Some countries are calling for the establishment of “vaccine passports” to prevent the spread of Covid-19 on their soil: an idea that does not only have good repercussions in terms of individual freedoms …
The deployment of vaccines is progressing steadily in the European Union (EU). At the same time, countries like the United States, the United Kingdom or Israel are acting quickly to vaccinate a large part of the population as soon as possible.
As Europe debates the success or failure of its vaccination policy, some countries want to get a head start and discuss the possibility of implementing so-called vaccination passports.
The concept is simple: people who have received a Covid-19 vaccine will be able to access international travel, travel within the same country, bars, restaurants or concert halls.
In essence, this measure would extend the containment rules for those who do not receive the vaccine, indefinitely. In Europe, Greece is pushing as an EU-wide measure, while Poland is already implementing a local solution.
Is this really THE answer to the pandemic?
First of all, this measure poses a serious rule of law problem. If countries impose vaccination, this in itself is hardly compatible with the concept of individual freedom. Medical choices are personal choices.
While insurance companies should be able to make decisions about premiums to pay for contracted illnesses for which there is a vaccine, it is not for the state to make decisions about health for the citizens.
Additionally, if governments don’t impose the vaccine, neither should they restrict the movement and freedoms of those who have not received it. A model of a second-class citizen is profoundly illiberal.
Much more interesting than these questions of principle is that of border disputes within the EU.
Suppose Greece requires vaccination to enter the country while France does not. In the example given here, a person flying from Paris to Athens would travel in the Schengen area, and therefore should not be required to provide an identity document.
On the other hand, a vaccination passport would require the cross-checking of information on vaccines with identity cards, which would make it impossible to pursue the Schengen ideal.
Airlines only check identity cards to cross-check their ticket information with that of the person boarding, but this is purely and simply the prerogative of the airlines, and those who travel a lot will know that not all airlines are not thorough on this point. Outsourcing the vaccination obligation to airlines will be neither practical nor necessarily legal.
Note that this measure has so far only concerned airlines, which are a relatively simple mode of travel (entry and exit are easily identifiable). What about crossing maritime borders by ferry, crossing a mountain on a bicycle or just driving a car? Vaccination passports would, in essence, be verified by random checks.
Random Checks are a whole new Pandora’s Box, and even more fascinating. Identity card checks are not legal in all EU member states, as law enforcement needs a reasonable suspicion to apply for an identity card (thankfully).
In these countries, random checking of vaccine passports would be just as illegal. Countries that practice random checks will be faced with multiple new human rights clauses and constitutional restrictions – including the European Court of Justice which will have to decide whether a French citizen in Athens may be required to present a vaccination passport when checking in. ‘a random check on arrival at the airport.
The relevant question is: why is this so important?
Countries are also currently using testing requirements for Covid-19, while performing checks with ID cards. Governments have done exactly the right thing, in accordance with the Schengen Treaty, given the unusual circumstances of the pandemic.
Note, however, that Hungary (provision expired on January 28, 2021), Denmark, Norway and Finland are the only countries to have required formal derogations from the Schengen agreement.
Whether it’s legal shenanigans or not, vaccine passports are a bad idea for a multitude of reasons. We know that the police accumulate too much power to “protect” citizens, and that they are very reluctant to give it back afterwards. September 11 and the subsequent terrorist attacks in Europe showed the fragility of the discourse on civil rights. Also, forcing vaccination or introducing it through the back door will not buy confidence, only suspicion.
It would be unwise to introduce vaccination passports at this or any other stage in the future.
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