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As the six-month stint closes Wednesday, the country was celebrating a mega-deal on the bloc’s agricultural subsidies, a coronavirus vaccine travel passport coming July 1 and agreements on a host of other tricky issues.
The easing of pandemic restrictions lent a helping hand, said Pedro Lourtie, Lisbon’s ambassador in charge of agriculture, health, digital and other policy files. “Things started to improve in the last three months and this allowed us to have more physical meetings and also to have more physical ministerial meetings,” he said, adding that negotiators could get in the room together to work out differences and clinch key deals — even on files such as fiscal transparency and online tracking that had been in deadlock for years.
But what were the successes, and which files did the presidency fudge? Here’s POLITICO’s rundown.
The Common Agricultural Policy
What was agreed? The rules that will govern Europe’s farmland between 2023 and 2027. The reforms to the bloc’s mammoth farm policy were long overdue, with the current agriculture rules carried over for an extra two years because talks were dragging on so long. Chances of a deal before the summer were looking bleak after talks stalled in May in a fight over the green direction of the CAP. But the institutions pulled a political compromise out of the bag in the final days of Portugal’s presidency, aimed at making subsidies greener and fairer.
Who won: The final agreement is a true halfway house, satisfying neither the die-hard environmentalists nor the agri-business lobby. France and the Socialists smuggled new rules on protecting farm workers into the CAP for the first time, while countries got much more flexibility in doling out EU funds. The deal also gave farmers some peace of mind about what kind of constraints they’ll be operating under in the coming years.
Who lost: The Greens and their allies in civil society decried the political deal as little more than greenwashing. Much of their criticism focused on governments’ resistance to fully aligning the farm policy with the Green Deal until much later down the line, and also the mountain of loopholes and derogations that countries smuggled in for basic land-management requirements. Relations between EU farm ministers and EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans nose-dived during the final furlong, as he tried to push for more green ambition.
Fudge factor: 9/10 — Serious fudging was needed because the lack of a deal was becoming a glaring wound in the EU’s side. It remains to be seen if this CAP is a necessary prelude to a greener reform in five or so years, or more of an unambitious delay.
What was agreed? The bloc’s first Climate Law: a bill that enshrines the bloc’s 2050 and 2030 climate goals in legislation after months of difficult fights over how far to go in requiring countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions. That means that no matter who or what runs the Berlaymont, the targets are now enshrined in EU law.
Who won: It’s a mixed bag. The Commission and EU countries won on the headline targets: They balked at efforts to raise the 2030 target beyond 55 percent emissions cuts and maintained the bloc’s 2050 climate-neutrality goal at EU level, rather than applying it nationally (something Warsaw was dead-set on avoiding). But the law also includes concessions to the European Parliament with potentially far-reaching implications, including creating the first independent advisory council to track the EU’s climate course, and introducing the concept of a carbon budget to guide a future 2040 target.
Who lost: The Greens. Frustrated at a final deal they said was lacking ambition, the group rejected the bill alongside the far right and far left when Parliament voted in June. After years of pushing for these very climate goals, the reactions from other MEPs were cutting. Seeing the Greens and the climate-skeptical far-right political groups voting together on the bloc’s first Climate Law showed how warped legislative debates can get in the Brussels Bubble.
Fudge factor: 2/10 — Although the legal obligations remain at EU level, the agreement enshrines emission reduction goals that were unthinkable just a couple of years ago.
What was agreed? The EU raced to get bloc-wide certificates — that prove a traveler got tested, vaccinated or has immunity following a coronavirus infection — up and running by the start of the summer holiday season. Countries also agreed to nonbinding guidance on how to treat travelers with such a certificate, a balancing act that pitted tourism-reliant countries against more cautious countries warning of the risks linked with the easing of controls.
Who won: National governments remain in the driving seat, as they get the final say on whether the certificate buys a traveler restriction-free travel.
Who lost: The European Parliament failed in its effort to get greater guarantees on restriction-free travel for certificate-holders, and its push for universally free testing for travelers.
Fudge factor: 10/10. As ever during the pandemic, attempts to reboot free movement clashed with EU countries’ insistence they must be able to deal with public health threats. The certificates are an important component for EU travel policies and they were agreed in record time, but they don’t offer guaranteed free travel. The accompanying travel guidance, if observed, should make EU travel much easier, but it’s nonbinding.
What was agreed? It had looked like the pandemic would sink an EU proposal to roll out common scientific evaluations of drugs and medical devices (otherwise known as joint health technology assessment). Big countries such as France and Germany had dug in their heels, not wanting to give up too much oversight into the evaluations that feed their drug reimbursement decisions. But the Portuguese presidency was able to tie up the loose ends on the difficult file, which will boost cooperation between EU countries with the hope of improving medicines access and simplifying the application process for drug companies.
Who won: It’s a big symbolic win for Portugal, which was able to close a deal that had escaped the previous six presidencies that worked on joint HTA — including the Germans who were expected to be the ones to get a deal. Besides Portugal, France and Germany got their biggest ask — namely no binding wording to encroach on national powers over scientific assessments of drugs.
