Travel industry lobbyists in Brussels have cast doubt on the rapid introduction of digital green certificates for travellers in Europe.

EU leaders pledged to develop certification “as a matter of urgency” at a summit on March 25. But Christina Russe, deputy secretary general of European travel agents’ and tour operators’ association ECTAA, warned: “It’s all rather vague.”

Speaking on a webinar hosted by European travel association ETOA, Russe said: “Hopefully, the digital green certificate will come out by the summer, but these are just recommendations. The member states decide at the end of the day.

“We are glad EU decision makers decided to fast track this. We hope it is going to materialise.”

But she argued: “When it comes to the pandemic, we are not Europe, we are 27 member states and each thinks they have the solution and the data and know better how to deal with it. They all have different travel restrictions.”

Airlines for Europe (A4E) policy director Agnes Leroux agreed, saying: “The [digital green certificate] initiative comes from the EC, but member states have to implement it and we have to be mindful that can take time.

“I want to be optimistic but it will be a challenge.”

She told the Etoa webinar: “Before it is digital, green certificates will be paper forms. It does not make much sense when you want to avoid interaction, but that is the reality.

“If we get one harmonised form throughout the EU whether you have been tested, vaccinated or because you have recovered, then we will be moving forward.”

Russe added: “We still have a lot of discussions around health certificates. One issue is it should not be discriminatory in the sense that only vaccinated people can travel.

“It should be made clear it is not a health pass, it is just proof you comply with the travel restrictions and if anything it is the travel restrictions that are discriminatory. They determine you need a vaccination certificate or a test in order not to quarantine.

“The other issue is protection of personal data. This is the reason the EC only proposed a temporary certificate. Measures requesting people show a health credential can only be required as long as restrictions are necessary.

“As soon as most of the population is vaccinated we can ditch the health certificate.”

The pair responded after Luis Araujo, president of the Portuguese national tourism authority Turismo de Portugal and president of the European Travel Commission, told the webinar: “It’s wonderful we had a quick decision on a digital green certificate.

“A process that usually takes two to three years will be approved in two months.”

Leroux said: “A digital green certificate is one additional tool. It relies on travel restrictions.

“We call on member states to coordinate travel restrictions. We have the ECDC [EU Centre for Disease Prevention and Control] map with different coloured zones, but the health ministry in France reads it differently from Slovenia and that is the issue.”

Tourism ministers from 13 EU states – Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain – held a virtual summit this week to discuss the roll-out of a certificate.

Following the meeting, Austrian tourism minister Elisabeth Köstinger tweeted: “Great agreement among European tourism ministers: the ‘Green Pass’ will soon make safe travel possible again.

“We are working out the priorities for implementation.”

It’s understood the first phase of development will focus on certification of test results and Covid-19 recovery status and a second phase in June include proof of vaccination