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On midnight of January 1st of 2021, while most Europeans were celebrating the end of annus horribilis 2020, a team of hundreds of people, divided between Lisbon and Brussels, were taking on the six-months challenge of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. To those readers who are not up to date on how the European machine works, the Council of European Union – not to be mistaken by the not at all confusingly named Council of Europe – has a rotating six-month Presidency among the 27 members of the EU. To avoid further confusion, from now on, we will be referring to the Council of the European Union as simply, the Council.
The moto of the Portuguese Presidency is “Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery”, and it will be working around the following 3 priorities:
I. Promoting an European recovery boosted by the green and digital transitions.
II. Delivering the European Union’s Social Pillar as a key element for ensuring a fair and inclusive green and digital transition.
III. Strengthening the strategic autonomy of an Europe that is open to the world.
According to the Portuguese government, these three priorities will be achieved under a program focused on five lines of action. The first of which is a Resilient Europe that promotes the Union’s recovery, cohesion, and values. Ensuring the implementation of the new seven-year Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) that came into effect on January 1st is one of the responsibilities of the Presidency that fall under this line of action. You may learn more about the new €1 trillion 2021-2027 MFF on a previously published article titled “European Budget”. On top of the new MFF, Portugal will have to ensure the implementation of the €750 billion NextGenerationEu recovery package that aims at helping member states recover from the economic and social deterioration caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In this context, Portugal has invited all 27 member states to a high-level summit in Lisbon focused on the recovery and response to the economic crisis. Besides the goal of guaranteeing the recovery of the EU from the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating impacts on the European Economy, Portugal wants to strength the EU’s coordination in disaster response and enhance its capacity to identity and tackle future infectious diseases. This objective is aimed to be achieved through a reinforcement of the European Union Civil Protection Mechanism, which may be used by countries when their own domestic capabilities are overwhelmed by a disaster.
As for the controversial Pact on Migration and Asylum that was announced by the Commission President Von der Leyen in September of last year, the Portuguese Presidency hopes to bring “the positions of the Member States closer together”. The pact can only become EU law if it is both approved by the Council and the EU parliament. The position of the Portuguese Presidency is to create as much common ground as possible among the member states, however, it has not shown an intent to bring the proposal into law by the end of its presidency.
The second line of action is a Green Europe that promotes the EU as a leader in climate action. Portugal announced as a “big priority” the approval of the European Climate Law by the end of the mandate. The European Climate Law aims to write into the law the Green Deal’s goals of reducing greenhouse gases in the EU by 55% compared to 1990 levels and achieve net-zero emission by 2050.
Despite being the 12th country of the European Union in terms of land area, Portugal’s exclusive economic zone is the 3rd largest in the Union. Having this in mind, it is easy to understand that an important target for the country, during the following months, is to highlight the importance of the blue (ocean) economy and its sustainability. A conference on this very subject is expected to be held in June on Azores’ islands.
The Portuguese Presidency has also committed itself to conclude the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy with the objective, among other things, of improving the environmental sustainability of the Union’s agricultural sector.
The third line of action is accelerating the digital transformation in service of citizens and enterprises. Portugal will focus on accelerating the Union’s digital transition as a tool to foster a faster economic recovery, from the covid-19 pandemic, and to bolster European leadership in digital innovation. On January 7th, the Portuguese minister for economic affairs, Pedro Siza Viera, announced Portugal intends to move ahead on negotiations on two legislative packages called the Digital Services Act and the Digital Market Law. The two proposals are protecting European consumers’ rights by increasing regulatory control on major technological platforms, such as Google and Facebook. Although the minister acknowledged he does not expect to reach a complete agreement on these two measures, he hopes to achieve “a consensus that can soon be followed up”. Portugal also plans to upgrade the continent’s digital infrastructure by creating a strategic European Data Entry platform based on submarine cable that will link Europe, South America, and Africa. There is hope that this project could result in a boom of Europe’s telecom industry.
The fourth line of action is the enhancement and strengthening of the European social model. With the planned high-level Porto Social Summit, the main focus of the Portuguese Presidency appears to be on energising political support for the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and its action plan. The European Pillar of Social Rights sets out 20 key principles and rights that aspires to an EU that is “fair, inclusive, and full of opportunities”. The action plan by the European Commission turns these principles into actions and it proposes targets to be reached by 2030. The President of the European Foundation for Progressive Studies, Maria João Rodrigues, has said the Porto Social Summit “can be an historic moment” of the EU’s commitment to social rights.
The fifth and final line of action is promoting an Europe that is open to the world. The Portuguese Presidency will continue the European diplomatic strategy of openness to the world and effective multilateralism. The Portuguese minister of foreign affairs has acknowledged that he hopes to have a free-trade agreement between the EU and Mercosur concluded before the end of the presidency, which shows a synchronisation with the EU’s trade strategy that focuses on the development of new bilateral or plurilateral trade agreements. The 6th EU-African Union Summit demonstrates the interest of Portugal to maintain a strategic dialogue between the two continents to address global challenges such as climate change or peace and security. Lastly, there has been a renewed interest by Portugal to strengthen the dialogue between the EU and both the United States and India. As for the time of writing, there are ongoing negations for a meeting between the EU and the Biden administration, and the prime minister of India has been invited to a meeting with European leaders that will take place this May in Porto.
João Sande e Castro