In Lisbon today to ‘define the programme for the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the European Union’, European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen was optimistic about the arrival of Brussels’ ‘bazooka’ to power Portugal’s recovery – and agreed that “a vaccination certificate” could be the way to help tourism in the summer.
On the face of it today’s visit was all about the objectives of the rotating European presidency that Portugal holds for the next six months.
Ms Von der Leyen set out defining the various objectives (which we have heard to a large extent already click here) – particularly the Social Summit scheduled for Porto in May.
The summit sets out to be a “very strong political signal”, she said. “The EU promotes recovery and gives priority to people and their well-being”.
Portugal’s motto for its fourth tenure of the rotating presidency: “It’s time to act: a fair, green, digital recovery” was the order of business as Ms Von der Leyen was accompanied by eight European commissioners for talks with the government.
Said Mr Costa in the press conference convened at the end of the afternoon: “We are centering our presidency on economic recovery, but the European bazooka has to blast off; the financial support has to take place. Each national parliament must approve its plans for recovery with urgency and present them…”
This was very much a ‘cosmetic event’: all the talking has been done before. But Ms Von der Leyen used the occasion to discuss her ‘concern’ over new variants of the coronavirus that are being flagged in different countries.
“It’s important to realise that we aren’t yet out of this crisis, as we can see with the cases in Portugal”, she said. “We have to react rapidly with these new variants…The vaccination programme is the light at the end of the tunnel, and we have to focus on it”.
Ms Von der Leyen also referred to ‘hoping to have a third vaccine to increase the number of doses’ being made available to Member States (meaning the AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine, that has already started being rolled out in the UK).
Europe to get closer to India, Africa and the USA in 2021
The EU president also sketched out the details of the plan to create closer ties with India, Africa and the United States this year.
“Portugal gave new worlds to the world, a citation from Camões, and we share this desire for a stronger Europe. These months will be fulcral in stronger links with Africa, the United States and India.”
Mr Costa has already described the India Summit that Portugal will be hosting in Porto (also in May) as “the jewel in the crown” of the Portuguese presidency.
He referred to the “investment agreement already established with China”, saying the idea is to put the relationship with India on a new level “not just when it comes to the climate but in investment and commerce”.
These next six months will be about promoting Europe as a ‘global actor’, he said.
Vaccine certificate for tourism
This is actually a suggestion that came from Greece. Ms Von der Leyen said it was a suggestion that could ‘facilitate trips in Europe’.
“Vaccination is a medical necessity”. But there could still be some way before the idea gets approval (not least because it will take months – possibly well beyond the summer – to get populations immunised).
“The certificate would have to be recognised by the World Health Organisation. Then we would need to establish what we can do with the certificate and what freedoms we allow. It will have to be discussed…” she said, suggesting it is an idea that ‘could end up being combined with a negative Covid test result’.
Mr Costa’s concern is that “people need to feel safe to come on holiday or work and live in Portugal this summer”.
In his mindset, a vaccination certificate would cut the mustard.
There’s clearly still a long way to go, but as the press conference revealed some countries have already started issuing their own vaccination certificates.
Said Ms Von der Leyen: “It must be a medical obligation that there is a certificate for those who been vaccinated”.