Portugal: An innovative and daring presidency

While the Portuguese presidency is primarily focused on crisis management, the next six months will also offer an opportunity for the country to innovate and dare to dream, writes Paulo Rangel.
Paulo Rangel | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Paulo Rangel

Paulo Rangel (PT, EPP) is an EPP Group Vice-Chair and a Member of Parliament’s LIBE and AFCO Committees

18 Feb 2021

The main priorities of the Portuguese presidency are not the result of any real choice by the Portuguese Government; they never could be. The current political, health, economic and social circumstances leave no room for choice or for voluntarism.

There are indeed three major challenges. First, the evolution of the health crisis in the short term, which will likely unfold on two fronts: the vaccination effort and control of the third wave of the pandemic - particularly, the management of internal borders. Second, ensuring the launch and regulation of the Recovery Fund - with emphasis on national ratifications of the ‘own resources’ decision and the presentation of national Recovery and Resilience Plans.

“With the new Biden administration, all the conditions needed to hold a summit to relaunch the transatlantic relationship are in place”

Finally, defining and executing the initial months of the trade agreement with the United Kingdom, which will set many of the precedents for its interpretation and implementation. Taking these three challenges into account, it is perhaps easier to understand why the motto of the Portuguese Presidency is “time to act.”

The presidency is more about ‘doing’ and ‘knowing how to do’ than it is about planning, innovating, or even dreaming. In addition to these inevitable challenges, there are two choices that will put a truly Portuguese stamp on the Presidency, with two summits in May in Porto - which, by happy coincidence, is the city where I live. A social summit that will focus on workers’ rights, acting as a follow-up to the 2017 Gothenburg fair jobs and growth summit, and one with India that will promote a partnership between the two largest democracies in the world.

The social agenda will focus on the issue of employment and labour rights. However, from a results perspective, this doesn’t appear to be a good choice. At this point in time, social priorities should focus on the Health Union, where there is a reasonable chance of the 27 Member States moving forward; it is possible to do a lot and present concrete results. The labour agenda will lead to beautiful and well-intentioned rhetoric, but it won’t change the lives of Europeans.

In contrast, the summit with India shows an ambitious geostrategic vision, strengthening ties and balancing the rise of China on the Asian continent while taking advantage of the window of opportunity offered by the UK leaving the European Union. The strongest card from the Presidency is really the EU’s global statement. With the new Biden administration, all the conditions needed to hold a summit to relaunch the transatlantic relationship are in place.

However, the summit with Africa is yet to be held. Portugal is essentially an Atlantic country, a founding member of NATO, the UK’s oldest ally (since 1386), with a very strong relationship and presence in Africa and India. History and this geopolitical profile provide the Portuguese Presidency with an obvious advantage to succeed on this positive geostrategic front. Until the summer of 2020, the Portuguese Government was highly sceptical about the Conference for the Future of Europe, an initiative aimed at creating a deep and open debate with citizens.

However, thankfully it has changed its perspective and has now made the launch of the Conference a clear priority. This is good news for Europeans and the EU. The residency, therefore, will be more than just a time to act; it will be a time to innovate and to dare to dream.

Read the most recent articles written by Paulo Rangel - Future of Europe: Putting citizens front and centre