The fact that Spain is Portugal's only neighbour, with relations between the two not always easy, has historically made Portugal to look for friends beyond its borders. Only after the end of the Estado Novo dictatorship on 25 April 1975, when Portugal lost its colonies, did Portugal seriously start seeking to strengthen its ties with Europe. The foreign policy of Portugal has always had European, Atlantic and Lusophone facets, but now these three aspects are becoming more balanced.
The move towards Europe started during Salazar’s rule, and Portugal was one of the founding members of European Free Trade Association (EFTA) in 1960, mostly because of its old alliance with the United Kingdom (UK). This alliance also led to a delay in the accession process of Portugal to the European Economic Community (EEC), particularly as France did not want to have the UK and its close allies in the EEC.
The admission process of Portugal to the European Economic Community was long. On 14 May 1962 (53 years ago), Portugal sent its first official delegation to the EEC, and four days later Portugal asked for the opening of the negotiations to become an EEC member, but was not successful.
On 23 of March 1970 a Committee for the Study of European Economic Integration was established in order to start the negotiations for Portugal's EEC membership. After the acceptance of UK to the EEC in 1972, Portugal signed a free commerce agreement with EEC in the same year (22 of July). The orientation of the European Policy had more to do with the Portuguese regime orientation, as the EEC wanted Portugal to be more democratic and a pro-economic market.
After the Carnation Revolution the EEC funded
infrastructure, industrial and agricultural projects in Portugal for the
following two years. Mário Soares, a former
Prime Minister and President of Portugal, played a key role in the accession process
of Portugal; as Prime Minister he signed the Accession Agreement in the
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos in Lisbon,
together with Spain, on 12 July 1985.
On 1 January 1986 Portugal, together with Spain, joined EEC as a full member. EEC membership came 24 years after Portugal’s first attempt to become a member of the European Community. In joining the EEC both Spain and Portugal had hoped that they were now part of the club of the most prosperous European democracies. Portugal expected that the new status inside the Europe community would rejuvenate relations with its former colonies. Looking at Portugal's three presidencies of the EEC/EU, it is easy to see that the relations between Portugal/EU with the former colonies/the rest of the world were always present on the agenda and on the minds of the key decision-makers.
Portugal and the three European Presidencies
Portugal has had three European presidencies; the first presidency was held in the first half of 1992, while Europe was still recovering in the aftermath of the Cold War. The first Portuguese Presidency, led by the current President of Portugal, Cavaco Silva, had the motto “Towards the European Union”. Portugal, a recent member of the European community wanted to demonstrate its potential inside the union. Its priorities were to consolidate the Maastricht Agreement, to enhance the relations with the rest of the world and to further the enlargement. During the first presidency, Portugal saw the EU Treaty signed in Maastricht on 7 February 1992, but Portugal did not achieve the success it had hoped for and there were many challenges that were not addressed appropriately.
A new Delors Package was implemented for the 1993-1999 period with two main goals: to fund the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) and to create a competitive market for the European industries. Portugal was not able to achieve a consensus between the twelve member state governments.
The war in Bosnia (April 1992) was an important test for Portugal during its first Presidency. Portugal never had geopolitical interests in the region, the Balkans were almost unknown to the Portuguese diplomats that had to mediate the negotiation between the several ethnic groups involved in the conflict. In the early days of the Portuguese Presidency a helicopter with five European monitoring officers was shot down by the Yugoslav aviation force. Portugal needed to manage the political effects of this situation. Another key challenge for Portugal in the Balkans was achieving consensus between the members of the EU in order to recognise the independence of Croatia and Slovenia, and this was successfully secured on 15 of January of that year.
The conflict in the Balkans received significant attention from the Portuguese authorities, but there was also time to dedicate to other regions of the globe, and particularly Latin America. Portugal already had good relations with Latin America thanks to their cultural and historical roots, but the special relation with Brazil helped this Portuguese Presidency’s phase. The Mediterranean region was not forgotten by Portugal, and an agreement with the Mediterranean countries was achieved under the Portuguese presidency, involving a political, economic and social partnership between the two sides of Mediterranean sea.
These new agreements gave a counterbalance for the EU policies that were more concentrated on central Europe. Portugal’s purpose was to use its cultural and historical influence in Africa/Latin America to play the role of a mediator between the EU and these regions. Despite the conflict in the Balkans, Portugal still managed to bring its own interests into the European sphere.
