Prioridades da Presidência Portuguesa do Conselho 2007

11 de Junho, 2007

Policy Briefing on the Priorities of the Portuguese Presidency

Monday, 11 June 2007


If I can bring down a complex task to a simple formula, the Portuguese Presidency boils down to this: we will want to take the Union further.

Starting from the point where the German predecessors will have brought it, we will do our best to continue to strengthen the European project. [We wish good luck to the German Presidency in its closing stage]

We have a number of priorities, defined with the European interest in mind.

Even though the Presidency’s programme will only be definitive at the end of June, I can already say that we would like to work on three main tracks:

  1. to strengthen economic integration in Europe,
  2. to reinforce its role in the world at large and
  3. to reinforce its political underpinnings.

These three dimensions are an integrated whole. They will put the Europeans in a better position to face the challenges and seize the opportunities in the new world of the 21st century – where we want the European Union to be one of the key players. 

The Union doesn’t need to be reinvented – the European Union is a magnificent achievement that continues to demonstrate daily its ability to tackle new challenges. But even a successful endeavour must adjust to changing circumstances.

Our first track will be the Union’s internal development.

Let me give you a few examples of some files to which we will be attaching special importance [NB: this is an indicative list, the final one will depend on further developments, including the progress achieved until the end of June]:

  • Portugal has launched the Lisbon Strategy in 2000; 7 years have passed and we will be again closely engaged in the preparation of the new cycle of the revised Lisbon Strategy, working on the basis of the Commission’s vision paper. In close collaboration with the future Slovenian Presidency, we will be paving the way for the subsequent definition of the new Broad Economic policy Guidelines and the Employment Guidelines.
  • The Internal Market review is a crucial element in the fulfilment of the Lisbon Strategy. The Commission final report is going to be presented at the end of October. The European Council in December should approve conclusions on this process (even though the finalisation of the process will be left for the Presidencies to come).
  • Parallel to that the Portuguese Presidency will try to reach an agreement on two important regulations (‘mutual recognition’ and ‘new approach’), which will eliminate remaining un-useful barriers on the free flow of goods. Substantively we either improve harmonization, or we reinforce the mutual recognition principle in non harmonized areas.
  • On Industry and Enterprise we will devote particular attention to Small and Medium-sized enterprises which are close to 99% of all European businesses. We will be promoting the debate on the Commission’s communication on the mid term-review of SME’s policy, paying special care to the external competitiveness factors, to which SME’s are particularly exposed. We want to disseminate the motto “Think Small First” throughout European legislation.
  • Better Law-making and the reduction of bureaucratic burdens, which are already an ongoing priority for the successive Presidencies, are also part of the wide strategy to increase European competitiveness.
  • The discussion of the first Joint Technology Initiatives and the improvement of the European Research Area are the main highlights of our R&D agenda. We will pursue the setting up of the European Technology Institute in accordance with the European Council conclusions.
  • On the European Social Agenda we will launch a strategic debate on the policies and instruments needed to guarantee the sustainability of the European Social Model. On “Flexicurity” [we expect a communication from the Commission on “flexicurity”] we would like to be able to arrive in December at general common principles that take into account different national realities.
  • In the Transport field our priorities will be:
    • maritime (we will continue the discussion of the maritime package) and
    • aviation (where we will try to get an agreement, in conciliation, on the important regulation on air security).
  • Galileo, which we consider a strategic project both politically and economically, will also be high on the agenda (we will discuss on the basis of a Commission communication, to be submitted until September, which, among other things, will include detailed alternative proposals for the financing of the program).
  • As regards the Sea, we will try to launch/promote a European Maritime Policy, on the basis of the Commission action plan to be presented at the beginning of October.
  • We will also be aiming at getting an agreement with the EP on the Maritime Strategy directive which is considered to be the environmental pillar of the maritime policy.
  • On the Environment, one of the main points will be the preparation of the Bali Conference on Climate Change. We expect further progress to be achieved in the coming months, involving all the relevant actors, building on the G8 summit at Heiligendamm.
  • We’ll try to deal as well with the impacts of climate change that’s why we will be launching an initiative on Drought and Water scarcity.
  • Halting the decline of biodiversity is also a priority for the Portuguese government and on this area we will try involve the Business sector in setting up an initiative on “Business and Biodiversity”
  • Energy will be very high on the agenda, in accordance with the political mandate from the Spring European Council. Along with climate change, this is a crucial challenge for the future. We will especially launch the discussion on the package of measures to ensure the completion of the internal market (we’re waiting for the Commission’s proposal due to arrive in September).
  • Postal services: we would like to get a political agreement on this directive.
  • We will be launching an initiative on Drought and Water scarcity
  • In Agriculture, we will pursue the reform of the Wine sector and stimulate the health check of the CAP reform.
  • The enlargement of the Schengen area to the new member States is not just a very important step towards the implementation of the four freedoms throughout the Union’s territory; it is also the fulfilment of an important political commitment. We pride ourselves in having contributed to this end by proposing the SISone4all solution. We find it fitting that the enlargement of the Schengen should coincide with the last day of the Portuguese Presidency.
  • The European Space for Freedom, Security and Justice will require concrete progress in
  • improving police cooperation (e.g. through the integration of the Treaty of Prüm),
  • the better use of information technologies in judicial cooperation,
  • the control of migration flows, including the establishment of joint rapid reaction teams (“rabbits”)
  • the better integration of migrants and
  • the comprehensive approach towards migrations
  • In the same vein but in another field, in ECOFIN we will be working on the enlargement of the Euro area.
  • ECOFIN will also work on a greener tax system by giving a strong impulse to the Car Taxes directive, while also devoting special attention to combating tax fraud. We will have to address the leftovers of the VAT package.
  • A major effort will also be devoted to promoting a more efficient and stable financial system. A deeper regulatory dialogue with the USA and others will be a crucial contribution towards this goal.
  • The notion of a level playing field in the European space will guide us when dealing with the 4th Cohesion report. As you might have already heard, my Prime Minister will be attending the Cohesion Forum, on the 27th September.        

