Portugal pledged on Thrusday to push forward EU reforms and focus on relations with nations in the southern hemisphere during its forthcoming presidency of the EU.
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates has big plans for the EU
The first major event under the Portuguese EU presidency will be a summit with Brazil on July 4. Lisbon intends to place the former Portuguese colony and Latin American giant on an equal footing with the EU's privileged partners such as the United States, Russia, China or India.
"We will do all we can to place relations with the south higher up on the European list of priorities," Prime Minister Jose Socrates said.
Lisbon will also try to revitalize relations with Africa, boost Mediterranean dialog and contribute to Middle East peace efforts.
Lisbon must take on the treaty
Starting on July 1, when it officially takes over the presidency from Germany, Portugal will also take on considerable baggage, in particular the challenge of getting a revamped EU reform treaty approved.
Germany's Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel during treaty negotiations
The recent EU summit in Brussels forged a compromise on a reform treaty to overhaul decision-making processes in the 27-nation bloc, replacing a more ambitious plan for a common constitution. The new document is shorter, but could be fraught with more legal problems, partly because of special arrangements granted to Britain and Poland.
"Our goal is ... not to lose the dynamics of the agreement reached in Brussels and to approve a new treaty as soon as possible," Socrates said on Wednesday.
Lisbon wants a conference to begin drawing up the treaty on July 23 so that it can be approved in October.
Africa will be a priority
Illegal immigrants from Africa are a cause of concern in the EU
Lisbon has also declared Africa an urgent concern, as China and the United States are extending their influence there at Europe's expense.
"The world has changed," Foreign Minister Luis Amado said, emphasizing that Europe's outdated "neo-colonialist" Africa policy needed to be replaced with a "strategic collaboration."
Lisbon will hold a summit with 80 African leaders on Dec. 8 and 9, reviving discussions which were postponed after an initial summit under a previous Portuguese EU presidency in 2000.
Closer ties to the Muslim world
The EU flag, seen here over the Brandenburg Gate, is leaving Berlin
The minister also stressed the importance of strong relations with the Muslim world, saying Europe needed to adapt its foreign policy to the world influenced by the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
The foreign policy changes sought by Portugal include attempts to seek peace in the Middle East. Lisbon also wants to send a "signal of good will" to Turkey, a Muslim country aspiring to join the EU.
Prime Minister Socrates, however, has promised that the southern emphasis will not lead Portugal to neglect other crucial concerns such as the stabilization of the Balkans or relations with Russia,
The Portuguese presidency faces a complex agenda. Its task could be made a little easier by smooth communication with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister, observers said.