Railway modernisation a focus for Portugal’s EU presidency
Transport and railways will be one of the main foci for Portugal’s presidency of the European Union which begins on 1 January 2021.
It will be the fourth time that Lisbon has held the role since joining the then European Economic Community in 1986.
Portugal’s minister for infrastructure and housing, Pedro Nuno Santos, outlined the priorities for Portugal’s six-month presidency of the European Union at a virtual council meeting of European Union Transport ministers and EU transport policy topped the list.
“Placing the railway at the centre of a more resilient European transports policy at the service of populations and leveraging on European Rail Transport Year 2021, is top of the agenda for the Transport Council of the Portuguese Presidency,” he said.
The minister added that contributing towards the rapid recovery of the transport sector, ensuring the operational capacity of different transport modes and the flow of passengers and goods in the Union, supporting the preparation of an EU Contingency Plan to lead with pandemics and other disruptive crises, and paving the way for a more ecological, efficient and resilient transports sector in Europe are three of the main concerns that will be discussed during the Portuguese presidency, all item brought up by the minister at the last meeting of the transport council held during the end of Germany’s EU presidency.
For Aviation, the project ‘One European Sky’ will also be top of the agenda while ‘Eurovinheta’ for road transport strategy and Commission Strategy for an Intelligent and Sustainable Mobility, will be other topics on the table.
European Recovery and the New Industrial Society
Another focus will be providing affordable access for companies of all sizes, including start-ups as part of the Commission’s New Industrial Strategy that will be presented during the Portuguese Presidency.
The Portuguese Secretary of State for Labour, Miguel Cabrita, has already stated that Europe needs a sound and competitive industry if it wants to continue to be an attractive place to do business and keep its high social spending, while at the same time industry needs Europe.
The Portuguese Presidency will also be in the forefront of kicking-off a sustainable economic recovery which will be to the benefit of all, companies, workers, societies as a whole and eventually the future of the European project.
Germany’s presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2020 focused on concluding agreements on the bloc’s multi-annual budget and its future relationship with the UK, with implementation of these crucial agreements taking place in early 2021 under Portugal’s leadership, Portugal’s foreign minister said.
The main priority of the German EU presidency ending now, was to seek to close the agreement on the new Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU budget for the next seven years, and also on the New Generation programme, that is the EU economic recovery plan.
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 Ana Paula Zacarias, who is currently in charge of preparing the workforce Portuguese presidency.
As a result, Portugal “will have the absolutely essential task of starting its implementation, of ensuring that the resources of the multiannual budget and the resources of the recovery plan are effectively on the ground from next January,” Portuguese Foreign Affairs Minister, Augusto Santos Silva stressed.
Digital Democracy and Social rights
Social policies, and the relationship between the EU and India, will also be at the heart of the next Portuguese EU presidency, the country’s minister for European affairs, Ana Paula Zacarias, said on 26 November.
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 reports euobserver.
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.
US and India
The Portuguese presidency will be the first one to be in touch with the administration of president-elected Joe Biden, aiming to revitalise the transatlantic relationship.
The Portuguese government will also organise the16th EU-India summit during its presidency which will 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.