Portugal assumes EU presidency, aiming at recovery from COVID-19 pandemic

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Portugal on Friday officially took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU) as many countries of the club are still grappling with the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said that his priorities after assuming the presidency would be the “success of the vaccination” against COVID-19 and the “economic and social recovery of Europe.”

“For the next six months, Portugal will be at the helm of the European Union (EU),” he said on Twitter, stressing the motto of the Portuguese presidency — “Time to act: for a fair, green and digital recovery.” He also announced intention to reinforce the “strategic autonomy of a European Union open to the world.”

“It is therefore time to act together as a community of values and shared prosperity,” Costa said in his first official message when he assumed the presidency.

To achieve the EU’s economic recovery, according to Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, a priority would be the implementation of a recovery package totaling 1.82 trillion euros (2.23 trillion U.S. dollars), which is to be distributed until the year 2027 among the 27 EU member states.

Antonio Casimiro, a researcher of the Faculty of Economics of the University of Coimbra, told Xinhua that the EU is seeing rays of hope for recovery due to the beginning of COVID-19 vaccination. However, he said that “Portugal will soon be faced with a major problem: the definition of the role of each member country and the responsibility of the EU in fighting the pandemic.”

According to Casimiro, to combat the pandemic and achieve recovery of the COVID-laden economy, the EU has to take collaborative actions and reconfigure “what are the responsibilities of each state and the European Union.”

This may even lead to a reanalysis and revision of the treaties that govern relations within the European bloc, such as the “Lisbon Treaty,” the constitutional basis of the EU, said Casimiro.

Gustavo Batista, a professor of law and international relations, told Xinhua that the Portuguese presidency also coincides with a time when Germany, France and Britain, which is no longer an EU member, are playing a less decisive role in the block.

“They were the locomotives, which made the EU move forward. Then came other countries that stayed more at the peripheral level, either because their economies were not central or because they were not so strategic,” he said.

According to the professor, the fact that Portugal, which is also a peripheral country both economically and geographically, takes over the European command, means that these secondary countries are gaining more importance.

“This was well signaled in this year of a pandemic when after a series of discussions, it was possible to unlock more visceral, more profound economic aid to countries that do not possess the same economic positions like Germany, France and Holland,” says the professor.

With regard to extra-community relations, according to Casimiro, there is a “triangulation between Europeans, North Americans and Chinese.

That balance is very complex — but it will have to be considered — and the mission is with Portugal.” While the EU’s relationship with the United States under the incoming Joe Biden administration is still unclear, China will surely not be regarded as an obstacle or an enemy, because it is still the main economic partner of the EU today, said Batista. It is undeniable that the Chinese economy will play an increasingly important role in the future, he explained.

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