It was in his impeccable French that my Romanian friend bade me farewell at the end of that afternoon in December of 1997, in the atrium of the sad building that Europe has as its headquarters in Luxembourg. The Council of Europe was ending, and we were all hurrying to the routine press conferences that preceded our return to capitals. From his brief words arose a sourness about the decision the Union had just taken, dividing the candidates for enlargement into two distinct groups, quickly opening the door for negotiation to some, leaving others in the limbo of a future evaluation with no foreseen calendar. “Tu sais, vous avez batî un nouveau mur et maintenant il faut que nous le justifions chez nous” – he threw in my face with a sad smile without bitterness, knowing that Portugal had defended a different position than the one that in the end prevailed.
We did try, without success, to avoid that a new psychological barrier was created that could come to affect the anxieties of those that saw the Union as a decisive factor to the sedimentation of their young and fragile democratic structures and, in the end, a justification for the costs of the reforms that, with a high social and political cost, their governments had implemented. The fact that my friend expressed himself in a language that echoed our common Latin roots, gave me, then, a more dramatic conscience as to the artificial divorce that our collective decision had ended up consecrating.
I remembered those words and that sadness when, days ago in Helsinki, Europe finally completely reverted its three year-old decision and decided that those candidates that had then been left at the door of negotiation could, finally, initiate the discussion on their entrance to the community club. And, I must confess, that the certainty that that moment would take place during the Portuguese Presidency of the Union left me feeling vindicated for the defeat of our correct position in the Luxembourg summit.
Nearly two years before that moment, in a Council of Ministers in Lisbon, António Guterres had relayed the strange sentiment that he detected on the part of those from candidate countries to the enlargement, that Portugal was seen as a sort of front line adversary against the enlargement of the European Union. His surprise was even greater when he saw the expressions on the faces of those interlocutors a certain incredulity when he affirmed, with a sincerity that our subsequent behavior only confirmed, that his government had as a central line for its European policy the franc support of the process of expansion of the Union. Much has changed since then and Portugal is now seen, without reticence, as one of the most active promoters of the enlargement process.
In that context, our country will necessarily have to assume its quota-part of the economic costs that the European community will have to support to be able to welcome those that are enveloped in the project of liberty and of progress that the Union created, seeking now the opportunity that was given to us after the 80’s.
Our message is very clear: Portugal sees the enlargement as a strategic imperative for which it is essential to give and unequivocal positive response. No merely economic reading should dominate this determining policy and, which should never be justified through an egocentric positioning, cynical and irresponsible, by those that only know how to read history through the prism of immediacy. For Portugal, the enlargement constitutes an essential element for the desirable political unification of the continent, an ambition that can now be sought after the definitive opening of the gates of Brandeburg.
In the European context, some were only made aware to the risks of dragging-out nationalist tensions and of the absence of a global strategy for the promotion of stability on the continent when they were confronted with the tragedy in Kosovo, understanding, finally, that war was much more at their door than they had supposed possible. If there was any positive outcome of that tragedy, that one could have been the fright that, in a certain way, obliged them to review the Luxembourg decision.
We still do not know when Bucharest will be a capital in the European Union. But, for my Romanian friend, the year that starts today is, at least, a time for new hope and for a certainty that he can continue to count on those who, like us, insist in having within the European project, a vision of solidarity.
Article published in “Diário de Notícias”, Lisbon, January 1st 2000