24 de abril de 2006

From Isolation to Integration

When I was informed about the subject of this panel, I must say that I felt tempted, not only to say a few words at this Conference, but also to start writing a whole book on the many issues related to the mutual presence of Portugal and Spain in the European institutions.

But, I soon realised that the experience I gained over the last fifteen years, dealing with EU affairs, was so intensely on the ground, sometimes so much focused on concrete and very detailed issues, that it would be very difficult for me to take a distanced view. So, you will be spared reading my imaginary book; but I’m afraid you may suffer 10 or 15 minutes of frank and frequently un-diplomatic comments.

Let me start with the past, as has been suggested.

What has been the role of Portugal and Spain within the European process ?

I will select three examples of areas where Portugal and Spain have been working together: (1) one area that I would call “mutually selfish”, (2) another “at the core of the integration” and finally (3) one on the “external front”.

The “mutually selfish” dimension: it is commonplace to say that the entry of Portugal and Spain into the EU contributed to reinforcing the social and economic dimensions of the European process, adding their interests on regional and cohesion policies already favoured by countries such as Ireland and Greece. In all the so-called “financial perspectives” (the EU multi-annual budgets), from the Delors I package to the Berlin agreement in 1999, both countries were able to present, on the most basic points, a common line. The few divergences between Portugal and Spain in this area were cleverly disguised thanks to our mutual presentation skills… But on the essentials, one may say that, up to now, we have been together in this important dimension of the EU, which, in particular, has very specific implications for the policies regarding the so-called ultra-peripherical areas (Azores and Madeira, for Portugal, Canaries, for Spain).

The second point, “at the core of the Union, is the Internal Market. Portugal and Spain very quickly revealed their common interest in being on the frontline of contributing to the establishment of rules to govern the free circulation of goods, capitals and services, regulating Europe’s internal “globalisation process” and putting in common our economies. The subsequent steps of the creation of the Schengen space, related to the free circulation of people, and the mutual commitment to joining the Single Currency, demonstrated our evident interest in reinforcing the integration process. Frequently, we also came together trying to fight some of the idiosyncrasies coming from some partners, presented as respectable options but, most of the times, being different forms of “dumping” and a clever way to prolong distortions to the common process.

A third area of our common path is the “external front”. For example, it has been possible for Portugal and Spain, sometimes accompanied by others, to call Europe’s attention to the strategic importance of the Mediterranean and to the strengthening of the links with the Latin American world. On this last point, I would say that, without Spain and Portugal, the level of relations today between the EU and Latin America would be very different, clearly for the worst.

Now, I will try to answer your second question: how did Portugal and Spain achieve their objectives inside the EU ?

This is not a simple question and it depends on what those objectives were, on their own evolution throughout the times and on the degree of ambition of the two actors.

Speaking from a Portuguese perspective, I must say that the three basic strategic elements behind the Portuguese presence in the European institutions – stabilisation of the internal democratic process, economic and social development, reinforcement of the political role of Portugal in the world – were fully established in the course of the last fifteen years.

How was this done?

I would say that the answer lies basically in the fact that we take Europe seriously. We believe in the virtues of the European integration process. We were able to mobilise the Portuguese public administration and vital sectors of the economic and social areas of our society to the European project. Since 1986, Portugal always has been led by governments that put Europe at the forefront of their programs, and that were deeply engaged in the different crucial moments of negotiation (financial packages, Treaty reforms). Almost without exception, we never hesitated when the interest of increased integration was at stake and we always tried to put Portugal at the centre of all new integration models.

But I wish I could say that we also had been able – as Spain was – to create a solid and efficient “lobby” inside the EU institutions; that our representation in the European Parliament functions in permanent operational harmony in the defence of our national interests; that all economic sectors and civil society are fully mobilised to integrate EU policies and embody “EU culture” in their day-by-day life, that beyond being efficient on regularly collecting funds from Brussels.

Unfortunately, I can not say this.

