Passing the baton: to sun, light, and hope

by Aline Mola

As Portugal takes over the Presidency of the Council of Europe, they are doing so in an unprecedented time of challenge. COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented landscape not only of challenges but also opportunities. While guiding Europe’s recovery, the Portuguese presidency has the timely opportunity to boost the economy and develop the internal market fairly and innovatively, ensuring nobody is left behind. In a time of fear and uncertainties, the presidency has a responsibility to cement the hope of Europeans in the EU system, to ensure it can not only protect its citizens but blossom into a global leader with renewed cooperation with international partners.

2020 has been a difficult year worldwide as the pandemic affected our collective health and wellbeing but also had wider impacts such as social, financial, environmental, to name a few. The task of the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) is to lead Europe in its recovery. The current presidency trio (Germany, Portugal, and Slovenia) declared that they will manage the social and economic fallouts of the pandemic.

The motto of the German presidency of the Council of the EU, whose term ended on 31 December 2020, was “Together for Europe’s recovery”. As the first presidency of the trio and the first to take over once the pandemic was declared, Germany focused on the immediate effects. It focused on guiding the work of the Council regarding many EU files such as the agreement on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027. On 1 January 2021, Germany passed the baton of responsibility for European citizens to to Portugal as it took the presidential seat at the Council of the EU. If the German presidency was marked by decision-making, the Portuguese will be a presidency of actions as they will oversee the implementation of key measures that have been approved.

President of the Council of the EU Charles Michel emphasised his support and trust in the Portuguese presidency which, according to him, symbolizes the sun, light, and hope. Under the motto “Time to deliver: for a fair, green and digital recovery”, the presidency aims to achieve a Resilient Europe, a Green Europe, a Digital Europe, a Social Europe, and a Global Europe. These areas of action have been carefully mapped to reach three main goals.

  1. European recovery and twin transition
    The first goal is to promote a European recovery boosted by the green and digital transitions. These transitions are seen by the presidency as key drivers of opportunity for growth, allowing the EU to become global leaders on these innovations while also contributing to the development of the economy and creating jobs, and simultaneously protecting the environment and human health.
  2. EU Pillar of Social Rights
    The presidency will also deliver the EU’s Social Pillar as a key element for ensuring a fair and inclusive green and digital transition. Overall, the presidency will strengthen the trust of European citizens in the social model of the EU and its potential to allow for recovery and improve resilience. A key event will be the Social Summit held in Porto in May that will gather different stakeholders in their commitment to the European Action Plan on the Pillar of Social Rights.
  3. An independent and global Europe
    Strengthening the strategic autonomy of a Europe that is open to the world is the final main goal of the Portuguese presidency. The pandemic has emphasised an interesting duality that is crucial. On the one hand, the EU needs to develop its autonomy, for instance, to improve access to medicines. On the other hand, however, it is key to simultaneously improve coordination and cooperation with global partners to better prepare, respond, and support. This presidency is also the first to manage the implementation of the UK's definitive exit from the EU's Internal Market and Customs Union. The presidency has stated they will strive to achieve a strong partnership between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

Prime Minister António Costa named three milestones within these three priorities: approval of national recovery plans, the European Climate Law, and the Digital Services Package. Although the Portuguese Presidency’s priorities are not directly focused on health, it inevitably includes health-related priorities, nonetheless. These priorities are based on Strategic Autonomy, Sustainability, and Accessibility. Key health files that will be developed and implemented are Eu4Health, the Pharmaceutical Strategy for Europe, Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. The Horizon Europe programme will also be launched in an event in February.

These elements consolidate in a single purpose: to make the EU stronger and more cohesive. The main goal of the Portuguese presidency is aligned with the objectives of the current Trio - to strengthen the EU so that it can recover from the current crisis while also strengthening our current systems to better deal with potential future crises. While the pandemic has raised many doubts and fears in the present situation as well as regarding its long-term impacts, the Portuguese presidency will shed light on these unknowns and allow for European citizens to become hopeful of a future where nobody is left behind.


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