Juan Ramon Iturri

Juan Ramon Iturri

Europe´s fight against Covid19

por | Jul 1, 2021 | Uncategorized

Backbones of Europe’s progress in its fight against the coronavirus pandemic


Taking a step back, the circumstances around this paper began taking shape on 11 March 2020 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared first-off the outbreak of the Wuhan virus “a pandemic.” Few weeks before that date, the WHO linked the rapidly increasing number of infections to a “public health emergency of international concern”, which is, in simple words, an inferior category of a pathology in the classification used by health institutions. The turning point came abruptly as most political messages had been reassuring hitherto. Generally-accepted definitions relate the term pandemic to a disease “spread as an epidemic, which occurs over a wide geographical area and affects a large number of people, impervious to natural-geographic, political, economic or ethnic boundaries.”

Technically the pathology known colloquially as coronavirus disease (or COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by a novel coronavirus discovered in 2019; the proper scientific name for the condition caused by the newly discovered coronavirus is “severe acute respiratory syndrome-2”, or “SARS-CoV-2.” SARS-CoV-2 stands in fact for a new strain of coronavirus that had not been previously identified in humans.

Probably every person around the globalised world has one or several dire stories to tell about this wicked and severe illness, that has led to a profound public health crisis having determined to a great extent our economies and lives at every minute of the day for more than a year. Anyhow when contagions spread around the world, citizens start looking up to scientists, epidemiologists, politicians and public officials for solutions and advice relying on some type of consolidated wisdom, as matured ideally at or around the World Health Organisation. Alas, it became soon clear that many complex and obscure medical and organisational questions remained unanswered; people would have to await answers at best. Understandably, as European institutions became aware of the pressing need to raise the search of solutions to the public health problems to a supranational level, they began designing European Union (EU) wide legal and policy instruments to end, or at least to curb the spread of the virus. It is by now clear that Member States (MSs) and the European Commission have by and large succeeded in their attempts to keep in check the disease without losing sight of the economic hardship suffered by industry and trade.

At first, without a clear-cut, EU-wide strategy to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, preliminary and uncoordinated measures were adopted mainly at the level of MSs. There were many of them. Likewise, the institutions of the EU explored devising measures and techniques covering as much of the territory of the EU as possible, in line with the provisions of the EU Treaties and the EU legislation as currently in force. The result of these considerations confirmed the limited powers of EU institutions in the public health environment and close cooperation with all MSs became the course of action for rapid solutions.

Meanwhile, the international community also gained awareness for the inherent risks in the coronavirus pandemic and concomitantly about the supranational dimension of the fight against the pandemic. The WHO has unsurprisingly issued already its COVID-19 Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan for 2021 and an Operational Planning Guideline, both addressed to incumbent authorities.

In this paper, we will give a flavour of several relevant coronavirus-related mechanisms introduced at the EU level before April 2021, excluding the mass vaccination campaign devised in anticipation of an expected herd immunity, a.k.a. population immunity. Let us face that the mentioned vaccination programmes still raise complex questions on the recognition of vaccines. Herd immunity is certainly still far away. It is important to recall that, according to the WHO, herd immunity “is the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection” (emphasis added). Not surprisingly, “the WHO supports achieving herd immunity through vaccination, not by allowing a disease to spread through any segment of the population”. Public institutions across Europe abide by this objective.

Along these lines, we will describe here firstly the probably most forward-looking measure spearheaded by the European institutions. Mention must be made of the digital tools whose use is left in the hands of the public at large. Results from this approach may play a significant role even for future therapies, international commitments and perhaps even treaties around the current and potential future pandemics. The underlying strategy is based on devising an application or app for smartphones in the EU that not only traces electronically 24/7 infected and not-infected individuals alike, but that is also equipped with technology adequate to alert the smartphone owner in case he has exposed himself to a verified carrier of the virus. Secondly, we will point out the main measures from the EU benefitting EU MSs and Partner Countries in the area of economic policy. And finally, we will provide readers with a brief practice-oriented indication as to where to find reliable information about temporary restrictions to the free movement of persons that apply within the territory of the EU.

Legislative tools used by the European Commission

By way of introduction, a common denominator characterizes all the measures adopted by EU institutions that will be described in this paper. No Directive or Regulation adopted between March 2020 and April 2021 will be found here. This means that the institutions have chosen not to use hard laws, but only soft laws since the outbreak of the pandemic. In other words, politically every effort has been made to reduce public intervention from EU institutions as much as possible.

