On 1 January 2021, Portugal took over the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union from Germany. The next six months will be challenging for the EU in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic consequences, prompting the Portuguese Presidency to turn to action with the motto: ‘Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery’. The Portuguese Presidency is the second one from the Trio Presidency, in conjunction with Germany and Slovenia, and is expected to continue to “deal (…) with the pandemic and its social and economic consequences” as well as work for a more resilient Union, as set in the Trio’s Programme.
The Portuguese Presidency has published its Programme, setting out three main priorities for its time presiding over the Council:
- Promote a recovery leveraged by the climate and digital transitions;
- Implement the European Pillar of Social Rights as a distinctive element for ensuring a fair and inclusive climate and digital transition;
- Strengthen Europe’s autonomy whilst remaining open to the world, taking a leading role in climate action and promoting a digital transformation in the service of people.
The Portuguese Presidency will focus on the implementation of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) for 2021-2027, together with the Next Generation EU recovery instrument. The latter is to be put in place to help deal with the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic to the social and economic fabric of the EU. A second important priority relates to Brexit. With an agreement reached on the future relationship with the UK just before the end of the transition period in December 2020, it will fall to the Portuguese Presidency to execute the agreement and ensure its formal conclusion thus moving beyond the current provisional application.
The Portuguese Presidency is set to organise its programme around five main pillars: Resilient Europe; Social Europe; Green Europe; Digital Europe; and Global Europe. Specifically looking at the Presidency’s Digital Priorities, the proposals for the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA), published by the Commission last month, will be the focus of the Presidency’s activities, combined with work on data governance laws and cybersecurity legislation. The Council preparatory bodies have already started work on the two files last week, with the DSA being discussed in the Internal Market Working Party and the DMA – in the Competition Working Party, both falling within the remit of the Competition Council formation. According to Pedro Siza Vieira, Portuguese Minister of Economy and Digital Transition, the Portuguese Presidency wants to make sure that the EU does not only draft good quality tech platform regulation but that it also enforces it properly. In the context of the DSA and DMA, he stated that discussions will be planned around the enforcement mechanisms needed and around the reliance on national authorities or on the Commission. Minister Siza Vieira also warned against the fragmentation that would result from the lack of a global digital tax and called for a bold industrial strategy to stay in the global race for innovation and cutting-edge technology.
Furthermore, on 5 January, the Portuguese Presidency sent national delegations a new ePrivacy Regulation Proposal. Unlike the previous German proposal, the Portuguese one includes provisions allowing communications metadata to be processed (Article 6) and “to use processing and storage capabilities of terminal equipment and the collection of information from end-user’s terminal … for further compatible processing” (Article 8). These changes make the proposal more business friendly but may be opposed by Member States with a more hard-line position on privacy. Additionally, the Commission is expected to publish a European Approach to Artificial Intelligence, on which the Presidency will be prepared to coordinate.