From next July, pets moving between any EU state must carry an electronic microchip for easy identification, or a tattoo, and be vaccinated against rabies, EC officials said on Thursday.

The EU pet passport - with a blue cover and yellow stars of the European emblem - will carry proof of vaccination and an optional photo.

"The advantage is not having to enquire about the regulations in other countries, so there is a kind of internal market in travelling for pets," Commission spokeswoman Beate Gminder told a news conference.

Many holidaymakers now leave their pets at home because national rules vary across the EU making travelling with animals too complicated.

"This is a significant step for the free movement of people and their pets, and a step that was made possible by dramatic advances made in our fight against rabies," said David Byrne,
commissioner for health.

Because they are rabies-free, Sweden, Ireland and Britain will have extra controls on pet movements until 2008.