On January 1st last, Germany handed the Presidency of the Council of the European Union over to Portugal. This is the fourth time Portugal holds the Presidency (the first was in 1992, under the Government lead by Prime Minister Aníbal Cavaco Silva; afterwards in 2000, during the second term of Prime Minister António Guterres; the third presidency took place in 2007, under the first term of Prime Minister José Sócrates and now in 2021, with António Costa as Prime Minister), which it will hand over to Slovenia at the end of the semester, on June 30th.

This semester’s Presidency goes by the motto “Time to act: for a fair, green and digital recovery”, which translates the vision and the priorities that Portugal is in charge of implementing for Europe, in the internal dimension and in the global context, marked by the pandemic crisis, the climate emergency and a set of factors and players who have affected directly the geopolitical balances at the global scale.

While it is true that since Joe Biden’s election the winds blowing from the United States of America bode well for the country’s relationship with Europe (and with many other countries, multilateral bodies and global regional blocks), and that the values on which such relationship is built inspire confidence in a global agenda of improvement in the promotion of Human Rights, Citizenship and respect for the Environment, it is also true that the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union – despite the agreement reached – and the affirmation of illiberal parties in the European space bring more and more challenges to the exercise of this Presidency.

The response to the spread of Covid-19 and its consequences should be a hallmark of this semester, “with the sense of urgency that is indispensable in the face of the crisis and the rising challenges for Europe,” as highlighted on December 4th at the announcement of the leitmotif of the current Presidency. The “resilience of Europe and citizens’ confidence in the European social model” are critical for promoting a Union that is based on the common values of solidarity, convergence and cohesion. Consequently, the Portuguese Presidency elected three priorities, namely:
1) Promoting European recovery levered by the climate and digital transitions;
2) Materialising the Social Pilar of the European Union as an essential element for ensuring a fair and inclusive climate and digital transition;
3) Reinforcing the strategic autonomy of a Europe open to the World.

These three priorities will be materialised through a set of policies and actions grouped in five axes: a) Resilient Europe – Promote Europe’s recovery, cohesion and values; b) Green Europe – Promote the EU as a leader in climate action; c) Digital Europe – Accelerate digital transformation in the service of citizens and enterprises; d) Social Europe – Promote and strengthen the European social model; e) Global Europe – Promote Europe’s openness to the world.

From the standpoint of the Portuguese NGDO Platform, this is an ambitious agenda, which takes place in a particularly complex environment and will benefit greatly from the broad involvement of Civil Society, namely with the active participation of organisations specialised in Development Cooperation issues. This is exactly what the Portuguese NGDO Platform expects the Portuguese Presidency to implement and fulfil by using formal mechanisms of dialogue with the Civil Society.

Although the programme of the Portuguese Presidency mentions this only once, the Platform feels it should bring the dialogue with Civil Society to the heart of the processes conducted under the Presidency of the EU Council. For example, this would help enhance discussions on the importance of broadening the scope of concerns to matters such as the promotion of social cohesion – a major priority when setting up the actions to fight against the crisis and recovering from it – within the external action of the EU and its policies for development cooperation. At a time of the utmost importance for future generations, the financial instruments agreed by the EU in the last months must be able to respond to the needs of the populations which were hit the hardest by the dynamics that the crisis intensified.

It is with this objective in mind that civil society’s leitmotif in the next six months is “Towards an open, fair and sustainable Europe in the world”. The project is implemented by the Portuguese ONDG Platform during the Portuguese presidency in the broader context in which the NGO platforms of the countries that make up the current Trio – Germany, Portugal and Slovenia – are collaborating. In the current semester, a set of actions will be developed, including in particular the document that was published last January 12th, arising from the wide consultation with Portuguese CSO on the priorities of civil society for the Portuguese EU Council Presidency, to ensure that Civil Society Organisations are truly involved in the consecutive presidencies for building and asserting the future.

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