With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to produce adverse social outcomes, there are numerous pressing social policy issues facing the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, held by Portugal until June 2021. In this context, the European Social Network (ESN) hopes for a clear focus by the new Presidency to address urgent social challenges.

Social policy a priority in Portugal’s Council Presidency programme

According to Portugal’s Council Presidency programme “it will be very important to strengthen Europe's resilience and its citizens' confidence in the European social model”. This suggests that social policy will be a priority of Portugal in the EU’s efforts to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme also includes a stated aim to promote policies combating poverty and social exclusion, including specific protection for the most vulnerable, as these have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. In addition, it mentions implementing the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR) to ensure a fair and inclusive climate and digital transition, as one of its three main Presidency priorities.

Strengthened social services for stronger recovery

At a time of great urgency, public social services, represented by ESN at European level, are looking to Portugal’s Council of the EU Presidency to reinforce social policy and make funding available for public authorities with statutory duties in social services, who are facing significant challenges because of the pandemic. Public social services highlight the need for a greater social focus in recovery and resilience plans that are currently being drafted by national authorities so that resources are made available through the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility.

Asked about their expectations regarding Portugal’s presidency, a representative of ESN member Santa Casa da Misericordia de Lisboa, which manages all social services in Lisbon, explained: “In a context of growing economic and social crisis generated by the pandemic, it is highly important to strengthen the social dimension in recovery and resilience plans”.

Emphasising cohesion and social rights in EU Member States’ recovery and resilience plans will allow the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. In turn, policy implementation will help achieve objectives such as social services support for vulnerable populations like children, young people, people with disabilities and older people.

As highlighted by Ana Paula Zacarias, Portuguese Secretary of State of European Affairs, at a recent meeting with members of the European Committee of the Regions, local and regional leaders are “the driving forces of local communities and play a key role in response to the crisis”. Indeed, the proximity of public local social services to those they serve helps them understand better than anybody else the reality on the ground. This knowledge is key in decision-making to fund transformation programmes and deliver services that make a difference to people.




European Social Network (2020). Towards a People’s Europe- Response to European Commission Consultation Action Plan of the European Pillar of Social Rights.


Portuguese Republic (2021). 2021 Portugal.eu- Programme for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

European Committee of the Regions (2021). CoR members and EU Portuguese Presidency discuss health, social and economic recovery priorities.