EU COVID-19 Certificate is crucial to revive regional tourism

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Regions and cities unanimously back the use of a common document to facilitate free movement in the EU during the pandemic and boost the tourism sector’s recovery towards new sustainable models

The plenary of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) approved by unanimity a resolution promoted by all political groups which welcomes the European Commission’s proposal to create a new Digital Green Certificate. However, regional and local leaders suggest that, for sake of clarity, the document should be renamed EU COVID-19 Certificate, as put forward by the European Parliament. They insist that it should not be a travel document and stress the principle of non-discrimination, in particular towards non-vaccinated persons. Moreover, during a debate on the tourism, hotel and catering sectors’ recovery, CoR members committed to turn the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity and move from over-tourism towards new models that are safe, sustainable, resilient and in line with the European Green Deal’s objectives.

Through a resolution approved today by unanimity, the CoR welcomes the European Commission’s proposal to create a common EU Digital Green Certificate to facilitate unrestricted cross-border movement during the COVID-19 pandemic and save the tourism season. The certificate, which may be in digital or paper format, will attest that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19 or, alternatively, that he has received a recent negative test result or has recovered from the infection. Finally, the CoR welcomes the European Parliament’s proposal to change its name to “EU COVID-19 Certificate”, in order to increase the understanding of the usefulness of the certificate, thereby facilitating the promotion of it among citizens.

The President of the CoR Apostolos Tzitzikostas highlighted that “the Digital Green Certificate is not the silver bullet, but it will help get Europe moving again provided it respects EU privacy and data protection. Europe’s tourism sector will not recover if we don’t have common European rules for safe travel. Local and regional governments are already feeling the impact of the loss of income and their economies simply cannot afford to lose another season. All levels, from EU, to national, to regional and local, must work together to save the tourism and hospitality sector .”

Local and regional leaders underline that the Digital Green Certificate should be neither a pre-condition for the exercise of free movement rights nor a travel document and stresses the principle of non-discrimination, in particular towards non-vaccinated persons. Moreover, high security standards need to be guaranteed and the EU institutions should clarify that the certificate would not affect the right of cross-border workers to move freely between their homes and places of work during the pandemic.

CoR members reiterate their belief that vaccination is the main way to bring the pandemic under control and to restore free movement. Therefore, they stress the need to guarantee equal access to vaccines and call for a rapid increase of vaccine production in Europe. The CoR suggests that the European Union should explore new solutions such as a temporary suspension of patents for medicines and medical technologies to treat or prevent COVID-19 infections.

Tourism is one of the sectors most affected by free movement restrictions and other precautionary measures against the spread of the coronavirus. The sector generates 10% of the EU GDP and represents 12% of the EU workforce, but the COVID-19 crisis caused losses between 85% and 90% for many economic actors like hotels and restaurants, tour operators and transport companies. In 2020, the number of nights spent at EU tourist accommodation establishments totalled 1.4 billion, down by 52% compared with 2019 . Cyprus, Greece and Malta were the most affected countries with drops exceeding 70%.

We lost summer, autumn, winter and two springs. Another lost season will be the end of many hotels, cafés, boat rentals, amusement parks and holiday attractions. We need to vaccinate, stay safe and rediscover the joy of traveling, meeting people, seeing places. We can overturn this crisis into an opportunity to rediscover Europe’s amazing rural areas. Let us all turn the page on over-tourism and enjoy our holidays in a sustainable way “, said Ulrika Landergren (SE/RE), chair of the CoR’s Commission for Natural resources (NAT), during a separate debate on the recovery in the tourism, hotel and catering sector.

Rita Marques , Secretary of State for Tourism of Portugal, joined the plenary discussion. She said: ” The Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union is committed to promote joint actions and policies to ensure a more sustainable, digital and competitive restart of tourism and travel. We have launched a dialogue on sustainable recovery for the tourism and a guide towards a European Agenda for Tourism 2050. In the short-term, the Digital Green Certificate shows that we are fully committed to guarantee harmonized criteria that supports free movement. This is a solid step towards the recovery of the sector.

Jens Zimmer Christensen , President of the HOTREC Association – which represents hotels, restaurants, cafés and similar establishments in Europe – stated: ” The pandemic’s impact on European hospitality and tourism has been seismic, and rebuilding will be neither instant nor easy: re-opening is not the same as recovery. The EU and Member States must continue to support businesses and protect jobs throughout the crisis and beyond. The industry needs, amongst other things, a EU Recovery dedicated plan and increased coordination of travel restrictions. I am convinced that if we keep working together for hospitality, our sector can prevail and power the green and digital transitions .”

In its two leading opinions on tourism, adopted in 2020 – rapporteur, Manuel Alejandro Cardenete Flores (ES/RE) – and 2016 – rapporteur Hanspeter Wagner (AT/EPP) -, the CoR has made its expectations known. They include:

· a call to draw up a new European Sustainable Tourism Framework, aligned with the European Green Deal and the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations;

· the set-up of an interinstitutional contact group on tourism and a European-wide alliance and network of tourism regions/cities;

· the creation of a common framework for a virtual European Citizens’ Travel Card programme to increase cohesion among regions and highlight the role of tourism for promoting European citizenship and culture;

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