Portugal hopes to welcome back visitors as part of its presidency of the European Union (EU) Council from Easter onwards, if the pandemic allows it, the European Commission’s representative in the country said on Wednesday.
“It is really a shame that the Portuguese presidency has been entirely virtual so far,” lamented Sofia Colares Alves, during a conversation on Instagram with Jörg Wojahn, European Commission representative in Germany, on the challenges and opportunities of the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU.
For the representative, “one of the advantages of the rotating presidency” of the Council is that it is an “opportunity for other Europeans to discover or rediscover another country”, something that has not been possible with the restrictions motivated by the pandemic.
Since Portugal took over the rotating presidency of the EU, it has only received the traditional visit of the College of Commissioners and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on 15 January, which took place, even then, in a reduced format.
“The commissioners were very frustrated because they were basically locked into just one place,” said Sofia Colares Alves, referring to the Belem Cultural Centre (CCB), headquarters of the Portuguese presidency.
The agenda for the trip of the Commissioners had scheduled a visit to the Jeronimos Monastery after the working meetings at the CCB, which turned out “not to be possible”, she added.
“We hope to have another occasion from Easter onwards, especially in May and June, if everything goes as we anticipate. Contingency levels and levels of infection are coming down in Portugal, so let’s ‘keep our fingers crossed’ that we have more visits to Portugal under the presidency,” she said.
“The Government has already prepared everything so that 12 meetings take place throughout the country, so that everything is not concentrated in Lisbon and Porto, and so that visitors can have an opportunity to get to know a little of the Portuguese culture and food”.
Another topic that the European Commission representatives addressed during their conversation was Social Europe, a topic that is “at the heart” of the Portuguese presidency’s programme for the coming months.
One of the central events in the respective programme is the Social Summit, scheduled for Porto on 7 and 8 May, where the approval of the future action plan of the Pillar of Social Rights, a non-binding text of 20 principles to promote social rights in Europe, approved in Gothenburg (Sweden) in November 2017, is expected.
In this area, Sofia Colares Alves reiterated the will expressed by the European Commission and the Portuguese government to establish a “minimum wage in all EU Member States” that allows citizens “to have the minimum living conditions”.
Another issue of concern to the European Commission is child poverty, given that, according to her, “one in five children in the European Union lives in poverty”.
The fight against child poverty is thus a priority of the European Commission, which “definitely has the support of the Portuguese Government” in order to ensure that “children can go to school, can receive health care and have all the assistance they need to have a decent life”.