Thank you for your welcome. My presence here is a sign of the strength of my support. It is also a sign of confidence. We have known each other and been working together for a number of years now, and I feel a sense of optimism, a bit like that conveyed by the symbol of the Portuguese Presidency: sun, light and hope.
2020 was a punishing year for the world, and for the European Union. The COVID-19 crisis hit us hard, but it has also perhaps been an opportunity to affirm the EU’s priorities, first and foremost through the unity and trust required of us. Unity is never simple. It demands continuous work and effort, dialogue, mutual understanding and the ability to reach decisions together.
As you know, this Portuguese Presidency is starting at the beginning of 2021, after a year marked by trauma and with COVID-19 not yet behind us. Together with the European Commission, national governments and local authorities, we are making every effort to roll out the vaccines. And we know that we are facing a huge challenge. We will continue our efforts in this area, and this is why, as we mentioned just now, the Heads of State and Government will meet via another video conference before the end of January in order to address once again the question of managing the COVID crisis and the large-scale roll-out of vaccines - but also the deployment of all the instruments available to us to limit the spread of the virus, to get it under control, and to make sure that 2021 is the year we overcome it.
What’s more, the three priorities so clearly set out by António Costa are perfectly in line with the EU’s medium- and long-term objectives. The first point is about ensuring the success of the economic recovery.
There is hope again, but not just hope. We also have the ability to mobilise real financial resources. The year 2020 was marked by two important moments for the EU at political level. Firstly, the agreement reached in July: four days and four nights of negotiations; €750 billion made available, of which a substantial part as grants; national plans for directing these resources towards economic development, towards citizens, and towards two areas above all- climate change and the digital agenda. Two areas of action which align perfectly with the priorities of this Portuguese Presidency and where there is a lot of work to be done in 2021.
The climate agreements will be a top priority right from the start of 2021, the EU’s targets for 2030 having been formally adopted in December last year, following the earlier endorsement of the objective of making the EU climate-neutral by 2050. This level of ambition makes the EU a leader in tackling climate change and demonstrates our intention to use this issue as an opportunity to support increased development, greater prosperity and better living conditions.
The same is true for digitalisation. Moreover, Portugal has significant experience in this area, matched by a high level of ambition which will certainly also be of benefit at European level.
The second point is the social pillar. I liked the expression used by the Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs when he referred to ‘Europe for the people’. We must not forget that the starting point when the European project was initiated last century was to put well-being, quality of life and living conditions in Europe at the forefront. Europe is more than simply a financial or an economic project, it is a project founded on values. And that is why we will, in close cooperation, be making thorough preparations for the meeting that will take place in Porto in May. You can count on the full support of the Council and of the teams around me. We must use this meeting as an opportunity to give a very clear signal that demonstrates the added value of the European project for 450 million European citizens, for their dignity and their quality of life. This is reflected in social rights, access to education, and the fight against all forms of discrimination and inequality. It will, I am absolutely sure, be an important moment for the European project.
And now to the third point: global Europe. A Europe which takes control of its destiny and which uses the instruments at its disposal: the internal market, 450 million citizens, its economic and commercial strength, as well as its capacity for research and innovation and its ability to take a position at international level and to work to ensure greater security. And to realise this ambition, the EU must accept the full extent of its duties as a partner committed to multilateralism. It is our firm belief that international cooperation is the key to taking on the challenges facing the whole world, and there are some major meetings coming up that will be particularly important, such as the meeting with India, an important partner for the EU with regard to climate change, stimulating investment and strengthening the principles of economic fair play and reciprocity. Transatlantic relations are also on the agenda following the recent elections in the US, which present an opportunity, as has already been discussed in the European Council, to define our priorities and demarcate our future relationship with this part of the world. And we must not of course forget our relations with Africa, this great continent to the south of Europe with which we also hope to make a strong start on projects.
Nor should we forget that 1 January became a meaningful date this year, as a country left the European Union. A new future relationship will therefore need to be established following the conclusion of the agreements with the United Kingdom at the end of December.
As you see, our agenda is ambitious, in the positive sense of the word, and is supported by an unwavering commitment to take on these challenges with all our strength. I am, in any case, delighted, António, to be able to count on such close and strong cooperation, rooted in our shared European beliefs. We believe that in the north, the south, the east and the west - everywhere in the European Union - we are in the same boat, and we share the same belief that this must be a time to drive the European Union forward for the benefit of its 450 million citizens.