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21st Feb 2024

Portuguese presidency to focus on social rights and India

  • Social policies and the relationship between the EU and India will be at the heart of the next Portuguese EU presidency, according to Lisbon's Europe minister, Ana Paula Zacarias (Photo: Richter Frank-Jurgen)

Social policies, and the relationship between the EU and India, will be at the heart of the next Portuguese EU presidency, the country's minister for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, said on Thursday (26 November).

Portugal will assume the six-month rotating EU Council presidency on 1 January 2021 - being the fourth time that Lisbon held the role since joining the then European Economic Community in 1986.

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The Portuguese presidency will thus be responsible for the first validations of national recovery and resilience plans.

Those will have to be approved by qualified majority, to fast-track the 10-percent pre-financing of the EU's €750bn recovery fund next year.

"A more resilient Europe is one of our priorities, but we need to build on three pillars: sustainability, innovation and the well-being of citizens," said Zacarias, who is currently in charge of preparing the workforce Portuguese presidency.

The subject of "digital democracy" and digital rights will be crucial for Lisbon, which is expected to put forward an own initiative on this matter in early 2021.

Every national recovery plan will have to include green and digital targets (a minimum of 37 percent of expenditure related to climate and at least 20 percent for digital initiatives), steering the EU towards a sustainable agenda.

The so-called "twin transition", together with the devastating consequences of the pandemic, will put social welfare top of the Portuguese presidency - with the approval of an action plan to implement the European pillar of social rights scheduled for May.

Early next year, the European Commission has promised to present an "ambitious" action plan to ensure equal opportunities to the labour market and fair working conditions in order to "prevent the economic and health crisis from turning into a social crisis".

"The European pillar for social rights was an important achievement, but it is just a set of principles," said Zacarias, adding that of the Portuguese presidency hallmark will be to put these principles into action.

"We need to look into people and the social agenda. We need to regain the trust of the citizens, preserve the sense of well-being an the capacity of working together, having a certain identity and building on European citizenship," she also said, adding that the Conference on the Future of Europe will be key to discuss these topics with citizens.

'Hello, Joe'

The Portuguese presidency will most likely be the first one to be in touch with the administration of president-elected Joe Biden, aiming to revitalise the transatlantic relationship.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese government will also organise 16th EU-India summit during its presidency focus on the free trade agreement with India, which is currently under negotiation.

Moreover, Lisbon will have to prepare the sixth meeting between the EU and the African Union for June 2021, with an expected new strategy on the table.

Following Brexit, Portugal will also have to establish the terms of the future relationship between Brussels and London - which will be a relevant player in the future of the EU whether there is a trade deal or not, Zacarias said.

In recommendations to the Portuguese government, the Trans European Policy Studies Association also pointed out that the EU-Mercosur agreement should be a key policy in the presidency's agenda, warning about the influence that China has already over some Latin American countries.

During the previous Portuguese presidencies, Lisbon revealed its passion for multilateralism, making possible some of the first summits with Brazil and some African countries.

"Multilateralism is both selfless and selfish. This is a system that makes us work together in a better way, but at the same time we need to set the standards," said Zacarias.

"It is important that we set the standards for social inclusion, labour rights and environmental protection, and it is important for the EU to be seen as setting those standards," she added.

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