The EU's vaccine passport should be in place between May 17 and June 1 before the tourism season kicks off, says Margaritis Schinas, European Commission Vice-President in charge of Promoting our European Way of Life.
Schinas is confident that, because the Digital Green Certificate is a regulation and therefore legally-binding across the bloc, the approval process will speed up drastically.
"There is a growing convergence, amongst member states on the need to have such a tool," Schinas said. "I discussed this with the group leaders of the European Parliament. I also sense the same eagerness in the [European] Parliament for fast-track approval. So, yes, I think there are grounds for optimism [for the certificate] to be ready before summer."
"I think summer starts on the first of June, and we have another date, which is the 17th of May, which is the date where our British friends have announced that they will resume international travel. I think this is a notion of time which realistically we should target."
"But there is also some work to be done because now member states internally," he cautioned. "They have to develop the technical platforms that would allow these certificates through to materialise."
Schinas was speaking to Euronews shortly after the official presentation of the EU's green certificate on Wednesday afternoon. The vice-president explained that the instrument will simplify travel "enormously" by replacing all the existing documents that citizens are now forced to carry when they move around.
"This document is about recovering our way of life. We need to continue working on the epidemiological front, on the vaccination front to continue fighting the virus. But at the same time, we also need to start organising [the] safe reopening of our economy and society."
Schinas warned that, as more people get vaccinated and have access to PCR tests, the travel demand will be stronger. "Some describe it also as an explosion of mobility around the summer. And we have a duty to prepare for that as well," he remarked.
EU open to certificates from third countries
Besides proof of vaccination, the certificate will also include negative test results and medical statements of those who have recovered from COVID-19 in the last 180 days. This is the first time that the EU will attempt to introduce a cross-border instrument containing this kind of sensitive data.
"The certificate will be fully GDPR compliant," the vice-president said. "It will respect our privacy rules and our security requirements."
One of the most notable aspects of the proposal is that it will allow individual member states to decide whether vaccines not yet approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) provide an equivalent level of protection than those already green-lighted. Countries like Hungary are already using vaccines from Russia and China in their health campaigns.
"Those member states who have introduced non-EMA approved vaccines and would like their certificate to show that - clearly, that would depend on the acceptance of the member state of the destination," Schinas explained.
In parallel to the new proposal, the Commission will work on the recognition of similar certificates and vaccine passports issued by non-EU countries.
"We open a proposal to recognise the certificates issued by third countries provided that they reflect the same level of information and trustworthiness with our own. And I think this is perfectly doable because many of the countries around us use EMA-approved vaccines. But this will be done separately," Schinas clarified.
"Once we move into this recognition of certificates issued by third countries, inevitably we would have to revisit also the question of our guidance for non-essential travel from third [countries]. If we recognise certificates issued by a third country, it doesn't make sense to maintain the ban on non-essential travel. So these two will have to be aligned."
'Zero vaccines coming from US and UK'
The vice-president weighed in on the debate around the millions of EU-made doses that are being exported around the world. His boss, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, said on Wednesday that the bloc will act following the principles of "proportionality and reciprocity".
Schinas denied the words amounted to a threat of an exports ban.
"I think this is a reciprocity initiative that has to be understood in conjunction with the export authorisation scheme that we have put in place since early February. We need to know how many doses are coming out of the European Union and where do they go," he argued.
"It's known that, so far, the European Union is a union [that] has authorised exports of around 40 million doses of vaccines to the rest of the world, to 35 countries. This is part of our European way of life. This is who we are. We do not work only for Europe. We have international obligations."
"But it is also known that from the US and from the UK, there were zero exports [to] the European Union. So we think it makes sense to combine knowledge, which we already now have, through the export authorisation scheme with this reciprocity work."
Target to vaccinate 70% of adult population 'within reach'
Asked whether Europe was losing the vaccination race in comparison to other rich counties such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel, the vice-president chose to defend the bloc's strategy.
"I do not think that Europe is losing the battle of vaccines. I think there is a lot of noise around the European vaccination programme. It makes sense because this is the biggest vaccination programme ever implemented in the history of vaccinations," he declared.
"There is always a difficulty in comparing the situation. First of all, because in the UK and elsewhere, numbers relate to the number of people who have been vaccinated with the first doses. And this gives an optical effect which is bigger than Europe, [where] we privilege the second the full vaccination."
Schinas said that the delays from AstraZeneca will be compensated by the doses of other manufactures. He believes that, despite the rollout's initial shortcomings, European Union will be able to meet its inoculation goals.
"Our targets for 300 million doses by the end of June and to have the majority (70%) of the adult population in Europe vaccinated by summer - these targets are within reach."