What's Belgium's problem with vaccination passports?

What's Belgium's problem with vaccination passports?
Credit: Belga

While the EU's 'vaccination passport' remains a top priority for many - mostly southern - European countries, Belgium remains hesitant about the digital certificate.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo has repeated several times that he is not in favour of a vaccination certificate (or 'Digital Green Pass', as the EU calls it) granting privileges to people who have been vaccinated.

While he is in favour of Europe-wide coordination to facilitate travel with those certificates and shared techonology, he stressed that vaccination campaigns are not yet advanced enough for a certificate.

“It’s really not a good idea to start granting such privileges in this situation," De Croo said at an EU summit at the end of February. "Certainly not because the active population, the people who travel, are barely vaccinated.”

His main concern is that such a passport would cause a divide between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, but he also added that it is not yet certain whether or not vaccinated people are less infectious.

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Foreign Affairs Minister Sophie Wilmès also stated that linking vaccination to freedom of movement was "out of the question" for Belgium, referring to the fact that vaccination was not mandatory and that Covid-19 tests could offer the necessary filer.

“Respect for the principle of non-discrimination is all the more fundamental because vaccination is not compulsory and there is not yet universal access to the vaccine," she added.

According to the European Commission, the different Member States will be ready with the necessary technological preparations - with respect for data privacy - to make the various Member States’ systems “interoperable.”

After the technical hurdles, the passport - which could also allow vaccinated people access to events or restaurants - could be in place by the summer.

Belgium's travel sector is in favour of such a certificate, as they believe a uniform EU certificate gives politicians the chance to partly save the summer season, according to spokesperson for the ‘SOS Travel #Save or Sink’ group, Christel Somers.

Additionally, as the certificate will not only provide proof of vaccination, but will also show if a person has recovered from it, or has a recent negative test result, and will be free of charge, discrimination can be avoided.

Combining the vaccination passport with rapid tests, is something the travel sector could get behind as well. "Belgium bought enough of them, let's make use of that," said Somers.

Whether or not a passport can also offer access to events or restaurants - like in Israel, where a 'green' passport allows people to go to the gym, the swimming pool and cultural activities - will be up to the member states, according to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

With De Croo's and Wilmès' strong stance against the certificate being used to give vaccinated people privileges, however, it does not seem likely that a similar approach will be taken in Belgium.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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