Jorge Sampaio says that the Portuguese ‘understand the historic importance of European enlargement’
Greece and Portugal have had similar experiences over recent decades. Dictatorial regimes collapsed in both countries in 1974 and they are both members of the EU. How strong is the support by the people and the establishment of Portugal for the next major undertaking by the EU – the enlargement? Allow me to begin by underlining the similarities in modern Greek and Portuguese history. Both countries were under dictatorships, and curiously both of those regimes fell in 1974, just three months apart: on 25 April in Portugal and on 24 July in Greece. Although Greece joined what was then the European Economic Community five years before Portugal (we only joined in 1986), membership in Europe had the same significance for both of us. For Greece and Portugal it was an opportunity to consolidate democracy, and to bring development and modernization to the country. Today, having followed similar paths for about 25 years, we are both in comparable situations. Within the 15-nation European Union we are medium-sized countries, both on the periphery. We have actively contributed to the construction of Europe, and are both part of the Economic and Monetary Union. We are also both involved in the developing European Defense and Security Policy. We are both facing the same challenges: One is to complete the real convergence of our economies, the other is to overcome the image and poor understanding that many of our partners have of us. All too frequently, they know our past better than our present situation, and are unaware of the progress and efforts to modernize that have since taken place. As regards the European Union enlargement, Portugal has always held this to be an historic duty – something which forms an integral part of the European Union’s political vocation. In fact, Portugal has been, and still is, a firm supporter of the aspirations of European democracies applying for Union membership. First and foremost, this is our conviction because we believe in an open and united Europe free of dividing lines, a political project based on consolidating democracy, rule of law and the market economy, and a community of values. Secondly, we believe it for reasons of coherence – thanks to our own experience, we understand the crucial importance that our membership in the European Communities, as they were then known, played in consolidating political democracy, in our economic development, in strengthening bilateral ties with our European partners and, generally speaking, in raising our international profile. I have always believed enlargement to be a duty, a need and an opportunity for the Union. It is a duty of solidarity toward new democracies – an opportunity for development, security, peace and stability in Europe. It is also a need resulting from today’s globalization process, in which only an enlarged EU can make its voice heard as a major player, able to make its interests and values count. This is a view shared by the Portuguese: One only has to look at the statistics most recently published by Eurobarometer. They show that 64 percent of the Portuguese are in favor of enlargement. With the EU moving eastward, trade barriers vanishing, currency devaluation impossible, the world economy slowing, how can you keep the population of your country at work and prosperous? Is there an apprehension in your country that foreign investment might be diverted to Eastern Europe and how the threat of a loss of EU subsidies can be dealt with? As you can conclude from what I have just said, the Portuguese understand the historic importance of enlargement. Nevertheless, clearly the membership of Eastern European countries gives rise to specific challenges for Portugal, which is one of the 15 that will gain least from the forthcoming enlargement. It is also among the most highly exposed to its negative impact. Portugal will also be affected by the «statistical enrichment effect,» caused by the fall in the EU’s average GDP as a consequence of enlargement. But this more favorable position does not indicate any improvement in real convergence, for which reason it must not result in a reduction in EU support and cohesion funding. Portugal still needs considerable long-term investment, not only so as not to endanger the progress already begun, but also to be able to continue its development and at the same time meet its commitments under the Stability and Growth Pact. You are very well aware that Greece is extremely eager for Cyprus to join the EU on December 12, since it is the best candidate country and fulfills all the criteria required by the Union. Is your country supporting Cyprus’s accession to the EU, without preconditions, if there is no agreement on the proposals by the UN secretary-general to solve the Cyprus problem? As I have just said, Portugal regards enlargement as a priority for the European Union. Cyprus’s membership forms part of the unification of Europe. Portugal has always supported the island’s membership, based on compliance with the criteria set forth in Copenhagen. Obviously, we have always felt that welcoming a reunified island would be better for everybody but we have never regarded that as a precondition for membership. This ambition, which for so long seemed to be unattainable, within