Coordination of free travel in the EU, really?

Coordination of free travel in the EU, really?
Credit: EU

The European Commission announced on Tuesday that EU ministers had agreed on coordinating travel rules but in practice there are still different restrictions in place in member states.

As previously reported, the ministers agreed on updating the travel rules to facilitate safe and free movement in the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. This agreement follows the Commission’s proposal of 25 November 2021 and are based on the possession of a valid EU Digital COVID Certificate.

In principle no additional restrictions such a quarantine and testing should be required for holders of the EU Digital COVID Certificate. Furthermore, the validity period for the primary vaccination cycle has been determined to 270 days according to a decision taken by the Commission on 21 December last year in the form of a delegated act.

The main reason for the extension of the validity period to 9 months was to coordinate intra-EU travel while giving the member states enough time to roll-out the booster vaccination

“It is important that Member States follow up on this agreement and implement the rules agreed without delay,” said the Commissioner for Health, Stella Kyriakides, and the Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders (25 January). But they added that, “Each member state decides based on the circumstances it is facing.”

Some member states have already decided to limit the validity of the COVID certificate and/or their internal health passes to less than 9 months because of the waning effectiveness of the primary vaccination. Does it imply that the updated travel rules are already outdated?

“The 270 days acceptance period is regulated in a delegated act based on the Certificate regulation,” a Commission spokesperson told The Brussels Times. “This applies as of 1 February and is legally binding for all member states. The recommendation was now also aligned in this respect.”

“I’m not aware of member states with a different rule except Malta with whom we are in contact to address this before 1 February,” he added. “As of then, member states cannot deviate from this rule.”

For travellers, this might seem confusing and they had better read the small print in the countries they plan to visit. Greece for example has set the validity to 7 months. Does it mean that people from other member states whose certificates have expired and who have not yet received a booster will not be able to enter the country?

A Greek diplomatic source explained that people who want to travel to Greece with a certificate with shorter validity can do it but when in Greece they may not be able to go to a restaurant or a place where a valid certificate is necessary.

The situation is similar in Belgium where the validity of the domestic health pass has been set to 5 months.

The EU Digital COVID Certificate with a validity of 270 days, and without a booster shot, does only allow people in to travel from one EU country to another one. In practice, it is less coordinated than the Commission intended it to be. Travellers might even not be able to use public transport while in another country.

M. Apelblat
The Brussels Times

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