This remarkable approach complies fully with the relevant provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. While Directives and Regulations have become the better-known and characteristic binding legal instruments available to the EU institutions, Recommendations (and also Opinions, which understandably have not been used so far by the European institutions in its fight against the pandemic) constitute more flexible, though conclusive, while not binding legal instruments, which are adopted in line with a strictly regulated procedure. It is quite obvious that Recommendations open a window to EU institutions in areas where MSs have retained their original legislative competences. For the sake of the paper at hand, it can be argued that Recommendations represent a convenient tool for “light” legal harmonisation in the absence of sole legislative competence available to EU institutions.

The origin of Recommendations can be found in public international law and international institutions, as is the case with the United Nations.

For the sake of providing the reader with a broader insight, the use of the following unofficial soft law instruments can be said to be common practice at EU institutions: communications, white and green books, legislative agendas, annual reports, non-documents, notices and interpretative guidelines related mainly to a piece of EU hard legislation. EU legislators possibly had the intention to avoid entangling in the rigors of red tape the dramatic public health situation which are suffering the peoples of Europe since early 2020. The list of legislative tools used by the EU institutions contribute to the modern perspective of legislation. They have been integrated into a new discipline known as “logistics”, i.e. an avant-garde solution to legislative inflation which also aims at improving the quality of legislation.

Tools to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease

Data obtained from monitoring exposure to coronavirus-infected people and the processing of such data are rightly perceived as key factors in the fight against the spread of the disease.

This is so because one of the fundamental difficulties from the medical perspective is that on average the virus’ incubation phase takes 5 to 6 days, or 2 to 14 days according to other sources. The incubation phase stretches from the moment of exposure and the associated infection of the person, until that person starts to feel sick and develops the first symptoms. The incubation phase goes by without having consciousness of the infection and without any type of medical support.

Anyway, the contagious coronavirus begins propagating during the inconspicuous incubation, or asymptomatic phase. Respiratory droplets which are invisible to the eye are spread by an infected person through breathing, talking, coughing or sneezing. Scientists also point towards the intrinsic dangers of the airborne aerosol transmission of infected particles. The virus also propagates through surfaces which have been touched by an infected person, or where droplets with infection have landed. It can disperse in a closed room up to 2 meters and its life span reaches 5 days in appropriate circumstances. So, unbeknownst of the infected person, he/she becomes the involuntary vector for the propagation of the disease during the incubation phase which typically precedes the start of medical testing and treatment. Experts have calculated that on average one infected person infects up to 2,5 other persons. However, reportedly there have also been cases where much more people were infected by one single person carrying the coronavirus.

This means in plain English that success for tracing or tracking the virus materializes only with the early detection of diagnosed infected human beings (and even pets) who has been in contact with others. This can only be done when the infected persons consult a specialized physician and their symptoms are explored during the incubation phase.

The focus is at first on the carriers of the coronavirus; the disease must subsequently be confirmed, as these patients become eventually transmitters of the virus. In order to cope with the inherent risks of the described procedure, new digital tools for monitoring the dissemination of the disease and infections even during the asymptomatic have lately reached the public. The WHO and concomitantly the EU classifies these modern techniques as follows:

  • Outbreak response tools which are designed for public health personnel involved in contact tracing and outbreak investigations;
  • Proximity tracing tools, or proximity tracking tools which use GPS or Bluetooth technology to find and trace movements of individuals so as to identify people who have been exposed to an infected person; and
  • Symptom tracking tools which use applications designed to routinely collect self-reported signs and symptoms to assess disease severity or the probability of infections due to the virus.

Innovative apps downloaded on smartphones and connected to the Internet make it possible to rely on a system based on the exchange of information to fight the spread of coronavirus. Numerous apps have been launched to the market not so long ago.

Serious concerns in the field of personal data protection derive however from all these techniques in a similar fashion. The reason for this is simple. Only tracing or tracking devices which are compatible on both ends warrant the system to work properly. Interoperability of backends is an absolute must. At the end of the day, most of what is automatically processed falls in one way or another under the category of personal data. Useless to recall here that every person has an interest in protecting his own personal data and that the EU is well-known around the world for having developed the most efficient legislation and procedures for the protection of personal data.

