Leaders of the European Union have downplayed suggestions that vaccination certificates for travel could be introduced rapidly following a video conference of the European Council, saying “more work needs to be done”.

EU president Ursula von der Leyen said development of the technology for vaccine certification would take “at least three months”.

This was interpreted in some media reports to mean digital vaccination passports could be in use in time for the summer.

The Times reported “Vaccination passports will be here by summer” and quoted German Chancellor Angela Merkel saying: “Everyone agreed we need a digital vaccination certificate.

“This will make travelling within the EU possible and could pave the way for travel from third countries into the EU.”

However, official statements following the conference were more cautious.

Members of the European Council said in a statement: “We are determined to continue to coordinate our action to tackle the pandemic. For the time being, non-essential travel needs to be restricted.”

On vaccination certificates, it said only: “We call for work to continue on a common approach to vaccination certificates and will come back to this issue.”

Von der Leyen told reporters: “The first task is to achieve widespread vaccination.”

On vaccination certificates, she said: “The decision on what you are able to do potentially with a vaccination certificate is to be decided within each country.

“But at the EU level, we should use them to ensure the functioning of the Single Market.”

She said the Commission would coordinate the standards for certification and create a gateway to connect the different national ‘solutions’ so that this information “is interoperable over time”.

Referring to the “technical aspects” of certification, von der Leyen said: “This takes a while, at least around three months. That is important so expectations are not too high.”

French President Emmanuel Macron warned: “I will not accept a system that conditions access to this or that country on a certificate. Our young people won’t have been vaccinated by the end of June, beginning of July.”

European Council President Charles Michel said: “Our top priority is speeding up the production and delivery of vaccines and vaccinations across the EU.

“When it comes to travel, we need to respect the common approach we agreed: non-essential travel may still need to be restricted but measures should be proportionate.

“We discussed vaccination certificates. We agreed to continue our work on a common approach.

“More work needs to be done – on digitalisation and on cooperation with the World Health Organisation. We felt more convergence among us on this topic. The European Council will revert to this matter.”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has ruled out the use of vaccination certification for international travel for the time being.

In a statement on February 5, the WHO argued: “National authorities should not introduce requirements of proof of Covid-19 vaccination for international travel as a condition for departure or entry given there are still critical unknowns regarding the efficacy of vaccination in reducing transmission.”

 

 

EU leaders agreed last month to coordinate non-essential travel restrictions, but governments including Germany have unilaterally imposed border restrictions to combat the spread of Covid-19 variants.

Merkel insisted: “We are forced to introduce certain restrictions if there are high incidence areas or mutation areas, and we are not the only ones.”

Greece has been leading efforts to develop a pan-European vaccination passport.