A few words about the official attitude of Portugal in face of the European integration process. I would not go as far as saying that the position of the different governments was exactly the same along these 15 years. Some internal divergences arose on the pace of the integration process and a different reading of the need for some steps was evident, and, I would say, these were salutary. Nevertheless, in general terms, we witnessed a coherent policy, without breaks or drifts, based on the same central options. But you must not take my words as necessarily being the truth, because I was in charge of European affairs in Portugal during at least one third of this period…

The third question presented in the paper is related with the leverage of Portugal and Spain vis-à-vis the larger countries.

I would start by saying, from the outset and in the most candid way, that Portugal and Spain were not on the same side of the barricade in what concerns the recent institutional debate inside the European Union. Let’s be quite open about this and not try to disguise this through the traditional niceties of diplomacy. For the size of its population, Spain is an almost-great country in the European Union and the Nice debate proved that both countries were frequently in clear opposition in this debate, regarding the redistribution of power that took place there.

But the outcome of the Nice Treaty being what it was, I must say that the future respective power of Portugal and Spain in the Council of Ministers will not necessarily represent a conflict of interests between the two countries. To be more clear: as has been the case in the past, the accumulation of power by both countries may well function in the future in favour of our common interests, as long as they remain really common…

Answering more directly the question of the small/larger states divide, I must say that, while this being an important element in the exercise of power inside the European Union, this factor does not represent the substantive dividing lines in the day-by-day life of the Union. The real dividing lines are the concrete interests of each country and, in these, the size of the countries is not always the most relevant factor.

One needs to understand that, most of the time, the interests of countries like Luxembourg or Belgium, or Austria or Denmark, are much closer to the interests of larger countries such as Germany or France than to the interests of countries of similar size, such as Portugal or Greece. This is particularly valid in the economic and trade area, but obviously different in other sectors, like foreign and defence policy or justice and home affairs, where different criteria apply but where EU competence is still limited.

Since European Union is a “club of rich countries”, in which only a minority is clearly poorer, it is very difficult to be part of Europe’s “wrong side” and, simultaneously, not having enough institutional power (votes, deputies in the European Parliament, staff in the machinery of the Commission) to defend our minority positions.

And, if you also take into account that most of the decisions in EU are now taken by qualified majority voting (instead of unanimity, as was the rule in the past), and subject to the scrutiny of the European Parliament (where the larger and the richest countries have a disproportionate representation), you may begin to understand how difficult it is to represent the interests of a country like mine in the day-to-day life in the European Union.

This incursion I made into the functioning of the European Union also illustrates the different position of countries like Portugal and Spain.

As I said, we are, not infrequently, together in the tendency of votes and in the mutual pursuit of interests. I would say, ironically, that, in the day-to-day life of the Union, it is the poorest side of Spain that joins forces with Portugal. When it comes to the most developed dimensions of its dual economy, Spain is already on the “right side” of the Union, and is already approaching the “club of the rich”. Good for them, but let’s understand why we may sometimes remain in a different position.

The next question – about our country’s position regarding the process of European integration - is difficult for me to develop, as I have not followed closely the European debate since I left the Portuguese government, in March. Nevertheless, I have the impression that Portugal and Spain, not being on the most enthusiastic side of the federal debate, openly show a good amount of goodwill and have an open mind in the discussion that is beginning about the so-called “post-Nice” scenario. And it was quite evident in the aftermath of the recent international crisis that Spain and Portugal have been prepared to take further steps in areas as vital as justice and home affairs and the defence sector. I admit that, not being as “automatically” pro-federal as countries like Belgium or Italy (and I do not know where Italy is in this debate nowadays…), Portugal and Spain recognise that they have much to gain from the integration process and are prepared to join it, as long as they are allowed to sustain certain guarantees. But I will not develop on this, as it would require another Conference to go into detail…

Finally, the question of enlargement.

