There are European presidencies that come and go, passing virtually unnoticed, but there are also those which, due to their lucidity, their power of initiative and the strength of their leadership, have the knack for influencing the course of events and leave their mark on the history of the European project. This was the case with the notable previous Portuguese presidencies, which engraved in the history of Europe such decisive contributions as the Lisbon Strategy and the Lisbon Treaty. The same goes for the current Portuguese presidency, which managed to unblock the launch of the Conference for the Future of Europe and is now preparing to organize a Social Summit where will be discussed and proclaimed the Porto Declaration – a roadmap of commitments for the effective implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, towards a fairer Europe.
As soon as the socialist government of António Costa announced its decision to make Social Europe a central priority of the Portuguese presidency, calling on European leaders to give renewed priority to issues that thus far were secondary on the European agenda, such as the fight against poverty and inequalities, the colossal European institutional apparatus, traditionally unenthusiastic about changing course began, little by little, to move. First off, the transition aspired by the European project was no longer only described as “green” and “digital”, but also “fair”. Then, the European Commission not only sought to dust down a long-promised legislative proposal to fight wage discrimination against women in the labour market, but also hastened to prepare and present a whole new Action Plan to implement the so-called European Pillar of Social Rights – an axis of political action approved four years ago at another Summit, in Gothenburg, yet never put into practice.
What is certain is that, under the impulse of the Portuguese presidency, European leaders will discuss, not only among themselves but with trade unions and other social partners, a new social agenda, which embraces the goal and the ambition, over the next ten years, to increase to 78% the number of people aged 20 to 64 years who are employed (which is only possible by also increasing the participation of women in the labour market); to increase to 60% the percentage of adults who participate annually in vocational training actions, and to reduce by 15 million the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Consequently, other important topics will also be on the agenda of leaders such as the creation of European instruments to fight poverty and social inequality, the social support and guarantee systems for children and young people, the European minimum wage framework, the European unemployment reinsurance scheme, wage discrimination and gender equality, the reconciliation of work and personal and family life, the demographic challenge as well as the support to birth rates, qualifications and vocational training and, finally, the increasing need, namely in the context the pandemic, to move towards a true European Health Union.
Of course, it is not yet a matter of approving the numerous legislative initiatives and financial instruments that will be needed to fulfil the ambitions that have been defined, but rather to bind European leaders to concrete political goals and commitments, which will then spur their proper and due follow-up. That is how the Portuguese presidency of 2021 will leave its mark – a social mark – capable of making a difference in the future of Europe and in the lives of European citizens.
The Porto summit is the summit Europe needs: a Social Summit for a fairer Europe.