Although not exhaustive, this list gives a notion of the broad approach we will be taking as regards the Union’s internal development.

Let me come back to the recent policy statements from the European Council on energy and climate change not just because of their content, but rather as a demonstration that this is a Union that is functioning and that is capable of taking the lead in devising groundbreaking responses to new challenges. Other examples from the recent past could be mentioned.

Our second direction of work is an active external agenda. While working on the basis of the existing instruments we believe that the Union should also better attune herself to the emerging realities of 21st century World.

We will strive to deepen transatlantic relations, notably exploring the avenues for cooperation that were opened at the recent Washington summit.

As a token of the Union’s responsiveness to the shifting realities of today’s world, a string of summit meetings will be taking place, including for the very first time a complete series with the so-called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China). Each of those relationships will have to be seen in accordance with its own specificities, but the point is to try to develop the channels of dialogue with the new realities of the 21st century. Difficulties exist, but the solution must always be dialogue.

We will pay special attention to the Mediterranean in the context of a comprehensive European Neighbourhood Policy. Let me mention the importance of the Euromed meeting on migration (to take place in November, in the Algarve).

Working with the European interest in mind, we expect to be able to place Europe-Africa relations on the sounder basis that is long overdue. Africa is simultaneously a source of big challenges, relevant opportunities and a promising partner in a number of fields. Other world players are now especially active in the continent, to some extent exploiting empty spaces that we Europeans should not have allowed for. It is therefore urgent that we look together into the future with our African friends, through a joint strategy to result from the Summit due to take place in Lisbon towards the end of this year. Also in this area, we can succeed with a little help from our friends, North and South of the Mediterranean.

ESDP will be developed in terms of capabilities, military or civilian. We want to approve a Progress Catalogue in the framework of the Headline Goal 2010 (by the way, who would have imagined four or five years ago that the EU would be undertaking simultaneously 9 crisis management operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East?)

Enlargement negotiations will continue. Other challenges will have to be addressed in various regions, including in the Western Balkans (notably in Kosovo) or in the Middle East.

We hope for an agreement at the WTO, while pursuing other trade negotiations (notably the regional Economic Partnership Agreements with the ACP countries and FTA’s with Korea, India and ASEAN).

I hope this very short presentation will show that our priorities mat have shortcomings but they certainly cannot be criticised for being narrowly focused.

On the third strand of our Presidency, the aim is to achieve, in good time, a result that serves to project the EU’s success into the future and one that pacifies the drawn out institutional discussion that is barely understandable by citizens. We will try to bring this discussion to an end and to place the EU on a stronger footing.

We will do our utmost to reach a consensus building on the precise and politically viable mandate that we will be given by the European Council, following the German Presidency report.

By “precise mandate” we don’t mean just a list of topics and a schedule to handle them; no – we need:

  • a clear commitment by all 27 on the general endeavour and
  • a specific indication on the agreed outcome to be achieved on each of the contentious topics.

Let me leave no doubt: we don’t shy from this risky and challenging task. But if we act responsibly with the European interest in mind we must take into account that what is difficult about a Treaty revision is not to start it – but to close it.

And we work by consensus. We must have in mind that there are 134 million coalitions that are possible among the 27 member States; but in this case only one would be useful: all 27 in favour of a text in a very short while.

To attain this in the envisaged tight schedule, this must be an atypical negotiation, where we will operate backwards: the deal must be solid before we even start to negotiate formally.

If by the end of June we don’t have such a deal in view, we must collectively ask ourselves what will be the best course to follow – with the European interest in mind.

While leaving this sobering thought in everybody’s minds – and very clearly so – let me reiterate that we won’t shy away from this challenge. We have participated in all the IGCs since the Single European Act. We have already presided over the opening of an IGC, back in 2000. We have the institutional memory and we don’t approach this task with any hidden agenda. But we can only have the Union succeed with the help of all others.

Let me stress again: we want to place the EU on a stronger footing.

I have read sometime ago an article by the English historian Timothy Garton Ash saying that Europe needs “Small countries that can think big”. He was notably thinking of my own country.

Well, I don’t accept Portugal being described as a small country; but I can assure you that to “think big” will be very much in our minds – with the European interest in view.

Álvaro Mendonça e Moura
Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the European Union