The European Commission has proposed to update the rules on coordination of safe and free movement in the EU, which were put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since the summer, vaccine uptake has increased significantly and the EU Digital COVID Certificate has been rolled out successfully, with more than 650 million certificates issued to date. At the same time, the epidemiological situation in the EU continues to develop with some Member States taking additional public health measures, including administering booster vaccines. Taking into account all those factors, the Commission is proposing a stronger focus on a ‘person-based’ approach to travel measures and a standard acceptance period for vaccination certificates of 9 months since the primary vaccination series. The 9 month period takes into account the guidance of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on the administration of booster doses as of 6 months, and provides for an additional period of 3 months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can adjust and citizens can have access to boosters.
The Commission is also proposing updates to the EU traffic light map; as well as a simplified ‘emergency brake’ procedure.
The Commission is also proposing today to update the rules on external travel to the EU
Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said: “Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Commission has been fully active in finding solutions to ensure the free movement of people in a coordinated way. In the light of the latest developments and scientific evidence, we are proposing a new recommendation for adoption by the Council. On the basis of our common tool, the EU digital COVID certificate, which has become a real standard, we are moving towards an “individual-based” approach. Our main objective is to avoid divergent measures across the EU. This also applies to the issue of booster doses, which will be essential to fight the virus. Among other measures, we propose today that the Council agrees on a standardised period of validity of vaccination certificates issued after the primary series. Agreeing this proposal will be crucial for the coming months and for the protection of the safe free movement of citizens.
Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides added: “The EU COVID digital certificate and our coordinated approach to travel measures have greatly contributed to safe free movement, while keeping the protection of public health as a priority. We have vaccinated more than 65% of the total EU population, but this is not enough. Too many people are still not protected. For everyone to travel and live as safely as possible, we urgently need to achieve significantly higher vaccination rates. We also need to strengthen our immunity with booster vaccines. Taking into account the guidelines of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and in order to allow Member States to adapt their vaccination campaigns and citizens to have access to booster vaccines, we propose a standardised acceptance period for vaccination certificates. At the same time, we must continue to strongly encourage everyone to continue to respect public health measures. We must continue to use masks.
The main updates to the common approach to travel measures within the EU proposed by the Commission are as follows:
- Focus on an “individual-based approach”: a person in possession of a valid EU digital COVID certificate should, in principle, not be subject to additional restrictions, such as testing or quarantine, regardless of their place of departure in the EU. Persons not in possession of an EU digital COVID certificate may be required to undergo testing before or after arrival.
- Standardised validity of vaccination certificates: To avoid divergent and disruptive approaches, the Commission proposes a standardised acceptance period of nine months for vaccination certificates issued after completion of the primary vaccination series. The nine-month period takes into account the guidelines of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control on the administration of booster doses from six months onwards, and provides for an additional period of three months to ensure that national vaccination campaigns can be adapted and that citizens have access to booster doses. This means that, in the context of travel, Member States should not refuse a vaccination certificate issued less than nine months after the administration of the last dose of primary vaccination. Member States should immediately take all necessary measures to ensure access to vaccination for those population groups whose previously issued vaccination certificates are close to the nine-month limit.
- Booster doses: To date, there are no studies specifically addressing the efficacy of booster doses on COVID-19 transmission and therefore it is not possible to determine an acceptance period for booster doses. However, given the new data, it can be expected that protection from booster vaccinations may last longer than that from the primary vaccination series. The Commission will closely monitor new scientific evidence emerging in this respect. On the basis of this evidence, the Commission could, if necessary, propose an appropriate acceptance period also for vaccination certificates issued after a booster dose.
- The EU traffic light map is adapted: it combines new cases with the administration of vaccines in a region. The map will be mainly informative, but will also serve to coordinate measures in areas with a particularly low (“green”) or particularly high (“dark red”) level of virus circulation. In these areas, specific rules will apply as an exception to the “person-based approach”. No restrictions should apply for travellers coming from “green” areas. Given the high number of new infections in “dark red” areas, travel to and from these areas should be discouraged, and persons who have not been vaccinated and have not recovered from the virus should be tested prior to departure and quarantined on arrival (with special rules for essential travellers and children under 12 years of age).
- Exceptions to certain travel measures: should apply to cross-border workers, children under 12 and essential travellers. The list of essential travellers should be reduced as many of the travellers on the current list have already had the opportunity to be vaccinated.
- Simplified “emergency braking” procedure: the emergency procedure to delay the spread of possible new variants of COVID-19 or to deal with particularly serious situations should be simplified and made more operational. It will include a notification by Member States to the Commission and the Council and a round table of the Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response Arrangement (IPCR).
In order to allow sufficient time to implement the coordinated approach, the Commission proposes that these updates should apply from 10 January 2022.
On 3 September 2020, the Commission made a proposal for a Council Recommendation to ensure that any measures taken by Member States that restrict free movement due to the coronavirus pandemic are coordinated and clearly communicated at EU level.
On 13 October 2020, EU Member States committed to ensuring more coordination and better information sharing by adopting the Council Recommendation.
On 1 February 2021, the Council adopted a first update to the Council Recommendation, which introduced a new colour, ‘dark red’, for the mapping of risk areas and set out stricter measures applied to travellers from high-risk areas.
On 20 May 2021, the Council amended the Council Recommendation to allow non-essential travel for fully vaccinated people, as well as to strengthen the measures to contain the spread of variants of concern.
On 14 June 2021, the Parliament and the Council adopted the Regulation establishing the EU Digital COVID Certificate framework. To make best use of the EU Digital COVID Certificate, the Council adopted, on the same day, a second update to the Council Recommendation, providing for exemptions from travel restrictions for fully vaccinated and recovered persons.
Since June 2021, the rollout of the EU Digital COVID Certificate has progressed at rapid pace. On 18 October 2021, the Commission issued the first report on the EU Digital COVID Certificate system, a widely available and reliably accepted tool to facilitate free movement during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In view of these developments, the common approach set out in Council Recommendation (EU) 2020/1475 should be adapted further, which was also a request made by the European Council in its conclusions of 22 October 2021.
In parallel, as done for the EU DCC Regulation, the Commission adopted today a proposal to cover also third country nationals lawfully residing in the EU and third country nationals who have legally entered the territory of a Member State, who may move freely within the territories of all other Member States during no more than 90 days in any 180-day period. The latest information on travel rules as communicated by Member States are available on the Re-open EU website.