The second presidency of Portugal in the EU was under the government of António Guterres, the current United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, and Portugal was more adventurous this time. In the first half of the new millennium, the Portuguese authorities did not want to focus the presidency of the EU solely national interests; they wanted to play a new and important role in the future of the EU through the promotion of key aspects of European integration. Portugal wanted to be on the front line of the EU, and this new approach was necessary in order to put a peripheral country such as Portugal at the center of EU decision-making.
The Euro Zone and Schengen Area were the two new priorities for Portugal. The CSDP was also at the center of attention, as Portugal was in charge of producing a progress report to be presented at the end of the second presidency.
Portugal's new proactive approach secured it a place as a founding member of the Euro Zone club. At the same time Portugal did not forget its African ambitions, and under Portugal's lead the first EU-Africa summit took place in 2000 in Cairo. Portugal managed to establish itself as a global political actor within the EU, and during the second Portuguese presidency of the EU the first EU-India summit was held.
The third and last presidency of the EU held by Portugal took place during the last half of 2007, under the Government of José Sócrates. Portugal's last presidential mandate had two main goals: to strengthen the role of the EU in the world and to push forward the reform of the EU treaties.
A strong EU with well-defined institutional bodies was seen by Portugal as a way to strengthen the international role of the EU. A new treaty would permit the EU to play a greater international role, similar to countries such as the United States of America, Russia and China, in tackling transnational issues such as terrorism. The previous German presidency passed on to Portugal a political accord among member states to work together towards achieving a new EU treaty, but it was Portugal that achieved the consensus between the European States.
Portugal made history when a new historical treaty between the 27 EU member states was achieved faster than ever in October 2007. In December of the same year, the Treaty of Lisbon was signed in Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, where 22 years ago the treaty that put Portugal in the EU family had been signed.
In November 2007, the second EU-Africa summit was also a success, and a new strategy for EU-Africa relations came out of the summit. The first EU-Brazil summit also took place under the Portuguese presidency. Portugal once more managed to bring its own global interests to the EU. The last Portuguese presidency showed the efforts of Portugal in the promotion of a new strategic partnerships between the EU and different world regions. Portugal showed to the EU that it needs its global vocation to affirm EU in the world. The Portuguese credibility in the EU has been strengthened in this third presidency.
Portugal and the EU: the future
With the recent crisis, Portugal has its credibility weakened and Portuguese people have started to increasingly criticise the EU. The last European Parliament elections showed the disinterest of Portuguese people into the EU, with a 66% abstention rates in the European Parliament elections, a record low for Portugal. Despite all this Portugal remains a pro-EU country, especially when compared to other countries where anti-EU political parties are rallying public support at a fast pace.
Some Portuguese people see the Euro as the main responsible for the crisis. A strong currency for a weak economy was disastrous; the prices doubled with the introduction of the Euro, but salaries remained the same. Portuguese people learnt how to live with less money but with more expenses. Most of them continue to compare the current prices with the old Escudo. Other critics say that the EU destroyed the Portuguese agriculture and fisheries with subsidies that ultimately provoked the destruction of the naval fleet and the cutting of fruit trees, because of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
I may agree with them, a country cannot live only from its tertiary sector - the services; a country needs agriculture/fishery and industry to be sustainable. An equilibrium between the three sectors is necessary for a stable trade balance. The economic crisis made Portugal open its eyes. Portugal is now turning back to its roots; many young Portuguese are starting their own agriculture projects in the countryside. The sea and its potential are also under considerable discussion in Portugal.
Now that the economic crisis is gone and Portugal got out of its financial aid program me as a good student, Portuguese credibility is starting to be regained. Portugal will have again the possibility to influence EU politics to its own benefit in order to became a more prominent actor in EU politics and to expand its sphere of influence into the regions historically connected with Portugal.
The Treaty of Lisbon, the ten years of Durão Barroso as president of the European Commission, the approach of the EU to new regions and the foundation of the Euro Zone, have meant that Portugal, the small country at the edge of Europe, has now an important place in the EU history. The EU can expect the same efforts that Portugal had during its EU presidencies because Portugal wants to continue to be on the front line of the EU, despite all the perceived disinterest from its population. Portuguese foreign policy will have always a special focus on the European Union. Portugal will use the EU to show its importance to the world, and the continuation of the good work by all the Portuguese in the European institutions will contribute towards a better understanding of how Portugal and Portuguese people can help strengthen the European Union.