European lawmakers on Thursday approved the creation of an EU-wide Covid-19 certificate sought by southern member states to help revive summer tourism, but the move could be undermined by their differing vaccination and testing rules.
The fate of the project, which tourism-dependent countries Spain and Greece hope will help resuscitate their economies, hinges on further negotiations between EU lawmakers, member states and the European Union's executive commission.
The plan aims to introduce a standard pass for people who have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus to travel across the 27-nation bloc, but is complicated by member states' differing goals and approaches to vaccination or testing.
National differences over recognising negative antibody tests on top of PCR tests, technical difficulties in creating a single EU gateway, worries about discrimination against those who have not been vaccinated, and privacy issues mean finding common ground across the EU might be tricky, diplomats said.
As a result, the likely result is a system that would introduce Covid certificates as a minimum common denominator but leave much leeway to each country on what rights they would be willing to grant to holders of such passes, they added.
In voting overwhelmingly for an "EU Covid-19 certificate", the European Parliament said member states should not impose additional travel restrictions on those carrying such passes, and that they should make free testing widely available.
But the European Commission has proposed that countries should be able to retain extra requirements, as many member states also want.
Reflecting the confusion, Commission spokesman Eric Mamer said on Thursday: "The certificate is not about allowing or forbidding travel. It has nothing to do with that.
"It's a system of information on your health status in relation to Covid...Member states have the prerogatives, the responsibility when it comes to health safety measures (required for entry); the green digital certificate does not change this."
As the complex EU decision-making process grinds on, many countries are putting their own systems in place, heightening the risk of a disjointed set of rules that would fail to ensure uniform free travel across the bloc.
Hungary said on Thursday it would pursue bilateral deals on recognising Covid-19 vaccine certificates that would allow citizens to travel among participating countries.
Others, including Estonia, Lithuania, Greece, Spain, Germany and France, are introducing their own solutions to record vaccinations and member states would still be allowed to keep their own systems in place even once an EU-wide one is there.
They would be obliged to honour vaccines authorised for the whole bloc by the European Medicines Agency - including Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca - but each country would decide on its own how to treat people who received Russian or Chinese shots.