The EU Parliament has voted in favour of a new EU COVID-19 certificate to ease the free movement of people within the EU, although it warned that citizens’ privacy rights must be respected by, among others, ensuring that the data is not held centrally.

The EU COVID-19 certificate as proposed by the European Parliament (EP) is different to the Digital Green Certificate proposed by the European Commission (EC).

The certificate, which may be in digital or paper format, would attest that a person has been vaccinated against coronavirus or, alternatively, that they have a recent negative test result or have recovered from the infection.

However, the EP insisted that the proposed certificate neither serves as a travel document nor becomes a precondition to exercise the right to free movement.

Additionally, MEPs demanded that it only be in place for 12 months and no longer.

The EP proposes that holders of an EU COVID-19 certificate should not be subject to additional travel restrictions, such as quarantine, self-isolation or testing.

MEPs also stress that, in order to avoid discrimination against those not vaccinated and for economic reasons, EU countries should “ensure universal, accessible, timely and free of charge testing”.

The EU certificate should work alongside any initiative set up by the Member States, which should also respect the same common legal framework.

Member States must accept vaccination certificates issued in other Member States for persons inoculated with a vaccine authorised for use in the EU by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) (currently Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen), MEPs say.

It will be up to individual countries to decide whether they also accept vaccination certificates issued in other member states for vaccines listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for emergency use.

The certificates will be verified to prevent fraud and forgery, as will the authenticity of the electronic seals included in the document.

Personal data obtained from the certificates cannot be stored in destination member states and there will be no central database established at EU level, while the list of entities that will process and receive data will be public so that citizens can exercise their data protection rights under the General Data Protection Regulation.

MEPs also underlined that COVID-19 vaccines need to be produced at scale, priced affordably and allocated globally . They also voiced concern about the serious problems caused by companies not complying with production and delivery schedules.

The proposal was backed by 540 votes, with 119 MEPs voting against and 31 abstaining.

A similar proposal for certificates for third-country nationals passed with 540 votes to 80 and 70 abstentions.

Following the vote in plenary, Juan Fernando López Aguilar (S&D, ES), Chair of the Civil Liberties Committee and rapporteur, said that “We need to put in place the EU COVID-19 Certificate to re-establish people’s confidence in Schengen while we continue to fight against the pandemic.”

“Member states must coordinate their response in a safe manner and ensure the free movement of citizens within the EU. Vaccines and tests must be accessible and free for all citizens. Member States should not introduce further restrictions once the certificate is in force.”

The vote took place on Wednesday, with results announced on Thursday morning.

Both Parliament and Council are now ready to begin negotiations, aim to reach an agreement ahead of the summer tourist season.

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