Spain wants EU to offer subsidised holidays to European pensioners

Spanish tourism authorities are pushing for the country’s Imserso scheme, which offers subsidised holiday packages for under €400 to seniors in Spain, to be offered to over-65s across the European Union. 

Spain wants EU to offer subsidised holidays to European pensioners
If approved by the EU, the scheme could see pensioners from EU countries travel to Spain on state-subisided holidays. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP)

Imserso is a social scheme offering big discounts on holidays to the elderly in Spain, a programme that aims to improve their quality of life and health, whilst also alleviating employment issues for the country’s tourism sector during low season. 

Over-65s with a Spanish pension, as well as other people who fulfil certain criteria, can enjoy holidays in different locations across Spain for €115 (four days) to €405 (ten days), including accommodation, food and transport. 

READ ALSO – What foreigners in Spain should know about applying for Imserso

As could be expected, the scheme is very popular in Spain, so much so that Spanish tourism authorities have pitched it to the European Union in the hope that it can be exported across the continent. 

“Today, seniors constitute 21 percent of the total population of the European Union and spend 5.6 percent of their income on tourism,” said Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism Fernando Valdés during his presentation of the European Senior Tourism Programme in Dijon, France. 

A European Imserso would reinforce the sense of belonging to the European Union among its seniors, Valdés added, as it would see pensioners travel outside of their country’s borders to another EU nation on a state-subsidised holiday. 

Spain’s Secretary of State for Tourism also highlighted that the Imserso could help to address the matter of seasonality for tourism-dependant economies in Europe.  

Spain’s Imserso is currently proving to be a lifeline for some popular destinations in the country as the pre-booked subsidised holiday packages by seniors have remained unaffected by the war in Ukraine.

“Europe should continue being the main tourism destination of the world,” Valdés argued as he called for the EU to mobilise community resources and allocate funds if “we want to provide our tourism sector with the tools to turn itself into a more sustainable, inclusive, digital and, therefore, resilient sector.”

Spanish Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto also stressed on March 23rd that a European senior tourism scheme would “be a reward for the elderly, who have suffered the most during the Covid-19 pandemic”.

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EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

The EU has announced that its Covid travel certificate will be extended until 2023 - so what does this mean if you have a trip planned this year?

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023

Cleaning up the phone and thinking of getting rid of that Covid app? Just wait a minute. 

The European Union has decided to extend the use of EU Covid certificates by one year, until June 30th 2023. 

The European Commission first made the proposal in February as the virus, and the Omicron variant in particular, was continuing to spread in Europe. At that point it was “not possible to determine the impact of a possible increase in infections in the second half of 2022 or of the emergence of new variants,” the Commission said. 

Now tourism is taking off again, while Covid cases are on the rise in several European countries.

So the EU has taken action to ensure that travellers can continue using the so-called ‘digital green certificates’ in case new restrictions are put in place after their initial deadline of June 30th, 2022. 

What is the EU ‘digital green certificate’?

If you have travelled within the EU in the last year, you have probably already used it.

On 1st July 2021, EU countries started to introduce the ‘digital green certificate’, a Covid pass designed by the European Commission to facilitate travel between EU member states following months of restrictions.

It can be issued to EU citizens and residents who have been vaccinated against Covid, have tested negative or have recovered from the virus, as a proof of their health status. 

Although it’s called a certificate, it isn’t a separate document, it’s just a way of recognising all EU countries’ national health pass schemes.

It consists of a QR code displayed on a device or printed.

So if you live in an EU country, the QR code issued when you were vaccinated or tested can be scanned and recognised by all other EU countries – you can show the code either on a paper certificate or on your country’s health pass app eg TousAntiCovid if you’re in France or the green pass in Italy. 

Codes are recognised in all EU 27 member states, as well as in 40 non-EU countries that have joined the scheme, including the UK – full list here.

What does the extension of certificates mean? 

In practice, the legal extension of the EU Covid pass does not mean much if EU countries do not impose any restrictions.

It’s important to point out that each country within the EU decides on its own rules for entry – requiring proof of vaccination, negative tests etc so you should check with your country of destination.

All the EU certificate does is provide an easy way for countries to recognise each others’ certificates.

At present travel within the EU is fairly relaxed, with most countries only requiring negative tests for unvaccinated people, but the certificate will become more relevant again if countries impose new measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

According to the latest data by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, countries such as France, Portugal and parts of Italy and Austria are in the red again. 

The EU legislation on the certificate neither prescribes nor prohibits such measures, but makes sure that all certificate holders are treated in the same way in any participating country. 

The EU certificate can also be used for access to venues such as bars and restaurants if countries decided to re-impose health or vaccines passes on a domestic basis.

So nothing changes?

In fact, the legislation introduces some changes to the current certificates. These include the clarification that passes issued after vaccination should reflect all doses administered, regardless of the member state where the inoculation occurred. This followed complaints of certificates indicating an incorrect number of vaccine doses when these were received in different countries.

In addition, new rules allow the possibility to issue a certificate of recovery following an antigen test and extend the range of uthorised antigen tests to qualify for the green pass. 

To support the development and study of vaccines against Covid, it will also be possible to issue vaccination certificates to people participating in clinical trials.

At the insistence of the European Parliament, the Commission will have to publish an assessment of the situation by December 31st 2022 and propose to repeal or maintain the certificate accordingly. So, while it is extended for a year, the certificate could be discontinued earlier if it will no longer be consider necessary. 

The European parliament rapporteur, Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said: “The lack of coordination from EU governments on travel brought chaos and disruption to the lives of millions of Europeans that simply wanted to move freely and safely throughout the EU.

“We sincerely hope that the worst of the pandemic is far behind us and we do not want Covid certificates in place a day longer than necessary.”

Vaccination requirements for the certificate

An EU certificate can be issued to a person vaccinated with any type of vaccine, but many countries accept only EMA-approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Valneva and Janssen) – if you have been vaccinated with another vaccine, you should check the rules on the country you are travelling to.  

Certificates remain valid for 9 months (270) days following a complete vaccination cycle – so if you had your vaccine more than nine months ago you will need a booster in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

There is no requirement for a second booster, so if you have had a booster you remain ‘fully vaccinated’ even if your booster was administered more than 9 months ago. 

As of 1st March 2022, EU countries had issued almost 1.2 billion EU Covid certificates, of which 1.15 billion following vaccination, 511 million as a result of tests and 55 million after recovery from the virus. 

France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Austria are the countries that have issued the largest number of EU Covid certificates.