EU readies e-wallet in digital overhaul

In this March 11, 2021 photo, European Union flags fly outside the headquarters of the European Commission in Brussels. (ARIS OIKONOMOU / AFP)

The European Union was set to reveal plans on Wednesday for a digital wallet to be made available to citizens of all 27 member states, giving them a secure way to use public and private online services through one unified platform.

The proposed digital travel pass will lift spirits and also boost economies within the bloc

Methods of accessing the app-based system will include finger print and retina scan security, and the Financial Times reports it can also store documents such as driving licenses.

It will not be compulsory to sign up, but when it is complete, the system will be the culmination of what Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner in charge of digital policy, referred to in a speech earlier this year as "keys to their digital twin" for all users.

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The system is part of preparations for post-pandemic life in the EU. Officials working on the project hope the way people have adapted to increased online living during lockdowns will make it a more acceptable innovation.

Precisely how the new system is used will be the decision of individual countries. It is part of a general overhaul of bloc-wide electronic identification, whose current incarnation has failed to win over many citizens. In eight EU states, it is not used at all.

The news comes one week after Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi said he hoped a so-called green pass, allowing for unrestricted travel without quarantine, could be ready for EU members by the middle of June, earlier than had previously been suggested.

Lifting spirits

The proposed digital travel pass will lift spirits and also boost economies within the bloc.

"European citizens are looking forward to traveling again," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Agreement on the digital COVID certificate, she said, means they "will be able to do so safely very soon".

"National wallet apps could be developed, but are not the only option," a commission representative told The website. "Integration in existing tracing or other apps, commercial solutions, digital storage of PDFs and of course paper certificates are also possible."

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Visitors from outside the EU will still need to observe quarantine rules and travel restrictions, but von der Leyen said a digital COVID-19 certificate, and the advantages it would give, were part of the EU's principle of freedom of movement.

"All EU citizens have a fundamental right to free movement in the EU," she said.

"The EU Digital COVID Certificate, available in paper or digital format, will make it easier for Europeans to travel, whether to see their families and loved ones or to get some well-deserved rest."