As already pointed out above, numerous apps developed by private undertakings and public authorities alike, have reached the market. Individuals are free by now to evaluate the inherent risks that come with using technologies developed by diverse entities like Google, or countries with a poor record in terms of either Human Rights protection, or safeguarding fundamental rights, and to select a given app.

For the sake of this paper, we will refer here only to the EU’s efforts to create an efficient, interoperable digital system that warrants equally the protection of personal data and the fight against the spread of COVID-19. Contrary to a widespread opinion, there is nothing like a European tracing and warning app to fight the coronavirus spread, but numerous interconnected and interoperable tracing and warning apps developed by MSs’ incumbent public authorities. The EU just regulates different tasks arising from the communication of personal data.

Digital tracing tools in Europe

The EU set up already in the year 2011 a voluntary network connecting national authorities or bodies responsible for health technology assessment, designated by MSs. Even the delivery of interoperable applications was specifically foreseen among its objectives at that point in time, although it could not be totally developed before the outbreak of the pandemic. The original network provided a structural basis for the eHealth Network which became part of the agenda for EU health services since 2017. Actually, this digital dimension became a full part of the EU’s health architecture only in 2020, i.e. already during the pandemic. 

The European eHealth Network is fully operational at present.

This being said, Europe looked early on into the use of “mobile applications” or “apps” that would be downloaded on smartphones connected to the internet, to complete the already devised Network and its fight against the spread of the pandemic. “Mobile applications”, or “apps” are defined as software applications running on smart devices (smartphones), designed usually for wide-ranging and targeted interactions with web resources, which process proximity data and other contextual information collected by many sensors found in any smart device and which are able to exchange information via many network interfaces with other connected devices.

Under this new approach, contact tracing and warning turned into the key factors for the system from the perspective of the user. Contact tracing is presently defined in the EU environment as measures implemented in order to spot persons who have been exposed to a source of serious cross-border threat to health. Application users are consequently persons in possession of a smart device who have downloaded and run an approved contact tracing and warning mobile application. The spotlight here is on the term “approved.” As might be expected, the eHealth Network relies on the interoperability of the applications against the background of data protection rules.

With apps spotting meetings, the identification of participants is done automatically, though not disclosed. When one of the participants becomes infected and the information reaches the system, the risk of transmission to other participants, even if delayed, is notified to all participants via the app. Thus, the infected person has the opportunity to claim medical treatment. Having received the warning, all appropriate medical treatments, including public health measures, come into play for the infected patient.

After all, the described state of affairs should lead to breaking the chain of infections. With punctual information, health professionals come into a position to stop the dissemination of the virus and, what is most important, to treat all infected patients having received the alarm signal.

For the operationalisation of the whole system, it was necessary to set up a secure and reliable communication infrastructure that interconnects computer terminals from MSs’ entities conforming the eHealth Network at the national level. Security measures ex ante and ex post are now fully operational.

Documents adopted in this area include:

  • Description of mobile applications to support contact tracing in the EU’s fight against COVID-19; common EU toolbox for MSs;
  • eHealth Network interoperability guidelines for approved contact tracing mobile applications in the EU;
  • Technical Specifications for Interoperability of contact tracing apps;
  • eHealth Network Guidelines to the MSs and the European Commission on interoperability specifications for cross-border transmission chains between approved apps;
  • Guidelines on Verifiable Vaccination Certificates, Basic Interoperability Elements;
  • Guidelines on COVID-19 Citizen Recovery Interoperable Certificates, Minimum Dataset;
  • Guidelines on Value Sets for Digital Green Certificates;
  • Other policy documents Towards a Common Approach for the use of Anonymised and Aggregated Mobility Data for Modelling the Diffusion of COVID-19, and Optimising the Effectiveness of Response Measures; European Proximity Tracing, An Interoperability Architecture for Contact Tracing and Warning Apps; European Interoperability Certificate Governance, A Security Architecture for Contact Tracing and Warning Apps; list of National Joint Controllers with the link to their respective Privacy Policies; Interoperability of Health Certificates, Trust Framework; and Detailed Technical Specifications for Digital Green Certificates, volumes 1 – 4.

It is now expected that EU vaccine passports will be made available around June 2021. Data about vaccination will conceivably also be downloaded not only into the eHealth Network and thus into the individuals’ apps/smartphones, but also into the forthcoming EU vaccine passports.