a reasonable period of time may now be within reach. Promising sign Both parties involved in the dispute now appear to regard the draft agreement for the island’s reunification, recently submitted by the UN secretary-general, as a good basis for opening negotiations. That is a promising sign – that we may be on the threshold of resolving a conflict that has lasted for decades. For my part, I believe this to be an historic and unique opportunity that must not be missed. We should try to grasp it with both hands. Turkey is strongly requesting that the Copenhagen summit fix a date to start its own accession negotiations to the EU. Do you think that this request should be satisfied for merely political reasons? I must begin by saying that the situation is changing very quickly. The chances of a date being set in Copenhagen for opening membership negotiations with Turkey are changing from remote to increasingly plausible with every passing day. Portugal, which last week hosted a visit by Tayyip Erdogan, reiterated its support for Turkey’s membership in the European Union. In fact, it expressed its agreement that a date be set for beginning negotiations to that end. I regard this as a highly significant political gesture. It is a mistake to think that the Judeo-Christian framework of European civilization irremediably excludes a predominantly Islamic nation such as Turkey from the European project. In fact, without belittling the importance of Christianity as a unifying factor in our civilization, our Greco-Roman heritage, the source of our Western political thought with its concepts of liberty, law, justice and democracy, seems to me to be at least as important, and possibly even more so. Consequently, the critical issue surrounding Turkey’s membership in the EU does not reside in the fact that most of its population is Muslim. The question is whether Turkey really is a democratic, law-based, lay state that respects human rights and basic liberties. The political criteria set forth in Copenhagen in 1993 were specifically designed to ascertain such facts. It is on that basis that we should decide, along with the other parameters, whether a European state is in a position to join the European Union. If it is, it would not be right to add further demands but neither can we compromise, because to do so would endanger the entire European Union. In my view, the prospect of Turkey joining the European Union is a promising one that will be of benefit to all concerned. It will enable the national consensus regarding the lay nature of the Turkish State to be consolidated. And in the turbulent world in which we have lived since September 11, it will undoubtedly help to improve the Muslim world’s view of Europe, and do away with the false and dangerous idea of a «war of civilizations» that is so widespread. The statement by Mr Giscard d’Estaing concerning Turkey’s membership in the EU caused considerable debate. Do you think that the EU is a club of Christian states? Do you think that Islamic values are compatible with European ones? And if they are, don’t you think that Morocco and Tunisia are closer to Europe than Turkey, which, after all, is a very big country to be absorbed by the existing European structure? Your question covers very important and highly topical questions. Were I to give you a very full answer, I would be anticipating the conference due to take place at Athens University in which I will speak on that very subject. In my opinion, there are two important issues here. First, geography alone is not sufficient to define the limits of Europe, which are inseparable from historical and political considerations. Secondly, Europe always has been, and still is, an ethnic, linguistic, political and cultural mosaic, and we hope it will remain so. But in addition to that diversity, there is a unity which transcends the whole, based on ideas of liberty, law, justice and democracy, inherited from the Greek and Roman worlds, in which Constantinople played a decisive role. This is the theme of my forthcoming speech on Tuesday, which will be followed by a discussion. On that occasion, I will be more than happy to exchange views on the subject in more depth. The common interests of two nations Greece and Portugal are geographically located at the extreme ends of the EU. What are the common interests they can promote inside the EU now that its enlargement is imminent? Above all, I believe I am right in saying that Portugal and Greece have a similar view of Europe. We have the same ambitions, we want a stronger and more mutually supportive Europe, and we want a better Europe. This is the crucial point. Then, because the two countries have a similar background, a comparable history of transition to democracy, a strong cultural identity, and a very similar level of development at opposite ends of the same geographical area, both of us with Mediterranean agriculture and a maritime tradition, our interests also coincide. Those factors undoubtedly bring us together. As regards the changes to come following EU enlargement, I believe that Portugal and Greece can only gain by strengthening bilateral cooperation, by taking steps to agree on joint positions, and by better knowledge of one another. We face challenges that affect both of our countries, but this also gives us an opportunity to strengthen our