On 1 January 2021, Portugal took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union from Germany. During a six-month period, Portugal will lead the work at all levels of the Council, building co-operation, agreement and solidarity between the member states.
The next six months will be one of the most crucial periods in EUs history when the member states will implement vaccination programmes to achieve group immunity, recover from the coronavirus crisis and hopefully reopen their economies.
In its work programme, Portugal has defined three main priorities, broken down to a number of action points, under the motto “Time to deliver: for a fair, green and digital recovery”:
1. Promoting a European recovery boosted by the green and digital transitions. Portugal will focus on implementing the European Green Deal and the commitments to reduce emissions in the fight against climate change, and strengthening the energy transition, sustainable mobility and the blue (ocean) economy.
2. Delivering the European Union’s Social Pillar as a key element for ensuring a fair and inclusive green and digital transition. Portugal will support the creation of a European Health Union, strengthening capacity to respond to public health crises and efforts to produce and distribute safe vaccines accessible throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
3. Strengthening the strategic autonomy of a Europe that is open to the world. Portugal will defend Europe’s autonomy on the basis of the development of a dynamic industrial strategy that promotes European value chains and pays particular attention to strengthening small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Last Friday (15 January), the Portuguese Presidency met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the Commission’s Vice-Presidents in Lisbon for a round of meetings on the programme and the priorities.
The meeting, in the middle of the third wave of the coronavirus crisis, was considered as essential because a number of “extremely important files need to be carried forward”, the Commission’s chief spokesperson said at today’s press conference in Brussels.
In particular, Portugal is expected to emphasise the implementation of the EU recovery package and the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027, as well as of the European Pillar of Social Rights.
Portugal plans to organise a high-level conference on recovery to discuss the economic and financial situation, taking into account the national recovery and resilience plans. The conference is scheduled to take place quite late in June in Lisbon. A hot potato which needs to be solved before that is the issue of the rule of law conditionality.
The Porto Social Summit is planned to take place in May and will give political impetus to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and its action plan. One of the main points will be a new directive on adequate minimum wages.
The Conference on the Future of Europe has been hanging in the air because of the coronavirus crisis. The Portuguese Presidency does not specify any date for it but writes that it will do its utmost to ensure that the Conference will become an opportunity for a discussion involving institutions and citizens on the directions and results of European policies.
A divisive issue during the presidency is the follow up on the negotiation of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum with a view to a comprehensive and integrated European approach to be agreed between countries.
There are many priorities in the work programme. What are the most important ones where Portugal wants to leave a footprint? A spokesperson of the Portuguese Presidency replied that it will work to deliver on all the priorities in its Presidency.
“In particular, the time is now ripe to implement all the agreements made by the leaders in the previous semester. This is aligned with the Presidency’s motto – Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery”.
To speed up the implementation of the agreed programmes, Prime Minister Costa wrote to fellow Heads of State or Government urging them to ensure the speedy ratification of the Own Resources Decision, in order to ensure that this process is completed by the end of the first quarter.
“Only then, and with the National Recovery and Implementation Plans can we move collectively to face the challenges and opportunities opened by the twin digital and green transitions.”
Will Portugal take any initiative to accelerate the deliveries of vaccines to the member states? The spokesperson referred to the informal video conference of the European affairs ministers today (18 January).
“The ministers will among others look at the different angles of this challenge, including measures to speed up vaccination plans, with a view to preparing the Informal meeting of EU Leaders scheduled for 21 January which will precisely address this issue.”