The following synthesis of the non-technical content in the documents listed above can be carried out now to complement this paper:

  • Owners, i.e. controllers of the 17 apps available on 19 October 2020 are national public institutions. This figure includes Norway;
  • The use of national apps is voluntary;
  • Use of the app hinges upon the express consent given by the owner of the smartphone;
  • Minimum age for using apps has not been harmonised;
  • Data processed are reduced to the strict minimum;
  • As soon as the app is enabled, the smartphone transmits “exposure data” via Bluetooth which other smartphones in the vicinity can record. In fact, all smartphones in the vicinity receive exposure data transmitted by other smartphones;
  • Access data to the server system are used to identify the smartphone, but no user profile will be created. Access data includes in general:
    • The IP address;
    • Data and time of retrieval;
    • Transmitted data volume;
    • Notification of whether the data exchange was a success;
  • Exposure data comprises:
    • Random identification numbers, which change regularly;
    • Bluetooth protocol version;
    • Bluetooth transmit power in decibel-milliwatts (dBm);
  • Incoming exposure data include day, time and duration of the contact;
  • All exposure data processed in the system are deleted after 14 days;
  • Special mechanisms are foreseen in cases of submitting to rapid tests, or participating in mass events;
  • Smartphone owners diagnosed with coronavirus are expected to feed swiftly the information into the server;
  • Matching of data and warning can then be performed automatically, without revealing any data appertaining to the diagnosed smartphone owner;
  • Access and exposure data will not be transferred to countries outside the EU, except for Norway and in some MSs for Switzerland.

The overall success of the eHealth Network relies ultimately upon the number of downloaded apps which are then correctly operated. So far, the safeguards provided by the system seem to meet by and large privacy expectations of smartphone users.

Mass-testing and similar options available

In our context. mass-testing, mass-screening, population-based screening and universal testing are different terms referring to actions that would consist in a high number of COVID-19 antibody tests performed, irrespective of symptoms, with a view to identify thus laboratory-confirmed cases. As a matter of fact, the institutions of the EU acquired a wealth of experience around 1995 when mass-screening their staff for cancer and other related pathologies due to exposure to asbestos in their workplaces, i.e. the buildings of the institutions, notably in the main seat of the Commission, known as “Berlaymont.” That screening was seen as being so eloquent that after a first case of lung cancer had been diagnosed during the campaign, the then President of the Commission Jacques Delors voted three days later with his Commissioners to leave their offices in the building.

While the screening of the institutions’ staff was a procedure already foreseen in the Staff Regulations, EU law remains silent on EU-wide screenings during public health emergencies. This means that EU institutions may not have the required powers to put up such a chimeric EU-wide screening program.

Furthermore, negative reactions to mass-testing programs emerge regularly among those individuals deemed to be part of vulnerable, or high-risk populations. Similar backlashes can be expected when the screening target is ideally the whole population of a country, or countries.

In addition, immense material and logistical difficulties due to the large numbers of the target population should be taken into account and their solutions programmed, not to speak about all the other issues linked to managing the long test turnaround time. In the end, all these aspects cast a cloud over the feasibility of the strategy.

Strategies and objectives for such actions were analysed at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control based in Stockholm in due course, but no EU-wide screening program has been devised.

Economic policy tools

Soon after the WHO declared officially COVID-19 a pandemic, EU institutional discussions began at all levels. The main issue concerned at first different options that could be envisaged for implementing efficient health and sanitary measures with a view to prevent the spread of the pandemic (see above). The European institutions maintain since then that the short-term priority deals precisely with the medical dimension. Leaving aside relevant medical implications, the common denominator of most of these public health measures generated also negative economic consequences. Mitigating the socio-economic impact of the crisis became then the Union’s long-term goal (see below).

A coordinated economic response was regarded indeed as crucial to soothe the economic crisis and to relaunch economic activity. Inasmuch as heavy economic losses were foreseeable, the Union and its MSs were compelled to design urgently a ground-breaking approach to provide national governments with sufficient financial resources for subsidizing their ailing undertakings. The interests of EU Partner Countries were also taken on board in this process.

EU funds for coping with the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 in MSs  

The new architecture for managing at the level of the EU a new recovery fund of € 750 billion was drawn up by the European Council on 21 July 2020, after just four days of negotiations. The Fund is named officially “Next Generation EU” (NGEU) and it is designed to provide support to MSs hit by the pandemic by boosting their economies. Apart from the goal to mitigate the effect of the pandemic, the facility pursues the objective to make European “economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions.”  The NGEU is foreseen to go over the years 2021 to 2023, being tied to the regular 2021 to 2027 budget of the EU. The NGEU is a temporary recovery instrument that allows the Commission to raise funds to help repair the immediate economic and social damage brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. It is also the largest stimulus package ever.

