EU leaders touched upon the idea of a digital vaccination certificate at their virtual summit on Thursday (25 February), tasking ambassadors to come up with proposals in three months’ time, when there would be sufficient number of EU citizens vaccinated.
“There is consensus that electronic certificates have to be created quickly so we can introduce them as soon as sufficient share of people is inoculated,” EU sources told EURACTIV.com.
It was made clear though that these certificates will not be granted to people who got infected but only to people who got vaccinated with EU-approved jabs.
The proposal for a vaccination certificate was pushed forward by Greece and had been primarily backed by countries whose economies rely on tourism, such as Spain, Malta, Italy, Cyprus as well as Austria and Estonia.
Germany and France were more reluctant in the beginning, considering that not all people have access to vaccines and secondly, the scientific community is not sure yet about the effectiveness of the current vaccines toward new COVID-19 variants.
However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel seemed having warmed up about the idea.
“The political mandate is to be achieved in the coming months [three months] and that is why I believe that all EU member states are working to achieve this in a timely manner,” Merkel said after the summit.
However, she added that for now a vaccination certificate is not a priority considering the low level of vaccination of the population.
Council President Charles Michel admitted that the vaccine certificates remain an “open question” and what people would be able to do with them would be decided by each country. Work on coordinating vaccine certificates would continue at the level of ambassadors in the next three months, he explained.
EU versus Google and Apple
Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen said that Google and Apple were already offering their vaccine certificate solutions to the World Health Organization. “We want a EU solution”, she stressed.
Indeed, the big challenge for policy makers is the interoperability and generally the technical part of such a scheme. “We need to find a way to make it harmonised at the EU level, so we need to start working on it now and have it ready when the time comes,” a source said.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis noted that the earlier decisions are made the better for the EU, otherwise the private sector will inevitably move in this direction.
The Greek leader clarified that the certificate will not be equivalent to a health passport, but instead will open a fast lane for travel, without the restrictions caused by diagnostic tests and mandatory quarantine.
“Facilitation of travel does not only concern the countries that receive a large number of tourists but also the aviation and hospitality industries,” he added.
Greece has already made a bilateral deal with Israel on a vaccination certificate while press reports suggest that talks are ongoing with the UK.
Sources told EURACTIV that unless an EU-wide solution is found, more bilateral deals will come up. But such a move is seen with scepticism in the European Commission, which fears that it would cause a “chaotic” situation in the area of Schengen.
Fury at pharma industry
EURACTIV.com has also learnt that a number of countries lashed out against the pharma industry for the delays of the vaccines’ deliveries.
EU sources said there were many questions for the Commission on delays, how to speed up production and how to explain the difficulties Europe is facing.
The same sources said the leaders decided on a tougher approach on vaccines export ban for companies not respecting commitments.
Poland was among the most furious countries. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki proposed to break the intellectual property rights of companies that are not respecting the contracts and exporting to UAE or Israel instead.
Before the summit, Bulgaria’s Health Minister Kostadin Angelov sent an aggressive letter to British-Swedish pharma company AstraZeneca.
“With the lack of vaccines that were supposed to be delivered by your company the message that your company sends to the Bulgarian people would sound like this: ‘AstraZeneca has taken the hope out of your hands’,” the minister wrote.
AstraZeneca said on Thursday that it was trying to deliver 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the EU by the end of March, which is in practice less than half of what it committed to under its contract.
Charles Michel said the bloc wanted “more predictability and transparency” from pharmaceutical companies that failed to deliver contracted vaccine volumes, putting at risk the EU’s target of inoculating 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer.
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that 51 million doses of vaccines had so far been delivered across the EU and 29 million administered, with about 5% of citizens having had their first dose. She voiced confidence that the 70% goal could be achieved. In her words the firms exporting most COVID-19 vaccines from the EU were honouring supply contracts with Europe, but Brussels was keeping “a very close eye” on AstraZeneca because of its reduced deliveries.
Asked about the idea of the EU introducing export controls similar to those of the USA, she said the EU sought “transparency”. 95% of the vaccine exports in the EU are by Pfizer-BioNTech , the rest by Moderna, she said.
She put it very politely, but @vonderleyen just a moment ago pretty openly criticised #AstraZeneca, saying #BioNtechPfizer and #Moderna keep their contractual obligations, whereas AZ has "room for improvement", and "we'll have a close look at what's happening." #euco
— Oliver Grimm (@grimmse) February 25, 2021
Meanwhile, EU anti-fraud agency OLAF has confirmed EURACTIV reports about a vast black market of COVID-19 vaccines.
In a statement, OLAF said several EU countries reported offers from “alleged intermediaries” for 900 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for some €12.7 billion.