European Parliament Signals Approval of Digital Green Certificate Scheme
european commission
Katalin Cseh a Hungarian MEP associated with the  Renew Europe Group.
EP Plenary session – Preparation of the European Council meeting of 25 and 26 March 2021 and Digital Green Certificate

European Parliament members (MEPs) expressed overwhelming support for a coronavirus-related “Digital Green Certificate” to ease travel within the European Union, voting by a more than two-thirds majority to accelerate approval by the summer.  

But parliamentarians also warned that all efforts to recover from COVID-19 will be void unless Europeans are vaccinated more quickly. 

“We need to speed up vaccination – that is the only light at the end of the tunnel,” said Katalin Cseh a Hungarian MEP associated with the  Renew Europe Group, on the opening day of a two-day debate at the European Union Summit  happening today and tomorrow on the “Digital Green Certificate”.

“We need to increase production capacities to set up more ambitious targets for deliveries to work together with manufacturers, and also to ramp up production,” said Cseh. 

“Only vaccines can offer us a way out of the crisis; we need to do our utmost to help boost vaccine production and ensure more transparency, predictability, and supply of the vaccines, so that we can speed up the vaccination campaigns across the EU,” said Ana Paula Zacarias of Portugal. 

The majority of the MEPs who took the floor said the Digital Green Certificate proposed by the European Commission on 17 March, would support the much-needed recovery of the travel and tourism sector. 

With 468 votes in favor, 203 against, and 16 abstentions, MEPs took advantage of an urgency procedure (Rule 163), which allows for faster parliamentary scrutiny of the Commission’s proposals. The MEPs will next mandate negotiations over the proposal, to be considered during the parliament’s next plenary session (26 – 29 April). 

Certificate To Offer Proof of COVID Vaccination, Recovery Or Negative Test Result
digital green certificate
The stages of the Digital Green Certificate System in practice.

The certificate would be free of charge, in digital or paper format, with a QR code to help ensure security and authenticity.  It would offer proof that a person has either been vaccinated, received a negative test result, or recovered from COVID-19, and has antibodies. 

Other key provisions are that the certificate will be recognized in every EU member state, and it will pave the way for the establishment, or re-establishment, of  full freedom of movement inside the EU during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The Commission will build a gateway to ensure all certificates can be verified across the European Union, and will support member states in the technical implementation of certificates,” said Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. Šefčovič said the Commission aims to have the system in place by June. 

MEPs Call For Legal Action Over AstraZeneca Vaccine Delays & Unreported  Doses 
AstraZeneca vaccine

In terms of speeding up Europe’s vaccine rollout, the MEPs focused most of their fire on the recent AstraZeneca delays in vaccine deliveries. 

Concerns over the failure of the company to meet its EU commitments have been compounded by the  recent discovery of almost 30 million undelivered AstraZeneca doses stashed  in an Italian factory. 

During the debate,  several MEPs speakers called for legal action against the manufacturer.  

Iratxe Garcia Perez, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, Spain, called the reports about AstraZeneca’s undelivered doses “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” 

“We’re not talking about the fact that they are not complying with their commitments and the contracts. Basically, they’re laughing at us in our faces,” she said. 

The AstraZeneca vaccines were discovered by Italian police in a raid of a factory in Anagni, a town near Rome.  Italian government officials were reportedly unaware of the vaccine stash until the EU’s internal market commissioner, Thierry Breton, launched an investigation, and then tipped off Italian police, according to the Italian newspaper La Stampa

Some EU sources said that the jabs had initially been bound for the UK – before being  blocked by Italy after the country introduced new rules on vaccine exports, EU sources told the paper. 

However, in a statement on Wednesday, AstraZeneca said that 16 million of the vaccine doses were simply awaiting quality control to be disbursed to EU countries.  

Another 13 million doses were manufactured outside of the EU, and then brought to the plant for the “fill and finish” process of putting the vaccine into vials, the company said. These doses are awaiting shipment to low and middle-income countries, in the framework of the WHO co-sponsored COVAX global vaccine rollout initiative, which is supported by the EU. 

“It is incorrect to describe this as a stockpile. The process of manufacturing vaccines is very complex and time consuming. In particular, vaccine doses must wait for quality control clearance after the filling of vials is completed,”  the company said.  

Garcia Perez and other MEPs, however, blamed  AstraZeneca for still moving too slowly on the EU vaccine deliveries. 

“[We] have to act firmly and take actions against a pharmaceutical company because they are undermining the prestige of other companies that are meeting their obligations. So I would urge the Commission to get down to work and do something about this flagrant attack against the commitments that the company undertook, “ said Garcia Perez. 

Independence From Pharma, Though Not Through Export Ban 
Martin Schirdewan, of The Left Group in the European Parliament, Germany.

Although several MEPs called for legal action against AstraZeneca to restrain it from exporting vaccines to the UK and elsewhere in the world, others warned that an export ban could result in further delays in Europe’s vaccine rollout. 

“Export bans can lead to retaliatory measures and that could lead to lower production of vaccines in the EU. We could end up in the worst possible situation where nobody benefits,” said Martin Schirdewan, of The Left Group in the European Parliament, Germany.

Schirdewan, however, called on the European Commission to “give up all contracts with the pharmaceutical companies and release the patents to produce the vaccines.” 

“We have made ourselves dependent on the pharmaceutical companies. We have made ourselves dependent on a market that regulates nothing, shown clearly by AstraZeneca stockpiling 29 million doses in Italy that have just been accidentally discovered.” 

“Let’s create a joint European strategy that we can use to combat the virus. Let’s coordinate healthcare, let’s deal with the social and economic consequences of this pandemic for our populations.” 


Image Credits: Jan Van De Vel, European Commission, gencat cat/Flickr, Alexis Haulot.

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