Brussels (Brussels Morning) An eight centuries-old nation with a history of navigating uncharted waters, Portugal will take over the presidency of the EU in a game-changing year for Europe.
To come, is the vaccination strategy and challenges of health coordination; the first steps of social and economic recovery after the pandemic outbreak, including the submission of national recovery and resilience plans by April; the early stages of the execution of the EU-budget for 2021-2027; the Rule of Law conditionality mechanism; the ratification and implementation of the agreement with the UK; and the relaunching of the Conference on the Future of Europe.
A Portuguese presidency will help advance these critical issues for the Union’s future and pave the way for the next presidential cycles.
The Portuguese presidency’s agenda fits with the shared programme of the current trio presidency made up with Germany and Slovenia between July 2020 to December 2021 and will focus on five main priorities: Resilient Europe, Social Europe, Green Europe, Digital Europe and Global Europe.
Suppose recovery from the COVID-19 nightmare is to succeed with the Union emerging more resilient from the crisis. In that case, we need to not only address structural weaknesses by promoting our strategic autonomy, industrial assets and value-chains, but also to make sure that the NextGenerationEU instrument and its Recovery and Resilience Facility are underpinned by social sustainability, inclusiveness and attention to the most vulnerable groups in order to regain the people’s trust and support.
Similarly, the digital and green transitions must rest on a just balance between the economic goals and social rights.
Long-term goals and social rights
At the same time, the Portuguese presidency will do its utmost to strengthen multilateralism and endeavour to reflect the EU’s human rights approach and long-term green and digital objectives in the external agenda. Globally, Portugal will have to direct its attention to the investment deal with China and reconciliation with the US after the regrettable Trump years.
There are then major events like the EU-India Summit, to be held in Porto, in May, and the EU-African Union Summit, postponed to 2021.
In particular, my country’s presidency will strive to put the social dimension at the heart of the EU’s policies. The Social Summit will be convened in Porto next year, on 7-8 May, and its chief purpose will be to give a decisive impetus to the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, building on the Action Plan foreseen for early next year.
The Social Summit will also be the right moment for European leaders to discuss policies such as the Child Guarantee initiative, which the Commission is planning to launch in early 2021, and to progress on the proposal for a directive on adequate minimum wages put forward by Commissioner Nicolas Schmit in October.
The mere existence of such a proposal is of high political significance because it consolidates the “social turning” in the EU’s narrative. Porto will be the place for member states to seriously commit towards a Social Europe. Protecting Europeans from poverty and social exclusion will be the best antidote to populism and nationalism.
It is hard to envisage a shining future for the European project should it fail to tackle the persistent reality of so many millions of citizens at risk of poverty, including the unbearable reality of child poverty, the phenomenon of the ‘working poor’, rising homelessness and the lack of adequate and affordable housing, and other dire situations further exacerbated by the pandemic-induced recession.
I like to think that the Porto Summit will be a summit of hope. The EU can count on Portugal to keep a trustful and steady hand at the helm.