15 January 2021

Portuguese Presidency priorities: what’s in it for philanthropy?

European Council President, Charles Michel, and Portuguese Prime Minister, António Costa, meet in Libson in January at the start of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council. CREDIT: ANTÓNIO PEDRO SANTOS/LUSA

The Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU takes place at a particularly challenging moment, not only with much of the world in turmoil, including in Europe’s close neighbourhood, but also when the COVID-19 pandemic and its socio-economic consequences represent an unprecedented trial for the European Union and its Member States.

the second half of 2020, the German Presidency of the Council of the EU concluded several important agreements, after rounds of uneasy negotiations. The post-Brexit trade deal and the EU budget have been agreed, as well as the new Commission’s climate and migration policies.

Now, the new Portuguese Presidency is tasked with the implementation of these agreements. However, the Presidency also assumes its 6-month leadership of the Council with its own clear priorities. According to the official document presented by Portugal, “the presidency will aim at strengthening Europe’s resilience and people’s confidence in the European social model by promoting a Union based on the common values of solidarity, convergence and cohesion.”

Portugal takes over the Presidency with three core priorities for the EU:

  • To promote a recovery leveraged by the climate and digital transitions;
  • To implement the European Pillar of Social Rights of the European Union as a distinctive element for ensuring a fair and inclusive climate and digital transition;
  • To strengthen Europe’s autonomy whilst remaining open to the world, taking a leading role in climate action and promoting a digital transformation in the service of people.

Specifically, Portugal’s agenda for the Presidency is divided into five clusters: Resilient Europe, Social Europe, Digital Europe, Green Europe, and Global Europe.

What is in it for European foundations?

Having looked at the Portuguese presidency’s priorities, there are plenty of entry points for our policy recommendations. These include the implementation of Commission’s action plans, such as the European Democracy Action Plan, the Action plan for a comprehensive Union policy on preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, and the Action Plan for Economic and Monetary Union.

Below is an overview of the key files in each cluster area that we consider relevant and will be closely following over the next six months.

  1. Resilient Europe

One of the main priorities of the new Presidency is to implement the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 and Next Generation EU, in particular the Recovery and Resilience Facility. Together with Civil society partners, we have called on the EU to ensure that resources are also made available for civil society organisations to develop medium to long-term plans to promote fundamental rights, rule of law and democracy, beyond specific time-bound EU related projects; and to sustain watchdog roles and respond to threats. We will also continue to make the case that our sector must be consulted and considered in the drafting of national recovery plans. PA has engaged extensively on this file during the previous Presidency, and will continue to closely monitor the implications for foundations and civil society throughout their implementation.

The Action Plan for Economic and Monetary Union, particularly its plan to deepen the Capital Markets Union through simplifying tax barriers to cross-border investment,  provides a potential entry point for our cross-border philanthropy Manifesto recommendation. This is an opportunity for the philanthropy sector to engage with European policy makers to ensure free flow of capital within Europe, as well as more meaningful application of the non-discrimination principle to eliminate administrative barriers and facilitate tax-effective cross-border philanthropy.

The Presidency also plans to look at the system of European taxation, with the aim of ensuring a fair and equitable distribution of taxation. Here, their focus will be on strengthening good governance mechanisms and global tax transparency, and to step up the fight against tax fraud, evasion, and avoidance. We support the idea of simplification and modernisation of tax rules in the Single Market, as administrative burdens continue to hamper the work of both larger endowed foundations investing their assets cross-border as well as donors giving cross-border though we call on the EU to make sure that tax policy should enable and not restrict legitimate public benefit activities.

The Presidency plans to implement the EU action plan on preventing money laundering and terrorist financing (AML). We have followed and contributed to all relevant consultations on the Action Plan and will continue to ensure that money laundering and counterterrorism financing rules are proportionate to the risks they seek to address, without imposing undue restrictions on legitimate charitable activities.

The Portuguese Presidency is expected to also work further on progressing the Conference on the Future of Europe, with the first challenge being resolving the impasse over the leadership of the Conference. We will continue to make the case for civil society and philanthropy to be part of the process, as well as help implement the outcomes and solutions.

The Portuguese Presidency also plans to focus on the implementation of the European Democracy Action Plan. Our contribution to this file has called for recognition of and support for civil society, including philanthropic organisations. We also asked for further strengthening the civil dialogue of Article 11 of the Treaty on the European Union to ensure that civil society actors and public benefit organisations, are involved in shaping EU policies. We will continue to engage with the European Commission around the implementation of EDAP, as well as a range of other civil society issues.

We have been making the case to EU policy makers to leverage the impact of private resources for public value by introducing financial instruments that act as a catalyst for co-granting with philanthropy. Therefore, we will be closely following the launch of these instruments, in particular the Horizon Europe programme, which seeks to support European partnerships with EU countries, the private sector, foundations, and other stakeholders. The aim is to deliver on global challenges and industrial modernisation through concerted research and innovation efforts.

  1. Social Europe

The European Commission´s European Action Plan for the Social Economy is currently being prepared and will be launched in autumn 2021 – during the upcoming Slovenian Presidency. The major social programme for the Portuguese Presidency will be the implementation of the Action Plan for the European Pillar of Social Rights. Regarding employment, social policy and health, the Presidency plans to hold a Social Summit in Porto in May 2021. Not only will this be a central moment of the Portuguese Presidency, but it will also present opportunities for engagement for those interested within our sector, with the first of two days (7 May) being devoted to a High Level Conference with broad participation, including civil society.

  1. Digital Europe

The Portuguese Presidency plans to follow up on the White Paper on AI, to which we contributed to with comments, and to introduce a common European Approach. Developments in the AI field are particularly important for civil society organisations, particularly with respect to the inclusion of safeguards for fundamental rights and civic freedoms and insuring that digital infrastructure serves public interest.

  1. Green Europe

A core aim of the new Presidency is to make progress with the implementation of the Green Deal and the increasing capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change and promoting the competitive advantages of a decarbonised and resilient economic model. Key events to look out for include a conference on climate change in March and a conference on green hydrogen in the energy transition in April, .

The philanthropic sector has joined forces to create the Philanthropy Coalition for Climate. As a first step, the coalition pledged to promote the “philanthropy commitment on climate change” at the launch event of the European Climate Pact, which is a key element of the Green Deal. The commitment seeks to mobilise foundations across Europe and beyond to integrate a climate lens throughout their operations.

  1. Global Europe

Among the Portuguese presidency’s foreign policy priorities are the EU’s future relationship with the UK, building upon the recent trade deal by working towards a comprehensive, equitable and balanced partnership that respects the interests of the Union and of its Member States.

Looking further afield, other key events include an Eastern Partnership Summit due in March, a summit with India (date TBC), and the anticipated reset of transatlantic relations, following the election of the Biden administration in the United States. The attention these summits may provide is an opportunity to draw comparisons with enabling environments for philanthropy in countries beyond Europe.

Further reading

Official Portuguese Council Presidency Website

“Portuguese presidency wants to strengthen trust in EU social model” – EURACTIV

POLICY BRIEFING: Portugal’s priorities for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union – EPC

Portuguese people to know in the Brussels Bubble – POLITICO

Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union – Erste Lesung

Priority Dossiers under the Portuguese EU Council Presidency – European Parliamentary Research Service