H.E. Ana Maria Ribeiro da Silva: We are all committed to pursuing our common goals and values

We need to be useful to our citizens and to strengthen our relations with allies and friends

Photo: BNT

It is never too late to reach an agreement on what has previously divided us, let's keep talking, negotiating and discussing so that we can overcome our differences, says H.E. Ana Maria Ribeiro da Silva, Ambassador of Portugal to Sofia, in an interview with BTA at the end of Portugal's Presidency of the Council of the EU.

Your Excellency, we are at the end of Portugal's Presidency of the Council of the EU, whose motto was “Time to deliver: a fair, green and digital recovery”. What are the most significant results and achievements of the Portuguese Presidency?

As a whole, our Presidency has yielded positive results. We were able to achieve most of our goals and restore the Council's work schedule. The meetings were held on time, albeit mostly virtually. In May and June we returned to in-person meetings, starting with the remarkable Porto Social Summit. Some of our most significant achievements are as follows:

The Conference on the Future of Europe was launched on 9 May.

We were able to complete the process of creating the so-called EU Digital Covid Certificate in 62 days, and the document is set to enter into force on 1 July. The Council also adopted an amending recommendation on temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU as well as an amending recommendation on a (previously adopted) coordinated approach to limiting free movement in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

As for the European Health Union, on 15 June we agreed a common position on to the proposal for a reinforced role for the European Medicines Agency in crisis preparedness and management of medicinal products and medical devices. We also adopted Council conclusions on the need to prevent shortages of critical medicines and medical devices and ensure timely access to innovative medicines.

The EU's crisis management system was shored up in order to ensure better response to future challenges.

Several programmes part of the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework were adopted, including cohesion policy funds, Horizon Europe, the Invest EU programme, the Digital Europe programme, EU4Health, Erasmus+ and the Creative Europe programme.

The Recovery and Resilience Facility (which will make €672.5bn in loans and grants available) becoming operational was critically important.

We reached the Own Resources Decision, which was ratified by all Member States by 31 May. This allows the European Commission (EC) to take out a loan for up to €750bn on behalf of the EU and start allocating funds under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

National recovery and resilience plans are already being implemented. The EC began work on approving the first 12 national plans on 16 June, and that process will continue. The first council decisions will be adopted in July. Our Presidency set an example: we were the first Member State to present its national recovery and resilience plan, and ours was the first plan approved by the EC.

The Porto Social Summit, which took place on 7 and 8 May, was a central event for our Presidency. Its purpose was to facilitate the transition from announcing the European Pillar of Social Rights to implementing it through the Action Plan presented by the EC in March.

The Germany-Portugal-Slovenia trio presides over the Council of the EU at a very difficult time. What was the biggest challenge that you faced in the last six months?

Definitely, the fight against the pandemic, and the need to coordinate the common efforts in delivering enough vaccines to EU Member States but also to our friends and neighbours in several regions and countries in the world. It's been a joint effort that we are proud of, and we are sure it is going to be pursued by the Presidencies that will follow ours.

What will be Portugal's message to Slovenia, which takes over the Presidency on 1 July?

As you know, EU countries share the same fundamental values that are at the core of the EU. In this regard, there is a continuity in work that we all share and understand. Moreover, our actions are designed in order to benefit our citizens. So, there are no specific messages. As I said before, it is a joint work, a common path that we, all Member States, are engaged in, to be useful to our citizens and to strengthen our relations with allies and friends.

The topic of the European integration of the Western Balkans was a priority for the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU, and remained on the agenda of the next Presidencies. The Portuguese Presidency has also made great efforts to make progress in this area. Which efforts proved to be the most fruitful, in your opinion?

Regarding the enlargement, the political intergovernmental conferences with Serbia and Montenegro took place on 22 June, in line with the new methodology. This is already progress. Nevertheless, we are aware of the sensitiveness of this issue for some Member States and we must take them into account. In spite of some “hurdles” in the process, we need to keep working on these issues. There are proposals on the table, forwarded by the Portuguese Presidency, that are valid and constitute the basis for more debate and development on this topic. Here I wish, on a personal basis, to send a message for everyone (being a very annoying optimist) - it is never too late to reach an agreement on what has previously divided us, let's keep talking, negotiating and discussing so that we can overcome our differences. That is the only way we can look forward and think of a brighter future for the sake of our citizens.

The Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camoes writes that times are changing, as do our desires, and that the entire world is made of change, constantly attaining new qualities. What will change for us in Europe after the last unprecedented year and what will it be like, our world, created by this change?

I cannot agree more with Camoes. He was a visionary. Europe is already changing. Progressing, anticipating the times to come. We do not have a crystal ball. But we are all committed to pursuing our goals and values - from human rights to fundamental rights. And again, as an annoying optimist, I will say: We will do it and we will achieve it.

The interview was originally published by BTA.

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