Enlargement as ethical imperative

Portugal has traditionally been favourable to enlargement, both in terms of the elite and of public opinion. Notwithstanding the argument that might be made that this results in a loss of funds and market-share and even of foreign investment to poorer new members with lower labour costs. The question of enlargement still seems to be seen primarily, in normative terms. The ethical imperative prevails, of not denying other democratising countries the kind of opportunities that Portugal enjoyed by integrating the EU. This trend has remained relatively constant in terms of preferences expressed by Portuguese public opinion, notwithstanding the recent times of economic crisis.[1] But it is unclear what would happen if economic difficulties continue and some political protagonists were to forcefully raise the question of the possible costs to Portugal of enlargement. That populist possibility, however, does not seem to be in the horizon at present.
The broad Portuguese consensus in favour of enlargement – including in the more controversial case of Turkey – also means, however, public and published debate of these questions is limited. Namely, there was no significant public reaction to the Commission strategy document on enlargement.

Dropping the Lisbon Treaty or making efforts to save it?

The Irish ‘No’ vote in the referendum, naturally, provoked some controversy along the traditional lines. Eurosceptic analysts and parties saw in it, a vindication of their reservations and criticisms, while those favourable to deeper integration pointed to the fact that the EU remains highly popular in Ireland.
The Portuguese Prime Minister, José Sócrates, argued that the ratification process should go ahead. In this he had the support not only of his own Socialist Party[1], but also of the two main right-wing parties, PSD[2] and CDS-PP[3] respectively a member and a former member of the European People’s Party. At the same time, the Portuguese government was again concerned that Ireland should not feel pushed into a corner, and emphasised, as it did with the difficult case of Poland during the negotiations of the treaty, that in a union everyone has to move forward together. Contradictory, perhaps, political unpractical maybe, but reflecting powerful concerns: on the one hand that the EU should not again be paralysed by institutional discussions and to preserve an achievement of the Portuguese EU-Presidency; while at the same time, safeguarding the principle of the equality of member states.

Decision for parliamentary ratification proved controversial

The decision to ratify the Lisbon Treaty in Parliament and not through a referendum was announced by the Socialist Prime Minister, José Sócrates, in the beginning of January 2008. The delay in the announcement had been justified by the desire to avoid doing so during the Portuguese Presidency.
Parliamentary ratification still does not have a set date. The process is likely, however, to be completed by the end of April, after the presentation, planned for 16 April 2008, of a report by the Parliament Commission on European Affairs, which is supposed to include the results of public sessions of MPs in a number of cities.

Current issues in Portugal

Luis Pais Antunes
2009 was a peculiar year in Portugal, with the country focused on an ongoing electoral process as three general elections (European, national and local) took place within a short 4-month period between April and October 2009. At the same time, the impact of the economic downturn became more visible with a clear increase of unemployment figures and of the number of companies becoming insolvent.
The political landscape has also suffered a slight, but significant, change. After having lost the European elections in June 2009 to the main opposition party (centre-right PSD), the Socialist Party managed to win the national elections in September 2009, although without a majority in the parliament, as was the case during the five preceding years. In the absence of real conditions for the setting-up of a coalition government, the Socialist Party and Prime Minister José Sócrates were “forced” to form a minority government and to negotiate the budget for 2010 (which was finally approved at the end of April) and the new Stability and Growth Programme .

Disappointment due to wishful thinking

Luis Pais Antunes
There were great expectations in Portugal for the Copenhagen conference. Secretary for Environment, Humberto Rosa, qualified the results of the conference as “deceiving” but in any case “better than nothing”[1], in line with most of the European representatives. As Minister Amado recently acknowledged, the disappointment was mainly the result of wishful thinking about how the other interested parties would accept the negotiation terms. Amado expressly mentions that the European position “was a little bit naïve” in trying to take leadership in a subject matter where it could find an easy consensus among the member states, without understanding the concerns of its main partners. According to Amado, Europe, which still lives under the strategic dependence from the USA, tried to use the climate issue as an opportunity to take the lead and clearly failed, which also proves that it still faces significant limitations as to its status as a global actor.[2]

Greek situation discussed for a long time

Luis Pais Antunes
The Greek situation and the possible consequences of the severe economic and financial crisis that Europe is facing are amongst the most discussed subjects in Portugal since our country’s accession to the European Union. Opinion makers, economic analysts and political parties spread their views on these topics on an almost daily basis. The main reason for this lies in the fact that, although there are substantial differences between the Greek and the Portuguese situation, it is common sense that the Portuguese economy is quite fragile and may be affected by the spill-over effects of financial markets’ instability in the Eurozone.

Portugal: a supporter of further enlargement

Luis Pais Antunes
Portuguese support to the accession of new member states, in particular in the cases of Iceland and Croatia, is clearly not a priority in these difficult times. There are several reasons for this. Of course, the feeling that Europe should find the most adequate instruments to face the current crisis before opening its doors again is probably the main one. But the fact that we are talking about distant countries may also justify this apparent lack of interest. In the last available Eurobarometer, Portuguese level of support to the accession of Iceland and Croatia was clearly below the EU-27 average. One of the few cases where the Portuguese level of support was greater than the EU-27 average was Turkey (with around 50 percent compared to 45 percent).
Among the government and the main political parties there is an apparent consensus over the fact that no candidate should be in a privileged position and that the normal procedures have to be respected. Delegations of candidate countries often pay a visit to Portuguese institutions (not only parliament and government, but also civil society organisations) and receive encouragements on their quest.

The Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty from a Portuguese perspective

Luis Pais Antunes
The instability which resulted from the new political scenario[1] together with the worsening of economic and social conditions clearly marked the first semester of 2010 and, most probably, will continue to be at the centre of Portuguese politics until next year’s summer.[2] As a result of this, the European debate in Portugal was far from active in most recent times and, to a large extent, limited to Europe’s response to the economic and financial turmoil.
Initial reaction to the appointments of Herman Van Rompuy, as the new President of the European Council, and of Catherine Ashton, as the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was far from enthusiastic. Some spoke about “perplexity” and “shock” all over Europe, while others considered that the real problem did not lie in the personalities which were chosen but in the Treaty of Lisbon itself, as it did not simplify the functioning of European institutions, but instead added new European top representatives to the existing ones, i.e., the President of the Commission and the head of state or government of the member state holding each rotating presidency.[3]