The last weeks of 2020 saw agreements on the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), the recovery plan “Next Generation EU” as well as a post-Brexit deal. The new year brings a change of Presidency; it is now up to Portugal to set out in new directions. In particular the stronger social focus of her Presidency programme is to be welcomed.
Portugal’s Presidency Programme is focussing on three main priorities: firstly, the recovery after the crisis shall be accompanied by a green and digital transformation. Secondly, the European Pillar of Social Rights shall be a key element. And thirdly, the strategic autonomy of the EU shall be strengthened. The implementation of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) and of the recovery plan “Next Generation EU” are also key points of the agenda, as are the general strengthening of the EU’s resilience and building a health union. The Presidency Programme also includes a promise to uphold and defend the Rule of Law mechanism.
Crisis management by green, digital transformation
After the crisis, the social and economic recovery shall in particular be driven forward by the digital and green transformation. In this context, the Portuguese Presidency names among other the introduction of green taxes as well as the necessity to transform our energy system. The latter shall be accompanied by initiatives, which will result in environmental and social aspects taken into account in private investment decisions. Regarding the digital transformation, the focus among other is on the development of digital competencies, the platform economy, the introduction of a European digital tax and the creation of a digital identity.
A strong social thumbprint
Another key focus of the Presidency shall be on work and acceptable working conditions. For example, Council conclusions on teleworking shall be adopted during the Presidency. The 4th Amendment of the Carcinogens and Mutagens Directive, proposed by the Commission, has also been mentioned – the Chamber of Labour has already formulated its relevant demands. Also at the heart of the social agenda is the Social Summit taking place on 7 and 8 May 2021, focussing on the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights and its significance for the economic recovery. The emphasis of the conference shall in particular be on the areas of employment, qualifications and social protection. It is to be welcomed that the summit will also be used as an opportunity to strengthen the dialogue with social partners and EU citizens. A high-level conference on digital education will also take place in May. Another conference, this time focussing on homelessness, will take place in June. The planned child guarantee and the announced EU -Strategy on the Rights of the Child will also be priorities. An eye shall also be kept on the impact of COVID-19 on gender equality as well as the measures in respect of pay transparency and gender balance in company boardrooms. In view of the disappearance of the pay transparency initiative from the Commission’s Agenda, this is probably more important than ever.
Not only the Presidency, but also the Commission have started the new year with a social focus: on 24 February 2021 it will present its eagerly awaited action plan on the Social Pillar as well as a proposal on improving the working conditions of platform workers.