links and develop joint strategies. I am thinking specifically of decisive issues for the future of Europe that are being discussed in the Convention, and in connection with which we have similar positions. Two examples come to mind: the principle of equality between states, which Portugal and Greece agree is a cornerstone of European construction; and the principle of economic and social cohesion, which we both regard as fundamental if Europe is to continue to be a community of values and destiny. I believe that Portugal and Greece, together with other partners, should join forces to create an intransigent defense of those two principles, which are being called into question by a number of proposals. But I am also thinking of other areas, such as reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy and safety at sea. What are your expectations from your visit to Athens? I was very pleased to accept President Stephanopoulos’s invitation to make this State visit. In 1999 we had the pleasure of welcoming him to Lisbon on the eve of the Portuguese presidency of the European Union. Curiously, my visit is also taking place as Greece prepares to take over the presidency. That fact adds a significant political dimension to my meetings with the Greek authorities. It will be an opportunity to exchange views on a series of issues at this fascinating juncture in the history of the European Union. Those issues include enlargement, the question of the European Union’s future, and European Security and Defense Policy, of which Greece has already taken the reins during this six-month period. They also include the fight against terrorism, to which we are all committed. But I am also thinking of other issues, such as the Middle East situation, the Balkans, which Greece knows so well, and obviously Iraq. In addition, this visit also has a highly important bilateral significance for developing economic links between our two countries. Accompanying me on this visit are over 50 Portuguese businessmen and women representing the widest range of sectors: business associations, the banking and insurance sector, public works companies, shipbuilders, the cork industry, textiles and services. They are here to participate in an economic seminar organized by the Portuguese Foreign Trade Institute and the Greek Chamber of Commerce, and in a Contact Exchange aimed at improving mutual knowledge, both of the Greek market and the potential of Portuguese companies interested in expanding their activities on the international stage. Although Portugal and Greece are both European Union members, are part of Europe’s Economic and Monetary Union and share a single currency, economic cooperation between our two countries remains at a low level, despite the potential. This is a shortcoming I hope can be overcome through the contacts established during this visit. I believe that we have everything to gain developing partnerships between our two countries aimed at conquering other markets. Portugal has privileged access to Latin American and African markets, while Greece has a major regional presence, particularly in the Balkans area. I feel this to be a pathway worth exploring. In fact, there are examples – rare, admittedly, but still significant – of successful partnerships between Portuguese and Greek companies. I am thinking, for example, of NovaBank, which I am sure all Greeks know; but also many public works projects – roads, airports, public transport – in which Portuguese companies have been involved. I could give plenty of other examples, such as the success of high-quality Portuguese crystal and porcelain on the Greek market. In this connection, I should also say that during this visit I will be opening a Portuguese exhibition which will be displaying Portuguese design and goods: silverware, cutlery, porcelain, crystal and linen. It is an innovative initiative with an obvious commercial dimension, aimed at providing the general public with an image of a modern and dynamic Portugal, dedicated to manufacturing fine, high-quality products. Finally, this visit also has a cultural dimension, which I take to be of the utmost importance. In this essential field, we also need to strengthen mutual bilateral relations and knowledge. For that reason, I have made a point of bringing with me two renowned Portuguese Hellenic specialists, as well as the writer Agustina Bessa Luis, who needs no introduction. There are cultural areas in which cooperation between Greece and Portugal is already intense. I am thinking, for example, of cinema, and in particular Manoel de Oliveira, who regularly uses Greek actors in his films. But there are other areas that might be developed to help the Portuguese and Greeks to get to know each other, our literature, theatre and plastic arts. We also have much to share in the field of music. Greece has an ancient and vigorous musical tradition. Portugal’s heritage is equally rich. That was why I have had the greatest pleasure in inviting a young Portuguese fado singer, Cristina Branco, to perform a fado concert in tribute to President Stephanopoulos. For peoples such as ours, the music and poetry of our languages is an essential part of our cultural identity. This is something that we wish to preserve, but which we also like to share with friends. Consequently, this will be a high point of my visit.