Portugal to make use of EU presidency to bolster bloc’s vaccination drive

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Rolling out the EU’s mass vaccination programme shall be one in all Portugal’s high priorities when it takes over the six-month rotating EU presidency on Friday as a brand new, more infectious strain of coronavirus spreads throughout Europe.

Augusto Santos Silva, overseas minister, stated Lisbon’s socialist authorities would prioritise “the total improvement of the EU’s technique of free, common vaccination”. Persuading EU residents that masks and different restrictive measures will stay important for a lot of extra months shall be one other problem.

Portugal will even search to make sure that the EU’s €750bn coronavirus restoration fund turns into productive funding, alongside different programmes included within the bloc’s €1.8tn seven-year spending plan, each of which had been permitted previously two months underneath Germany’s presidency.

“We imagine the final six months had been a interval of huge strategic selections within the EU. Our duty is to place these selections into apply and produce outcomes,” Mr Santos Silva stated in an interview with the Monetary Instances.

Portugal, whose financial system has been battered by the European debt disaster and the pandemic, plans to advertise stronger European solidarity at a “social summit” to debate social rights and protections to be held in Porto in Could.

“You will need to present that a part of the democratic id of Europe just isn’t solely having a market financial system, however one which additionally has a powerful social dimension, that we’re a liberal democracy that can also be socially superior,” stated Mr Santos Silva. “That’s the greatest antidote towards populism.”

One of the tough challenges going through the Portuguese presidency shall be advancing stalled negotiations on reforming the EU migration system. He describes the pact on asylum and migration, a European Fee plan introduced in September, as “maybe probably the most divisive topic within the EU”. 

Some member states needed to shut Europe to migration fully or solely settle for migrants of sure nationalities, religions or cultures, he stated. “Different member states, like Portugal, say none of those standards are acceptable.” The German presidency had been unable to maneuver the difficulty ahead, he added, however “let’s see if we are able to”.

He additionally needs to spice up the momentum of the bloc’s digital transition initiatives within the wake of the pandemic, and to see the 2050 local weather regulation, the cornerstone of the EU’s Inexperienced Deal, permitted by the European Parliament.

A authorized effort by the Hungarian and Polish governments to overturn the EU’s new guidelines that make entry to EU funds conditional on respect for the rule of regulation is prone to be one other thorny concern. 

“We’ve to be alert,” stated Mr Santos Silva. “It’s not solely Hungary and Poland that create difficulties. Forces that decision into query our values are rising in affect in international locations like Portugal, France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere.” 

Mr Santos Silva believes Portugal has a fame as an “trustworthy dealer”, a bonus when broaching powerful subjects. “Our nationwide pursuits coincide very carefully with these of Europe. The opposite 26 international locations know that we’re not going to convey a nationwide agenda to our presidency.”

Portugal will even deal with advancing the talk on the EU’s “strategic autonomy”, the goal of being extra impartial and assertive in relation to powers just like the US and China. “We don’t need to discover ourselves once more, as we did at first of the pandemic, (. . .) with out ample manufacturing capability for such basic items as masks or medicines,” he stated.

However the nation is sceptical of an EU industrial coverage centered on constructing European “champions” from the most important economies. As a substitute, it believes strengthening small and medium-sized firms at “the center of the European financial system” is the best way ahead, in keeping with Mr Santos Silva.

This implies making extra quite than fewer commerce offers, offered they’re “balanced”, he stated. Portugal will host an EU-India summit throughout its presidency, aimed largely at advancing talks on a long-stalled free commerce settlement. Brexit could have eliminated among the hurdles to a deal, together with variations over Indian import taxes on Scotch whisky.

Some politicians see strengthening ties with India as a method of giving the EU extra leverage in commerce talks with neighbouring China, following settlement this week on a long-awaited enterprise investment treaty with Beijing.

That settlement is anticipated to trigger friction with the incoming administration of US president-elect Joe Biden. Troublesome points dividing the US and the EU, similar to curbing Large Tech firms or entry to US public contracts, wouldn’t change underneath Mr Biden, Mr Santos Silva stated. However how they had been handled would.

“We are able to see the previous 4 years as a parenthesis in relations between the US and the EU . . . when the US administration got here to look on Europeans as adversaries quite than pals,” he stated. Beneath Mr Biden, dealings would “return to the best way they had been”.

Portugal can also be hopeful the bloc can embark on a profitable new relationship with a post-Brexit UK underneath the phrases of their new commerce deal. 

Persevering with EU-UK convergence on defence, policing, combating terrorism and different worldwide points shall be “100 instances extra vital than discussing fishing quotas”, stated Mr Santos Silva.