Its main instrument is the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF) with its € 672,5 billion destined for loans and grants to MSs. Out of this amount, € 312,5 billion are for grants, while € 360 for loans. The RRF entered into force on 19 February 2021.

Without prejudice to the above, the EU announced in December 2020 that an amount of € 1,8 trillion will be made available to rebuild a post-coronavirus Europe. This amount includes € 1,1 billion for the EU’s normal 7-year budget and the rest for stimulus spending in the economies cratered by the pandemic. In this case, the long-term budget will be available for EU spending programmes covering science, education, climate change and digital projects. It was foreseen that funds would start flowing early 2021.

Joint debt of MSs is issued for putting up the recovery funding. Certain Member States were strictly opposed to this solution and the issue was introduced even at the German Constitutional Court. At the end, a political solution was reached at the European Council.

There can be no doubt that the described decisions taken at the level of the EU institutions have a clear effect on the economic policies of the MSs.

It was already in mid-2020 that the 28 Country-Specific Recommendations (CSRs). i.e. one per MS, including the United Kingdom, were adopted by the European Council. They were published with a view to adapt the respective National Reform and Resilience Programmes (NRRPs) to the needs that became apparent right after the start of the pandemic.

The European institutions formulated harsh conclusions in certain cases in the CSRs. They pointed out that, for instance, a given MS was experiencing macroeconomic imbalances, that its high external and internal debt, both public and private, continued to constitute vulnerabilities, in a context of high unemployment and, most importantly that this situation had cross-border relevance.

The CSRs encompass detailed economic policy analysis and guidance for every single MS, giving special consideration to the most urgent challenges brought about by the coronavirus downturn and to relaunching sustainable growth. The well-defined objectives for the short-term are described as mitigating the pandemic’s severe negative socio-economic consequences, while the objectives for the short- and medium term consist in achieving sustainable and inclusive growth which facilitates the green transition and the digital transformation. Essentially, the services of the European institutions dig in more detail for each MS. They advocate for each MS individually structural reforms backing economic growth in areas like supporting the corporate sector, preserving employment through income support for affected workers, for instance in the hotels, restaurants or catering sector, and others. The CRSs ultimate goal consist in improving competitivity by tackling obstacles to some of the fundamental drivers of growth.

MSs were invited to submit to the European Commission detailed National Recovery and Resilience Plans (NRRPs), which were due for April 2021. Having received the requested Plans timely, the services of the European Commission will now analyse them. All NRRPs are by now available on the Internet. In accordance with the 2021 Annual Sustainable Growth Strategy, each National Plan deals with the following four dimensions:

  • Environmental sustainability;
  • Productivity;
  • Fairness; and
  • Macroeconomic stability.

So, if hardship caused economic downfall, each MS must customize on its own the particular Recommendation as adopted, in line with the liberal proposals of the Union. Funds allocated to MSs from the RRF will only flow from the EU coffins to those of MS under consideration provided specific conditions, a.k.a. conditionalities are met. The EU has thus shifted the political debate and contemplates now primarily just those legal and economic reforms that are unaccounted for in the MS under consideration. In fact, the outcome of the described “carrot and stick” policy should on paper be the catalyst for the reduction, even the disappearance of asymmetries at the national level and for the creation of a more levelled playing field for citizens and undertakings alike across the EU.

EU funds for coping with the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 in Partner Countries

This being said, a similar line of reasoning underpins Europe’s response to coronavirus vis-à-vis Partner Countries, including Ukraine, devised under the heading “Global EU Response.” The latter was initially adopted on 8 April 2020.

For Partner Countries, the EU launched the so-called Team Europe package endowed since 24 November 2020 with allocations of up to € 38,5 billion. The package is based on a detailed Team Europe methodology which combines resources from the EU, its MSs, the United Nations, international financial institutions, the G7 and the G20. In this field, urgent short-term emergency aid was already delivered to Ukraine in 2020 in the form of 100 sets of personal protective equipment and more than 70 tons of antiseptic liquid dispatched to the Emergency Medical Care Center of Donetsk Oblast.

