On 1 January, Portugal will take over the Presidency of the Council of the European Union from Germany, giving it a key role within the European Union. What are your goals for Portugal’s Presidency? What do you see as the main priorities and challenges?
Augusto Santos Silva: Allow me to start by saying what I would like to read in the headlines in six months’ time, when Slovenia takes over from the Portuguese Presidency. I would like to read that Portugal has moved forward with the implementation of all programmes and regulations set out in the recently adopted Multiannual Financial Framework deal. I would like to read that all National Resilience and Recovery Plans are fully functional; that the vast vaccination campaign in Europe is well and effectively underway; that the European Climate Law has been approved and is making the climate targets we voluntarily set binding for all our countries; that a fully-fledged debate on the EU’s digital agenda is happening and producing results; I hope that the Porto Social Summit will be an unequivocal success in generating the political impetus needed to make the European Pillar of Social Rights a reality in all its dimensions and potential; I hope that a new age of transatlantic relations will have been ushered in; that the High Level Meeting between the EU and India will have been a success; and I would like to see the agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom on their future relationship implemented to our mutual benefit.
Our Presidency’s motto is “Time to deliver: a fair, green, digital recovery” and I think this encapsulates all that we need in Europe at the moment. This is the time to act, to concretise, to produce results. We have made some truly remarkable and ground-breaking choices in the past few months – to deal with the pandemic and the crisis it unleashed on all our countries – but now it is indeed time to deliver, make it happen, make sure that those decisions actually impact on people’s lives, on their livelihoods, on their chances and access to jobs, allowing them to prosper and excel.
The Portuguese Presidency of the EU Council seems likely to be dominated by online conferences and virtual meetings too. How are you preparing for this?
Santos Silva: We are working on all scenarios to make sure that every area of EU’s work that depends on the rotating presidency can go ahead, be it in physical, virtual or hybrid formats. Of course this puts a strain on all preparations, but we have been fortunate enough to be able to build on the experience of both the German and the Croatian presidencies. From a technological standpoint, everything is ready to take on the challenge, but we do hope that it will be possible to start meeting again in person as soon as the vaccination campaigns throughout Europe make enough headway against the pandemic. We are extremely hopeful that immunisation will provide a window of opportunity to return to some sort of normality.
Portugal has been a member of the EU, or the European Community as it was then, since 1986. How has EU membership changed and moulded Portugal? What is the current feeling towards Europe in your country?
Santos Silva: The feeling towards Europe in Portugal is extremely positive. The support among the Portuguese people for the European project has continued to rise steadily and I must point out that even during the economic crisis, Portugal did not experience a negative feeling towards the EU. I would say that, the collective sense of belonging to the European Union is undoubtedly something that is considered self-evident by the vast majority of the Portuguese people. Of course, this is the result of the extraordinary changes that have occurred in the country since joining the, at the time, EEC, in terms of development and prosperity.
In 2007/2008 Germany, Portugal and Slovenia together formed the first ever Trio Presidency in the European Union. This same Trio began once again in mid-2020. What has changed? What opportunities does the cooperation as a Trio offer, in your view?
Santos Silva: Germany, Portugal and Slovenia form the so-called GSP trio, we were the first ever trio, in 2007, and I must say that this is a very happy formation. Cooperation, collaboration and teamwork are very easy among our three countries and the priorities that we set ourselves match perfectly. They fit together quite naturally, while meeting and matching the EU’s wider agenda and objectives. Our countries share the same interests and values and we see the European project in a very similar fashion. This was the case in 2007 and is the case again in 2020-2021.
Euro 2020 will be a special highlight at the end of your Presidency. The UEFA European Cup, which was postponed because of the pandemic, is now to open on 11 June 2021. For the first time ever, the tournament is to be staged in different venues across the whole of Europe. Can football, and sport in general, drive forward the European vision? Germany and Portugal will play against one another in the first round – who do you tip to win?
Santos Silva: Sport is of course one of the greatest forces that can mobilise a collective. It is no secret that football is a sport that is particularly cherished by Europeans. I do feel that the fact that this time, for the first time, the Euro will be staged in different locations across our continent may help us recapture and promote our common sense of belonging. Having said that, even if Portugal and Germany do work very well together, I must say that I wish – and hope – that this time Portugal will outplay our German friends. With all due respect for the power and might of the “Mannschaft”, the Portuguese national team (the “Seleção”) will play a very good game.
We all hope to be able to travel next year. What should we really see in Portugal?
Santos Silva: Well, I come from Porto, so I would say that a stopover there would definitely be a must! That said, although Portugal is small in geographical terms, it is a very diverse and rich country in terms of nature, beauty, culture and arts in general. All regions and cities in Portugal have something special to offer. The Portuguese autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira are absolute gems and very attractive tourist destinations. For three years in a row now Portugal has won the highest accolade of the World Travel Awards for Best Destination in the World. It is fair to say that that is a particularly remarkable feat for a country like Portugal, small in size, and a country that has experienced a particularly harsh economic and financial crisis this century.