By Gerardo Fortuna
(EurActiv) — EU-27 ambassadors gave the go-ahead on Wednesday (14 April) to the Council’s position in the upcoming negotiations with the European Parliament on the Digital green certificates, a tool conceived by the European Commission to ease travel restrictions in the summer season despite the pandemic.
In the approved mandate to start talks with EU lawmakers, member states aim at retaining the possibility to process personal data collected even for non-travel purposes.
The green certificates are expected to provide evidence that people have been vaccinated, tested negative or recovered from COVID, enabling them to travel freely within the EU while staying safe.
The timeline to approve the regulation – which requires an agreement between the European Parliament and Council – is particularly tight, as the goal is to have the certification system up and running before the summer.
The Council voted to introduce new aspects concerning the use of personal data collected, adding in its negotiating mandate that data may be processed for other purposes, including retention periods.
In a hearing with justice Commissioner Didier Reynders on Tuesday, several MEPs raised concerns about such potential non-travel uses of the green certificates.
“Our proposal does not create a legal basis for uses in the member states other than free movement and this is clearly spelled out in the proposal,” Reynders told lawmakers.
He added that the legal basis for processing such data has to be provided for in a national law, which must comply with the strict EU data protection legislation.
Another potential clash between the Council and the Commission involves the duration of the provision, as the EU executive envisages suspending its application once the World Health Organisation (WHO) declares the pandemic over.
“We preferred that approach rather than adopting a specific time period, which would be arbitrary given that we don’t know how long the pandemic will last at this stage,” Reynders explained.
However, EU countries proposed a fixed application time of 12 months from the date of its entry into force.
Not a passport
To reinforce the concept that the green certificates must not be considered a second passport, the Council agreed to include the text “This certificate is not a travel document” at the bottom of each document.
EU ambassadors also proposed to amend the regulation by adding the wording “possession of a Digital Green Certificate shall not be a precondition to exercise free movement rights.”
Likewise, they insisted that the right to impose or waive restrictions on free movement put in place is a national competence, as well as the use of certificates in view or lifting such restrictions.
Another addition requested by the member states involves a transitional period of six weeks after the entry into force of the regulation, when countries should be allowed to keep using their own systems.
Contacted by EURACTIV, a Parliament source confirmed that the final vote in the plenary has been scheduled for the next plenary session due on 26-29 April.
MEPs decided to trigger the clause in the Parliament’s rules of procedure that allows for faster parliamentary scrutiny of a Commission proposal, as the timeline to approve the regulation is particularly tight.
Since there will be no report from the relevant parliamentary committee, the negotiator on behalf of the Parliament will be the chair of the civil rights committee (LIBE), Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar.
Giedre Peseckyte contributed to the reporting.