EU opens the way to vaccine passports with 'digital wallet'

EU builds on vaccine passports with ‘digital wallet’ that will hold official ID – including medical details – and work across 27 countries

  • Brussels claims Covid has shown the need for a universal document e-system
  • It says the digital wallet will provide an economic boost post-pandemic
  • The wallet can store not just medical documentation like vaccine passports, but drivers licenses, professional qualifications and financial details  

The EU today built upon its vaccine passports as it unveiled a digital wallet which can store medical details for citizens across the 27-nation bloc. 

Brussels claims Covid-19 has shown the need for an electronic universal system of documentation and says its digital wallet will boost the economy post-pandemic.

Officials last month signed off on a ‘digital Covid certificate’ which can act as a vaccine passport. But this new ID wallet goes a step further, allowing users to store other official documents like driver’s licenses, professional qualifications and financial details. 

The digital wallet ‘will enable us to do in any member state as we do at home without any extra cost and fewer hurdles,’ Margrethe Vestager, the Commission’s executive vice president for digital, said. ‘And do this in a way that is secure and transparent.’  

European Commissioner for Europe fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager speaks during a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels, Thursday

The digital wallet could be used, for example, by people renting cars at airports, allowing them to drive without providing physical documents over the counter. 

Other potential uses include opening bank accounts, signing apartment leases and enrolling in universities outside an individual’s home country.

All 450 million EU residents would be entitled to an e-wallet, but they won’t be mandatory, according to the EU Commission.

But dominant online platforms would be required to accept the wallet, a provision that aligns with the commission’s goal of reining in big tech companies and their control of personal data.

Vestager said people would be able to use their EU digital wallets to access Google or Facebook instead of their ‘platform-specific’ accounts.

‘Because of that, you can decide how much data you want to share – only enough to identify yourself,’ the commission said from Brussels during a virtual media briefing.

European Commissioner for Europe fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager, left, and European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton participate in a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels

Digital is a key part of the EU’s post-COVID 19 recovery package: A 750 billion-euro (£645 billion) stimulus fund includes benchmarks for member countries to spend one-fifth of the money on digital projects such as digitizing public administration.

Some EU countries already have their own national digital ID systems, and the wallet Brussels is developing would work with them.

The commission plans to discuss the wallet with the EU’s 27 member countries and aims to get them to agree on technical details by the fall so pilot projects can begin.

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