News & Views

AI In Focus Under the Portuguese Council Presidency

8 March 2021

Authors: Anna Ribenfors and Itai Coleman

As of 1 January 2021, Portugal has held the presidency of the Council of the European Union, and its presidency will continue until June 2021. AI has been a prioritised national question for Portugal for some time and has resulted in numerous ambitious AI projects. One such project is the INCoDe.2030 initiative that sets out, inter alia, to digitalise Portugal’s public services with the help of AI. Under Portugal’s presidency, the country’s focus on AI will be reflected on an EU level. One action which the Portuguese presidency will use to pursue its main priorities is titled “Digital Europe – Accelerate digital transformations in the service of citizens and enterprises”, and it expresses Portugal’s will to, for instance, modernise public administration through the use of AI.

The different ways to optimise administrative processes with the help of AI have previously been discussed in the EU and were most recently presented in the White Paper on Artificial Intelligence: a European approach to excellence and trust. In the White Paper, the European Commission presented its AI vision that proposes:

  • measures that will streamline research, foster collaboration between member states, and increase investments into AI development and deployment; and
  • policy options for a future EU regulatory framework that would determine the types of legal requirements that would apply to relevant actors, with a particular focus on high-risk applications.

The next steps in relation to the White Paper will be the presentation of an in-depth analysis of the results from the public consultation which was carried out in the first half of 2020 and a detailed impact assessment. Subsequently, a regulatory proposal will be presented in the first quarter of 2021. During Ursula von der Leyen’s (President of the European Commission) speech at the “Masters of Digital 2021” event, it was expressed that the legal framework will require high-risk AI applications to use high-quality data and to ensure human oversight.

In addition to the aforementioned actions related to the White Paper and the regulatory proposal, the European Commission has scheduled the publication of the updated Coordination Plan on AI for the first quarter of 2021. The Coordination Plan on AI was originally published in late 2018 and is an effort to maximise the impact of investments at EU and national level, to encourage synergies and cooperation across the EU, to foster the exchange of best practices, and to collectively define the way forward. The updated Coordination Plan on AI will focus on national strategies.

Although Portugal’s presidency has not yet officially presented any specific action points of its own in order to achieve its goals related to the adoption of a legal framework for AI, it is likely that its priorities will offer a welcome nudge to propel the process of implementing an AI policy and legal framework within the EU. Thus, even though AI has been addressed by the EU for some time now, we anticipate a progressive year for AI-related legal policy within the EU with the aforementioned actions and processes in place.