament voted down the modification to the upcoming “vaccine passport” law that would have required the automatic authorization of vaccines not approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) throughout the European Union. In reaction to the decision, Hungary has decided to open up opportunities for bilateral travel agreements with other nations in order to bypass the requirement, which will take a while to come into EU law.
The European Parliament has decided to begin discussions with the European Commission and the Council of Europe regarding the European Union’s digital green certificate system, with some representatives saying the document should be called a Covid-19 certificate.
EP Excludes Non-EMA Vaccines From Recognition
Unfortunately for Hungary, the majority of the European Parliament voted down the modification that would have required non-EMA approved vaccines to be automatically and reciprocally recognized for travel by member states, in the same way that EMA approved vaccines will be.
Representing liberal Momentum and the joint opposition parties in Hungary, member of the European Parliament Anna Donáth criticized
the EP’s decision to restrict automatic recognition only to EMA approved vaccines. She argued that “differences between vaccines cannot be created on a European level, since these would create differences between people.”
While no final decision has been made, members of the European Parliament have agreed that the certificate would be accessible to people who have been vaccinated, have recovered from the coronavirus, or have a fresh negative Covid test.
The ruling does not exclude people who choose not to get vaccinated, but in these cases member states would be allowed to require them to go into quarantine or take mandatory tests, which immunity certificate holders would be exempted from.
A Wrench in Hungary’s Travel Plans?
Member states are only required to accept immunity certificates if they contain vaccination with an EMA approved vaccine. This could complicate plans in Hungary, where the Chinese Sinopharm and the Russian Sputnik V vaccines are key parts of the inoculation program, but neither of the two are authorized by EMA.
Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás made Hungary’s stance towards the exclusion clear at the beginning of March. The Minister said then that countries must accept one another’s vaccine certificates based on reciprocity, and that if they would not, “then on the basis of reciprocity Hungary will not accept the certificates of countries which do not accept those of Hungary.”
This route will no longer be viable for Hungary, since it will, based on recent EP decisions, be required by EU law to recognize the vaccines of other member states, whether they accept Hungarian certificates or not.
Even those vaccinated with EMA approved vaccines in Hungary will be treated the same way, since the Hungarian government decided to remove the vaccine types used for inoculation in all of its immunity certificates.
Hungary’s New Strategy for Opening Its Borders
Gulyás addressed this complication in the government’s most recent press conference on Thursday. Once Hungary reaches 4 million inoculations, he said, it will open its borders to whichever country wishes to make a bilateral travel agreement with Hungary.
If the two governments come to such a travel agreement, their immunized citizens will be allowed to move freely between their borders. This means that foreign citizens of such countries will be allowed to enter Hungary free of quarantine, while immunized Hungarians will be allowed to travel to those countries free of quarantine as well.
Such bilateral agreements would be in effect until the European Parliament official legislates its vaccine passport system, which will likely involve a lengthy process.
Hungary Already Has Vaccine Passport Agreements
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó announced on Facebook that Hungary already has bilateral quarantine and test-free travel agreements lined up with various EU and non-EU countries.
Based on his post, it so far appears that Hungary has already made agreements with Serbia and Montenegro to recognize one-another’s immunity certificates. He has also announced that Hungary is negotiating such agreements with Greece and Israel as well.
Hungary provides immunity certificates to Hungarians who have received their first jab of a coronavirus vaccine or have recovered from the virus. The document for vaccinated people has no expiry date, but it expires after six months for people who have only recovered from the virus.
The liberal approach of handing out immunity cards to people who have only received one jab may be risky, since the level of immunity a single Covid vaccine jab provides is lower than that provided by a full, two-jab inoculation. The length of time for immunity following vaccination is also unknown.
Featured photo illustration by Tibor Rosta/MTI