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EUROPEAN UNION

Could PCR tests for travel to Spain and EU be free this summer?

Two Spanish regions and one of the leading proponents of the European Parliament's push for Covid passports are calling for the PCR tests needed for travel to Spain to be made free for EU tourists this summer.

Could PCR tests for travel to Spain and EU be free this summer?
Photo: Desiree Martin/AFP

Europeans who are not vaccinated should have access to free PCR tests for travel, according to Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the Spanish MEP who’s leading the European Parliament’s negotiations for the launch of the Digital Green Certificates, or Covid passports.

The EU hopes to introduce their so-called Digital Green Certificates in June, just in time for the summer season. According to the European Commission website, they will have information on whether a traveller has been vaccinated or not, if they have received a negative test result or if they have recovered from Covid-19.

Those Europeans who are not vaccinated or who have not had Covid, will however still have to present a negative PCR test in order to travel between EU countries, and Aguilar is arguing that these must be free.

“We are currently negotiating the measures, some of which I think we can find a broad consensus for,” Aguilar told Spanish newspaper El Confidencial. 

“The first point we’ll tackle is making PCRs free of charge.

“We are against the economic discrimination PCRs bring.

“They are very expensive, prohibitively so for interns or students. PCRs have to be free of charge.

“Without freedom of movement there will be no social and economic recovery”, Aguilar concluded, while admitting that getting all EU countries to agree with the proposal will not be easy.

According to Aguilar, the privacy of citizens’ data and free PCR tests were the two most important issues being discussed during the implementation of these new certificates. 

Spain’s Valencia and Balearic regions also call for free PCR tests

The president of the Generalitat of Valencia, Ximo Puig, and the president of the Balearic Islands, Francina Armengol, agree with Aguilar’s stance and have both demanded that the European Union finance free PCR for EU citizens who want to travel this summer so that they do not become a “limitation” due to their high prices.

“If vaccines are free, within the European social space, PCRs should be too”, pointed out Puig, with the aim of “guaranteeing the possibilities” for all people and facilitating mobility “in complete safety”.

“They must be free and financed with European funds, so that citizens can travel to another country,” Puig continued.

Unlike the free vaccines PCRs currently cost about €100 in private laboratories in Spain, and on popular dates when many people travel, such as last Christmas, they rose to around €150 or €160 .

The EU is currently in discussions as to the final format of this certificate, but the European Parliament has already decided that they want to change its name to “anticovid certificate” instead of Digital Green Certificate, so that it is more understandable for citizens, said Aguilar.

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EUROPEAN UNION

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary

The euro on Saturday marked 20 years since people began to use the single European currency, overcoming initial doubts, price concerns and a debt crisis to spread across the region.

The Euro celebrates its 20th anniversary
The Euro is projected onto the walls of the European Central Bank in Brussels. Photo: Daniel Rolund/AFP

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen called the euro “a true symbol for the strength of Europe” while European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde described it as “a beacon of stability and solidity around the world”.

Euro banknotes and coins came into circulation in 12 countries on January 1, 2002, greeted by a mix of enthusiasm and scepticism from citizens who had to trade in their Deutsche marks, French francs, pesetas and liras.

The euro is now used by 340 million people in 19 nations, from Ireland to Germany to Slovakia. Bulgaria, Croatia and Romania are next in line to join the eurozone — though people are divided over the benefits of abandoning their national currencies.

European Council President Charles Michel argued it was necessary to leverage the euro to back up the EU’s goals of fighting climate change and leading on digital innovation. He added that it was “vital” work on a banking union and a capital markets
union be completed.

The idea of creating the euro first emerged in the 1970s as a way to deepen European integration, make trade simpler between member nations and give the continent a currency to compete with the mighty US dollar.

Officials credit the euro with helping Europe avoid economic catastrophe during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Clearly, Europe and the euro have become inseparable,” Lagarde wrote in a blog post. “For young Europeans… it must be almost impossible to imagine Europe without it.”

In the euro’s initial days, consumers were concerned it caused prices to rise as countries converted to the new currency. Though some products — such as coffee at cafes — slightly increased as businesses rounded up their conversions, official statistics have shown that the euro has brought more stable inflation.

Dearer goods have not increased in price, and even dropped in some cases. Nevertheless, the belief that the euro has made everything more expensive persists.

New look

The red, blue and orange banknotes were designed to look the same everywhere, with illustrations of generic Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance architecture to ensure no country was represented over the others.

In December, the ECB said the bills were ready for a makeover, announcing a design and consultation process with help from the public. A decision is expected in 2024.

“After 20 years, it’s time to review the look of our banknotes to make them more relatable to Europeans of all ages and backgrounds,” Lagarde said.

Euro banknotes are “here to stay”, she said, although the ECB is also considering creating a digital euro in step with other central banks around the globe.

While the dollar still reigns supreme across the globe, the euro is now the world’s second most-used currency, accounting for 20 percent of global foreign exchange reserves compared to 60 percent for the US greenback.

Von der Leyen, in a video statement, said: “We are the biggest player in the world trade and nearly half of this trade takes place in euros.”

‘Valuable lessons’

The eurozone faced an existential threat a decade ago when it was rocked by a debt crisis that began in Greece and spread to other countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Cyprus were saved through bailouts in return for austerity measures, and the euro stepped back from the brink.

Members of the Eurogroup of finance ministers said in a joint article they learned “valuable lessons” from that experience that enabled their euro-using nations to swiftly respond to fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

As the Covid crisis savaged economies, EU countries rolled out huge stimulus programmes while the ECB deployed a huge bond-buying scheme to keep borrowing costs low.

Yanis Varoufakis, now leader of the DiEM 25 party who resigned as Greek finance minister during the debt crisis, remains a sharp critic of the euro. Varoufakis told the Democracy in Europe Movement 25 website that the euro may seem to make sense in calm periods because borrowing costs are lower and there are no exchange rates.

But retaining a nation’s currency is like “automobile assurance,” he said, as people do not know its value until there is a road accident. In fact, he charged, the euro increases the risk of having an accident.

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