MEPs want the Portuguese presidency of the EU Council to prioritise the creation of jobs and to tackle inequality, both of which have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister António Costa presented his country's aims to the European Parliament on Wednesday for Portugal's six-month tenure, which rotates between EU member states twice a year.
Portugal's term began at the start of this month, after inheriting the position from Germany.
Costa told lawmakers he wants to help the EU succeed in its vaccination campaign and economic recovery from the coronavirus. He also noted other major challenges, like the climate crisis as key areas in which to work on.
"I believe that all Europeans wish that in the next six months we can advance strongly with all 27 member states vaccination campaigns," the Portuguese premier explained.
"That will be an essential condition to completing everything else. We need to conclude all legislative steps to approve the new financial instruments in order to have the historical New Recovery and Resilience Fund to be used during the Portuguese presidency, with a concrete transfer of money to the companies and the citizens, so that we can revive the European economy."
MEPs broadly supported his proposals, highlighting the economic and social emergency caused by the pandemic, asking that recovery plans focus on creating jobs and reducing inequalities.
"2021 has to be a year when we talk about jobs, jobs, jobs... For that purpose, we support the idea of a social Europe. And in this social Europe, the most important thing is that people have jobs, especially the younger generation," European People's Party leader and German MEP Manfred Weber said during the debate.
French MEP Manon Aubry was vocal in her criticism of Europe for its perceived failings on social issues, saying that a state of emergency on the matter must be announced.
"In one of the richest parts of the world, people are going hungry. Misery touches all segments of our societies, attacking the youngest with an even stronger blow. I want to make to you a proposal that makes perfect sense: let's declare a social state of emergency," Aubry said.
Costa says that the Portuguese presidency will present a new action plan for social and labour rights this March, telling MEPs that it will be central to the Europe's recovery strategy.