Furthermore, the EU is redirecting up to € 883 million just within the Eastern Partnership countries, which include Ukraine. The term “redirect” should be interpreted in the sense that the substantial funding already allocated to them is re-targeted now to help them deal with the impact of the pandemic. The general idea is, first, to avoid that already allocated funds vanish on the basis that initial work programs cannot be materially implemented as planned due precisely to the pandemic. It is remarkable that in this way no reallocation of funds from one Partner Country to another can occur. Secondly, Partner Countries and regions were and will be associated in the appropriate evaluation process, so as to achieve the desired objectives. This represents an incredible opportunity for Eastern Partnership Countries, and for their civil societies, provided consultations of their more representative institutions and interest groups take effectively place.

Finally, it is worth recalling in this brief summary that the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), created initially in June 2016, gave working capital, liquidity support and technical assistance, among other interventions, to small businesses which comply with certain criteria. The objectives pursued included enabling small businesses to pay their staff, suppliers, and other day-to-day expenses, or adjust their business plans to withstand the pandemic’s impact. Precisely in Ukraine, SMEs working in the production of food, clothing or household goods were eligible to access grants of up to € 6.500 through EU support in 2020. Other priority areas relate to local currency financing and healthcare.

By now, the European Commission has introduced proposals for the next long-term EU budget 2021 to 2027, a Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) Regulation that covers also a European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+). This updated version of the 2016 EFSD would also receive increased resources.

Transparency 4 travellers

It would only be unfair not to recall here again that the pandemic has shaken the pillars of the EU society with its over 140 million confirmed cases and more than 3 million deaths worldwide on 18 April 2021, according to the WHO. According to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at Washington University however, the real death toll roughly doubles this figure, up to the threshold of 6.9 million cases. Whatever statistic reflects more accurately the reality, the stakes were and still are tremendous.

Reference will be made here specifically to the spectacular changes introduced to the venerated freedom of movement principle in the EU during the last year. It is worth recalling here that according to this principle and the Schengen acquis, European citizens enjoyed the right to move freely across MSs’ national boundaries carrying just their personal identity cards (or, at their personal choice, passports).

This changed temporarily. The public health degradation across Europe in the early months of 2020 compelled MSs to adopt for the first time since the 1st of January 1958, a myriad of new, unpopular, national, or even regional emergency measures without giving consideration to the compatibility of such measures with the emergency measures applicable in neighbouring MSs or their regions. MSs adopted from light touch policies, such as recommending social distancing and hand washing, to quarantines, lockdowns and overnight curfews. At the end, moving around Europe entailed the need to undertake a fastidious research, frequently in a foreign or even vernacular language, with sometimes unreliable sources of information and, most importantly, with exposure to surprise regulatory changes at all times.

Against the backdrop of such intrusive policies and the kaleidoscope of administrative measures depriving or restricting citizens’ freedom of movement temporarily, a sense of insecurity and uncertainty developed among EU citizens and foreigners planning travels within and to the EU. Clear political signals were expected from EU leaders in the light of successive national restrictions.

To cope with this, the Commission launched already on 15 June 2020 the online platform “Re-open EU”, designed in the form of a one-stop shop. Every person could draw from that online platform the necessary and updated information for planning and engaging in EU-wide travel. The platform can be reached at https://reopen.europa.eu/en. Anyhow, the platform became then available on 14 December 2020 as a free mobile app for Android at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=eu.europa.publications.reopeneu and for iOS at https://apps.apple.com/us/app/re-open-eu/id1531322447.

The platform offers updated country-by-country information (more precisely information related to MSs, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) on:

  • Epidemiological data; and
  • National coronavirus safety and travel measures such as quarantines, testing and soon vaccination requirements. The latter element will become mandatory when the legislative proposal of 17 March 2021, establishing a common framework for a “Digital Green Certificate” covering vaccination, testing and recovery is passed.

The platform is available in the 24 official EU languages.

The only conclusion that can be reached here is that the EU has done the outmost to provide free access to information about travel restrictions that apply at the national level. More importantly, the Commission is presently devising a harmonised travel document covering vaccination certificates, test certificates and certificates issued to persons who have recovered from COVID-19. It is foreseen that no personal data of the certificate holders is retained by the verifying MS. Finally, a Digital Green Certificate should be available soon also to non-EU citizens who comply with all requirements that apply to EU citizens.

Juan Ramón Iturri

Attorney at Law

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