The Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2021 takes place at a particularly difficult time, ‘with the COVID-19 pandemic and its social and economic consequences posing an unprecedented challenge for the EU and its Member States, requiring decisive and comprehensive action.’

Therefore, the Presidency motto is: ‘Time to deliver: for a fair, green and digital recovery’.

According to its programme, emphasis will be placed on the European pillar of social rights as a response to the social dimension of the crisis and as a way to strengthen the European social model and its capacity to keep pace with climate, digital and demographic change.

Initiatives will be prioritised to ‘help accelerate the digital transition as a driver of economic recovery and promote European leadership in digital innovation and the digital economy.’ Attention should be paid ‘to the universal development of digital skills, so that workers can adapt to new production processes (teleworking), to the digital transformation of businesses and digital platforms, to the areas of e-commerce, payments and taxation, the promotion of health and disease prevention, and to distance learning in education and lifelong learning.’

A high-level conference on digital education is planned in May to encourage discussion on empowering citizens for the digital challenge. Other important topics will include the future of work and promoting the development of appropriate skills for a modern and digital economy.

The Presidency will also focus on lifelong learning, qualifications and skills recognition, innovative teaching methods, inclusion and citizenship: ‘We will advocate for the importance of inclusive access to education and training, and of creating the conditions for equality of opportunities and success. We will stress the importance of continuous investment in education, self-study and vocational and artistic training, with a focus on digital and environmental skills.’

Mobility in education and ‘brain circulation’ will be among the priorities, with a focus on the establishment of a European education area (EEA) by 2025, the construction of a strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training and initiatives under the updated European skills agenda and the new Digital education action plan.

The EU Social Summit, to be held in Porto in May, will be a pivotal moment. The Presidency will do its utmost for the implementation of the European pillar of social rights and its action plan, emphasising its central role in European recovery. Attention will be paid to the areas of employment, qualifications and social protection. It will also be an opportunity to strengthen dialogue with social partners and citizens.