Barely 500 kilometers separate Madeira from Canary Islands, archipelagos encased in a white box in the news weather reports. The pandemic has only deepened that feeling of isolation and forgetfulness on the part of the great metropolises. Although the coronavirus has not hit them so much in the health field, it has sunk their tourism sector, key for both economies (35% of GDP in the Canary Islands and 26% in Madeira).
But the light is already beginning to be seen at the end of the tunnel. After the worst year in the history of world tourism, with as many as 1 billion international arrivals declining, vaccination programs have triggered plans to regain the confidence of travelers and reduce restrictions on free movement. Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar (socialist) and Claudia Monteiro de Aguiar (popular), Canarian and Madeiran, are the MEPs who are leading the initiatives to save not only the summer season on the European continent, but also the sustainability of the sector itself.
covid passport or green certificate. This document, digital or printed, will function as a cross-border safe-conduct that guarantees safe mobility for Europeans who meet at least one of these assumptions: they are vaccinated, have a negative PCR or have passed the disease.
“The European Parliament has set itself an objective of contributing with all its strength to restore the free movement of the Schengen area,” says López Aguilar, rapporteur appointed to detail the covid passport regulations. However, it is not being easy: in addition to the guarantees of respect for the European data protection standard, which is the highest in the world (“We will make sure that the data is only accumulated in the health administration that issues the passport,” he assures ), the legislative process is against the clock and faced with states not very willing to give up their right to have the last word on border restrictions.
An arduous negotiating battle awaits the MEP. Given the mandate of an emergency procedure, López Aguilar has set the date for the June plenary session to give the final green light, at first reading, to the covid passport and thus be ready for this summer season. The exceptionality of the crisis has shortened the usual terms of several months, and even years, to just one quarter. Negotiations with the Commission and the Council, or ‘trilogues’, “tend to be dog-faced, often until three in the morning,” he says. European legislation needs a joint position of Parliament and Council to enter into force.
Of course, with caution and far from triumphalism. Both López Aguilar and Monteiro warn that the covid passport is just one more tool, which is far from perfect given the many questions about the vaccine and the disease itself.
“If the population does not have access to vaccines, this measure does not make much sense, it can generate inequity and possible discrimination. There is no scientific evidence that a vaccinated person is not contagious. It can also cause those who do not have access to vaccines to want to get infected soon to have a free way and be able to travel, “he warns Itziar de Lecuona, director of the Bioethics Observatory of the University of Barcelona and who will participate tomorrow in a debate on this topic, organized by the Alternativas Foundation. «The proposal is premature. We have yet to see how this affects the right to privacy and confidentiality, “he adds.
In addition to guaranteeing data protection, the accessibility of PCR tests is of particular concern to MEPs, regardless of political colors, due to its discriminatory nature. While in France the tests are free, the average cost of PCR in private laboratories in Spain amounts to 100 euros. Issues such as compatibility with third-party covid passports, especially the United Kingdom, and with vaccines not yet approved by the European Medicines Agency, such as Spútnik V.
From the tourism sector, the arrival of the covid passport is applauded to harmonize the restrictive labyrinth between the countries of the Union. “The green digital certificate is a step in the right direction to encourage people to get vaccinated and also reactivate EU tourism, a sector that can lead the way to recovery”, values the communication director of the World Tourism Organization. Marcelo Risi, which is optimistic about the next summer season. “The first tourism to recover is the local one,” he predicts.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism