Trip to Lisbon ‘essential’, says von der Leyen

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen in Brussels, Belgium, 14 January 2021. [EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ]

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she believes that a delegation from the EU executive to Lisbon is “essential and necessary” for the start of the Portuguese EU presidency while ensuring “every precaution” due to COVID-19.

“As far as our trip to Lisbon is concerned, it is of the utmost importance. We are only going with a small group [of the College of Commissioners], but it is of enormous importance that we start this Portuguese presidency with close dialogue,” von der Leyen said in an interview with Lusa and other Portuguese media in Brussels the day before her trip to the Portuguese capital.

Insisting that this is “an essential and necessary trip”, she said that “all necessary precautions and measures will be taken to avoid infections” at a time when the number of cases continues to rise sharply in Portugal, which has already led to another lockdown from Friday.

Von der Leyen said she hoped to “hold the necessary negotiations and discussions which are so important for the college and for the work of the Commission and the EU Council”.

A European Commission delegation led by von der Leyen will visit Portugal on Friday under the Portuguese presidency of the Council of the EU, despite the announced tighter confinement due to COVID-19.

The traditional visit of the EU executive to the country holding the Council presidency comprise only eight members of the college.

Von der Leyen will be accompanied on her trip to Lisbon by the three executive vice-presidents, Frans Timmermans (European Ecological Pact), Valdis Dombrovskis (An Economy at the Service of People), and Margrethe Vestager (Digital), the EU Vice-President and High Representative for Foreign Policy, Josep Borrell, Vice-Presidents Margaritis Schinas (Promoting the European way of life) and Maros Sefcovic (Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight), Portuguese Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (Cohesion and Reforms), and Commissioner Nicolas Schmit, responsible for Social Affairs, one of the main priorities of the Portuguese presidency.

Under normal conditions, visits by the college of the Commission to the country holding the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council involve all the Commissioners and last for two days.

In this interview with Lusa and other Portuguese media in Brussels, von der Leyen said the epidemiological situation “is serious throughout Europe”, including Portugal.

“We are witnessing a peak of infections after the Christmas holidays and the possible impact of the new variant [detected in the UK]”, she said.

Nevertheless, “I know that the Portuguese government is closely monitoring the situation and considering further measures to reduce the impact of the virus,” she said.

Von der Leyen called for European citizens to be “very disciplined” in the coming weeks in complying with the containment measures, saying she sees “light at the end of the tunnel” with the vaccinations underway in the EU.

“This is serious, we must remain vigilant, we must monitor and we must be very disciplined”, she concludes.

As was the case during the German EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2020, and with much of the Croatian presidency in the first half of last year, the pandemic is threatening to constrain the work of the Portuguese presidency, forcing many meetings to be held remotely and limiting the number of people attending those meetings in person.

(Ana Matos Neves / Ivone Gravato / Tiago Almeida, Lusa.pt)

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