The European Council had a virtual meeting yesterday to debate the EU-wide coordination of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination strategy in the 27 Member States. The Portuguese Prime Minister, Mr. António Costa, who took part in the meeting from the headquarters of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in Centro Cultural de Belém (Lisbon), pointed out, after the meeting with his European counterparts, that the present priority should be “to speed up the vaccination process across Europe”.
António Costa also informed that the Commission is working towards this goal and that the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, would be in Portugal this Friday to prepare additional efforts on a Europe-wide scale towards increasing the vaccine manufacturing capacity, while at the same time reinforcing the need for compliance with the contracts signed by the EU and the vaccine companies. The Prime Minister added that they would “make use of all means at their disposal, including blocking vaccine exports, if that proved necessary, while at all times safeguarding the global supply chains that are essential to ensuring the good functioning of the industry, both in Europe and beyond”.
In order to warrant the trust of Europe’s citizens, the coordinated action of the 27 is fundamentally important, the Prime Minister argued, if we are to strengthen the European Union’s capacity to overcome the pandemic and set out on a path of economic and social recovery. “Only thus will we be able to bolster the trust of our citizens in our ability to overcome this pandemic.”
Stocktaking moment for the Portuguese Presidency
One task for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, which commenced in January this year, was to approve the various sets of regulations pertaining to the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) approved at the end of last year.
More or less halfway through the Presidency’s 6-month period, António Costa shared some of the results already achieved with his fellow European leaders: the regulations on the Recovery Fund have already entered into force and agreement has also been reached with the European Parliament on many of the sectoral legal bases. This means that the MFF can continue to support emblematic programmes that have had a proven positive impact on societies in Europe and also have potential for the future, as is the case of the Cohesion Fund, Horizon Europe and the InvestEU programmes, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and the Erasmus+ programme.
As far as external funding is concerned, the Portuguese Presidency successfully accomplished establishment of the EU’s largest funding instrument ever – Global Europe.
The EU Own Resources Decision is a crucial piece in making the group of programmes formed by the MFF and the recovery fund Next Generation EU – which are fundamentally important for leveraging the economic and social recovery of Europe in the post-pandemic period – function properly. During the rotative Presidency, Portugal has called for the formalisation of the constitutional requirements in all Member States as quickly as possible, so as to give the Member States access to recovery funding and put into practice the national recovery and resilience plans.
Of the 27 Member States, 23 have already ratified the Own Resources Decision, or are scheduled to do so by mid-April, the Prime Minister said in his statement to the press.
Leaders welcome Joe Biden
The 27 also welcomed, for the first time, the new President of the United States of America, Joe Biden. On behalf of all Member States, and in his capacity as acting President of the Council of the EU, the Portuguese Prime Minister conveyed to Mr. Biden that good transatlantic relations are a priority for the European Union and that, in these times in which the world is facing a pandemic, “we have to join forces and show solidarity with each other, speed up vaccination worldwide and prepare for sustainable economic and social recovery”.
Mr. Costa also noted the convergence between the EU and the new US American Administration on the need to deliver anti-COVID-19 vaccination to all corners of the world, “in awareness of the fact that, when it comes to this pandemic, nobody is safe until we are all safe”.