The EU Commission has just proposed what it calls a Digital Green Certificate to open up travel in the continent before summer. The idea is to facilitate safe free travel during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the information expected to be found on the proposed Digital Green Certificate include whether travellers have been vaccinated, whether they have COVID immunity already or whether they've had a recent PCR test amongst. The proposition comes at a time when the EU vaccination scheme is being heavily criticised for slow roll-outs, export controls and supply problems.
Euronews talked to Vice President of the EU Commission, Margaritis Schinas, to get his insight on the proposed certificate and on how the EU vaccination programme is going.
The certificate includes only the EMA approved vaccines. What will happen with member states that have other kinds of vaccines, like the ones from Russia or China? Will the travellers from these countries be eligible for this certificate?
Vice President of the EU Commission, Margaritis Schinas:
"Two things there: First, the certificate does not only include a reference on proof of vaccination, it also includes the evidence of PCR tests and it also includes something that concerns both of us, recovery from COVID-19. So it's not obligatory to be vaccinated. To be able to travel, you have to tick one of the three boxes".
What about people from Hungary, for example?
"Now, on the non EMA vaccines, the proposal says that, of course, EMA approved vaccines should show. But we also open an option that would allow member states who have authorised non EMA vaccines, non EMA approved vaccines, to include them in the relative box, provided the member state of destination accepts this vaccine as equivalent protection".
What about travellers from third countries that won't have access to this EU certificate?
"We open a proposal to recognise the certificates issued by third countries provided that they reflect the same level of information and trustworthiness as our own. And I think this is perfectly doable because many of the countries around us use EMA approved vaccines. 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".
Tourism is essential to some member states, like Greece, Cyprus and Italy, which rely economically on the sector. They want these certificates to come forward fast. But the cases of COVID-19 are still very high across Europe. Is it a bit premature or optimistic to be talking about tourism and certificates already?
"I don't think it's a risk for those who would have the citizens who would travel with a certificate to be able to prove one of the three boxes that the certificates would ask them to take. It would have been a risk if we would have people travelling without any of these three assurances. To put it differently, if you have not been vaccinated or you have not had a PCR test or no COVID immunity, then you better not travel because you are a potential risk for others. So, no, we do not see it as a risk. On the contrary, we see it as a risk mitigation element, if you like".
Will this certificate be ready by summer? When it comes to coordination, Europe is not doing very well. We've seen that with tracking apps because member states made individual choices. What makes you believe that this time things will go better?
"First of all, because this is a legally binding instrument. So it will be grounded firmly in EU law. It's not a recommendation. The second, I think, is that there is a growing convergence, both amongst member states on the need to have such a tool. So, yes, I think there are grounds for optimism to be ready before summer".
When do you expect it will be ready?
"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".
The President of the EU Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, has threatened vaccine export bans, especially to the UK. Do you believe that this is happening because Europe is losing the vaccine battle?
"No, 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. I also don't think that the President presented this in terms of a ban. I think this is a reciprocity initiative that has to be understood in the 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. And this knowledge allows us to match also the obligations of other third countries in the respect of their obligations of feeding the European markets with exports".
Are you saying that the UK is not respecting its obligations?
"I think it's known that so far the European Union as a Union 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. And not to close, not to ban, but I would simply say as an incentive for international cooperation".
Are you satisfied with the pace of vaccinations in Europe, compared to countries like the UK, the United States and Israel?
"There is an issue in Europe. There was an issue in Europe in the beginning of the year where one of the EMA approved vaccines, one company failed to combine their contractual obligations with their capacity".
Are you referring to AstraZeneca?
"Yes, yes. And we are in constant contact with the company and others, and we are very happy now that the shortcomings from that end are being compensated by more doses coming from other companies. So I can say that we are on target and our targets for 300 million doses by the end of June and to have the majority, the 70 percent of the adult population in Europe vaccinated by summer. These targets are within reach".