Who lost: Big Pharma. Companies were the biggest proponents of full-bodied joint assessments to simplify a procedure that right now needs to be repeated 27 times, once for each EU country. They argue the deal agreed will not speed up regulatory reviews.
Fudge factor: 7/10 — a victory of form over substance. Countries remain free to choose whether or not to take on board the EU scientific assessments, leaving the regulation toothless. Proponents say it could lay the groundwork for a proper joint process in five or ten years’ time.
Preventing online child sexual abuse
What was agreed? Parliament and Council clinched a deal at the end of April to allow tech companies to detect and report child sexual abuse material online while remaining compliant with EU privacy laws. The text is a temporary derogation to existing data protection legislation. In addition to explicit images, the new rules also apply to text messages that could be part of a grooming process, but they do not allow the scanning of audio communications.
Who won: Technology companies, child protection NGOs and Ashton Kutcher.
Who lost: The European Commission. The EU’s executive presented the legislation in September and imposed an unattainable December deadline — which was unsurprisingly not met.
Fudge factor: 4/10 — Discussions took longer than the Commission had hoped because the European Parliament wanted more safeguards for users’ privacy. In the meantime, social media giant Facebook stopped proactively detecting child sexual abuse material, increasing pressure on the talks.
Rules on road tolling
What was agreed? A deal for new EU rules on road charges that would link tolls to vehicles’ CO2 emissions, and shift charges from a time-based model to one based on distance traveled — both considered crucial in making sure polluters and frequent drivers foot the bill for the climate impacts of driving.
Who won: The deal answers a plea from industry and NGOs, which had argued the reform was key to building a business case for greener trucks, which tend to be pricier.
Who lost: Austria had called for more leeway to levy higher charges on vulnerable road stretches, and said the final deal fell short. Its Tyrol region has been grappling with major transit traffic on a busy north-south axis called the Brenner Pass, and Tyrol Governor Günther Platter said the deal will force the region to resort to other means to curb the “transit avalanche.”
Fudge factor: 8/10 — Parliament’s demands to phase out time-based charges and earmark tolling revenue were the polar opposite of EU countries’ position. The compromise found a middle ground through a complicated set of rules by adding myriad exemptions.
What was agreed? Lisbon achieved what many in Brussels thought was impossible by agreeing on a tax-transparency deal that had been gathering dust in Council and Parliament shelves for years. The controversial bill will require big companies to declare where in the EU they pay tax and make profits. The Commission proposed the rules as an accounting initiative after the Panama Papers scandal, but many finance ministers said it was a tax file, creating a legal stalemate. The difference matters, because tax initiatives require unanimity to become law while accounting files require a qualified majority support. Portugal managed to secure that majority, despite protests, and reached a legislative deal with the Parliament.
Who won: The Portuguese, Parliament and the Commission.
Who lost: Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and Sweden, which all opposed the bill on legal grounds.
Fudge factor: 7/10 — You’d think NGOs would welcome the deal. Instead, they lambasted the final legislation for not going far enough. Their criticism was directed at how the disclosure rules were limited to companies’ EU operations. Companies can present their activity outside of the bloc in an aggregate number. That’s not good enough in NGOs’ minds.
The cookie law
What was agreed? The Portuguese presidency managed to break a four-year deadlock on the EU’s “cookie law,” also known as the e-Privacy regulation, by shepherding a common position among EU countries in February. The legislation, first introduced in 2017, aims to protect the privacy of online communications by regulating how telecom operators, tech companies and the online advertising industry use personal data. But the Council deal struck down most of the privacy protections initially drafted by the Commission, including privacy settings for web browsers such as Google’s Chrome.
Who won: EU countries, telecom operators, the advertising industry and Big Tech companies.
Who lost: The European Parliament and digital rights NGOs.
Fudge factor: 8/10 — While Portugal can claim a diplomatic win, the text was significantly watered down to assuage capitals’ and industry’s concerns. The European Parliament’s position is much more privacy-friendly, meaning the negotiations that come next to determine the final laws are expected to be long and difficult.
Top finance posts
What was agreed? It hasn’t all gone swimmingly for Lisbon. The Portuguese presidency failed to make any progress whatsoever on the next chair of the European Securities and Markets Authority — an important and increasingly powerful post among the EU’s financial regulators. The presidency began in January with a divide over two candidates vying for the top spot: Italian regulator Carmine di Noia and German national Verena Ross. Lisbon departs having entrenched the political stalemate between Germany and Italy, and embarrassed diplomats fear the episode is tarnishing the Council’s reputation.
Who won: No one (yet) — the stalemate means Germany and Italy have yet to lose.
Who lost: The Portuguese, ESMA, Council and the nominees. Portugal’s success ushering through the appointment of Dutchwoman Petra Hielkema as chair of the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority does little to diminish the failure.
Hannah Brenton, Laurens Cerulus, Hanne Cokelaere, Jillian Deutsch, Laura Kayali, Kalina Oroschakoff, Carlo Martuscelli, Bjarke Smith-Meyer, Eddy Wax and Laura Greenhalgh contributed to this article.
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