'Reporteritund': MEPs back EU vaccine passport, skeptical on roll-out pace

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Four of Estonia's MEPs in the 'Reporteritund' studio Wednesday; from left, Andrus Ansip, Marina Kaljurand, Riho Terras and Jaak Madison. Source: Anu Sieberk

Some of Estonia's seven MEPs say they support the European Union coronavirus vaccine passport proposal, in part simply to kick-start the union's economy, but doubt that it will be rolled out any time soon.

Four MEPs, Andrus Ansip (Reform/Renew Europe), Marina Kaljurand (SDE/S&D), Riho Terras (Isamaa/EPP) and Jaak Madison (EKRE/ID) appeared on Vikerraadio show "Reporteritund" Tuesday afternoon, discussing the issue with host Arp Müller.

Estonia has according to some reports been looking to develop its own vaccine passport solution, which would appear ahead of any pan-EU version, dubbed the Digital Green Certificate; but therein lies the problem: The passport would likely predate agreed EU common principles.

Leaders of all three Baltic States have similarly expressed frustration over the pace of the EU's vaccine procurement process, while at the end of 2020, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania preempted the rest of the EU27 in installing stricter entry requirements on arrivals from the U.K., at a time when a particularly virulent COVID-19 strain had been identified as spreading rapidly in southern England.

Outside the EU, Israel has already released an app which proves its owner's coronavirus status, and the U.K. says it plans to test coronavirus certificates.

Other issues at stake include the legality of requiring individuals, including children, to have had a coronavirus vaccination.

Riho Terras, a former defense forces commander, told "Reporteritund" that: "While the European Digital Green Certificate initiative may seem like a threat to people's privacy, it does provide an opportunity to relaunch an economy which has stalled during the coronavirus crisis, which is why I think it should be supported."

Marina Kaljurand, a member of the European Parliament's civil liberties committee agreed, saying that while in its original, planned incarnation the certificate had only to affirm its holder had been inoculated, now it would also contain information about COVID-19 negative test results, which means it is no longer discriminatory. 

"However, so far, there are no digital documents at the EU level that are recognized throughout the EU" Kaljurand added.

Jaak Madison raised the question of how to check those crossing borders by land, rather than entering at airports. This, he felt, did not mean that border checks on Schengen Zone borders (such as Estonia's land border with Latvia and its maritime border with Finland – ed.) should be reinstated.

"Re-establishing internal border controls in the Schengen area is unthinkable," Madison said.

Andrus Ansip, a former European Commissioner, said that while the EU's digital certificate initiative was not very ambitious, its intentions were to be welcomed. 

However, the creation of a platform for the mutual recognition of digital certificates is questionable, Ansip said, since many EU27 states do not have data exchange platforms of the same caliber as Estonia's X-Road system, or even a digital identity on a par with Estonia's digital ID card.

"This is a sound initiative, but I doubt whether it is feasible," Ansip said

The panel all felt that a common policy on digital vaccine passports should apply to all, rather than making a distinction between individuals and private sector firms.

The rest of the "Reporteritund" show focused on the EU's artificial intelligence initiative, which Riho Terras said lagged behind both the U.S. and China, mainly due to over-regulation, while Marina Kaljurand qualified this by saying AI use should be people-centered, and keep in mind other tech-related regulations introduced by the EU which were initially called unrealistic have since become standards worldwide.

Jaak Madison focused on immigration, saying that AI would reduce this, since it and other innovation could lead to the loss of many low-skilled jobs, and therefore demand for people to fill them.

The panel also expected little in the way of concrete changes to arise from the Conference on the Future of Europe, which started Monday, though the more liberal members of the panel – i.e. Kaljurand and Ansip, said there was nothing to be feared from amending any EU treaties if this received public support.

Estonia's other three MEPs are Sven Mikser (SDE/S&D), Urmas Paet (Reform/Renew Europe) and Yana Toom (Center/Renew Europe). Post-Brexit, the number of Estonian MEPs rose by one, to seven, following the redistribution of around a third of the 74 MEP seats the U.K. formerly held.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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