This is a very interesting debate. We saw some countries go from being the great promoters of enlargement to becoming part of the most reticent, As it become clear to them that they were unable to calm the fears of their own public opinion regarding the “side effects” of enlargement, they did not have the courage to sustain the strategic arguments they used at the beginning of that process. These are the same countries that have always opposed the idea of a second level of integration as a transitional step; they defended full integration, that is, until the moment they realised its price. Now, they are openly using delaying tactics, as the real problems become evident.

Let’s be frank about enlargement, as my country has always been. Enlargement is a strategic step to stabilise, in democratic and developing terms, an area of the continent in which we have the historical opportunity to guarantee political models similar to those existing on the Western side of the continent. Not because they are similar to ours, but because they represent the best framework for improving the lives of those people and the respect for their basic rights, as they have always democratically expressed their wish to join the Union.

But Portugal – and I think I may also speak for Spain, in this case – also considers that enlargement must be a way for the strengthening of the Union, not a drift conducive to its dilution. In this sense, the enlargement process needs to take into account that the present imbalances in the space of the Union should not be deepened by the inclusion of new countries – as this jeopardise all the “acquis” of the Union’s policies. The new countries are interested in joining the current policies at “fifteen” and they have the full right to pursue that ambition. They were seduced to join a cohesive Union, with a strong tissue of policies; obviously they would not be interested in joining a “new” Union, less cohesive and with less solidarity, changed precisely because they are joining. Those in the current Union - whose interests, namely in the economic area, but also from a strategic point of view, are potentially the greatest beneficiaries of the enlargement process - must draw the necessary conclusions when it comes to the financial responsibilities that are needed for the preservation of the current network of policies.

For our part, we are prepared to take on our share of responsibility for the cost of an enlargement that we have supported from the beginning. But each of the members of the Union must assume their duties. Not more not less, but as required by the relative wealth of each.

I think I have covered the areas suggested. Allow me a final word about the future positions Spain and Portugal will occupy in the European Union context.

My conclusion may not be politically correct, but it is what I believe to be the reality: it is my firm opinion that some factors for potential divergence between Portugal and Spain in the European debate will tend to grow, even without any particular effect on the bilateral relations, whose positive evolution is not in doubt and far from threatened.

I will give you four examples.

As I said earlier, Spain is rapidly evolving in the direction of the most advanced area of the Union and I must assume that this is not, for the time being, the case of Portugal. Spain’s capacity to implement the increasingly exigent legal “acquis” is better than ours; in a few years, Spain will be able finally to choose an option in favour of its most developed economic sectors. Divergent positions, when these points come up for discussion in the Council of Ministers, should not to be excluded.

As a second point, I assume that, in the short term, Spain will adopt a more radical position on the financial discussions. I am not sure that, having common, basically identical interests in this field, we will be able to sustain a common front in areas where the solutions to a new “share of the pie” are at stake. What happened to the “cohesion fund” in the last night in Berlin is something that will remain in our common memory…

Third, Spain will also resist until the very end any reform of the Common Agricultural Policy that could endanger its present situation as a great beneficiary. For political reasons, Portugal, who strangely is a “net contributor” to the CAP, looked the other way when this issue was discussed during the “Agenda 2000” negotiations: I do not suppose it will be possible to do so again in 2004, if this financial “guichet” is to be preserved as it is.

Finally, in the institutional area, Nice was not “our finest hour” in what our mutual understanding of the division of power is concerned. In this respect, I will only say that any attempt to change the present, very delicate balance of representation of both countries, in what concerns the decision-making process of the Union, may lead to major and serious difficulties.

These are some of the potential areas for divergence. But let’s be clear: the areas of agreement will always be much larger and they will remain the proof that convergence is the rule in what concerns the relations between the two countries of the Iberian peninsula. Democracy and Europe have helped us to realise that co-operation and friendship are the best means to maintain and develop our relations and to look to each other in a responsible way, without in any way excluding frankness. In a mature relationship as the one existing today between Portugal and Spain, there is no need to hide behind craftily worded diplomatic language to disguise our episodic differences. If we do not understand that the true richness of Europe is its diversity, we will never know what the integration process of the continent is all about.