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]
Since that initial moment, things do not seem to have substantially changed. The general impression is that Europe is facing a very complicated period in its life and appears to be incapable of adopting the necessary measures to move forward. This is particularly true from an institutional point of view, as there are no real signs that the new “balance of powers” resulting from the Lisbon Treaty has come into force. The main feeling is that the existence of a new President of the European Council and of a new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – who is also the Vice-President of the European Commission – just added two new players to an already complicated puzzle where there are too many people in the driver’s seat.
Former President Mário Soares[4] expressly states that Europe has no single command, “the confusion being now even greater” with the new President Van Rompuy, “the English diplomat, Catherine Ashton”, the President of the Commission, Barroso, and the transition between Zapatero and Leterme in the framework of the rotating presidencies. He accuses the 27 member states of the Union and the 16 of the Eurozone, in particular Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, as well as Spain and Poland, of being incapable of reaching a convergent and concerted strategy to face the crisis. The governor of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, qualified as being “a Frenchman who is pretty much in favour of Germany”. He is also accused of adopting very restrictive measures to reduce the deficits and public and private debts, as well as forgetting the people, the rising unemployment, poverty and social exclusion.
Using different words, the President of the Portuguese Republic, Anibal Cavaco Silva, also addressed the same issues at the 25th anniversary of the signature of Portugal and Spain Accession Treaties by stating that “the European integration is weakened by the lack of a strategic direction and failures of responsibility and solidarity both by member states and European institutions”, concluding that it is necessary to give an impulse to the economic union (“the weakest link of the European Union”) and to the Euro, without which “the survival of the European project may be at risk”.
One of greatest uncertainties created by the entering into force of the Lisbon Treaty was the outcome of the rotating presidencies in the new institutional scenario. It is true that no substantial changes were expected from the very beginning and 2010 was already anticipated as being a sort of “transitional period”, but there was some curiosity on how this “two-headed” presidency would work in practical terms. It is still too soon to draw any conclusions. The Spanish Presidency seemed to be quite distant from the expectations, which might be explained by the country’s very complex internal situation with a rate of unemployment over 20 percent, a significant economic downturn and substantial problems in public finance. In any case, the European agenda in this first semester was clearly dominated by the “Greek problem” and the need to find a prompt response to the severe challenges that most – not to say all – European economies are facing. This is clearly the kind of situation where the role of a rotating presidency could be secondary.
Apparently, everybody is very cautious about the future of rotating presidencies and it seems that there is a consensus that we will have to wait sometime before being in a position to draw any definitive conclusions. Ultimately, the success of this model will depend on the affirmativeness of the President of the European Council and on the finding of a sound balance between his powers, the powers of the High Representative – who chairs the Council for Foreign Affairs – and the powers of the heads of state and government of the presiding member state. Any significant breach of this balance will, inevitably, lead to an institutional crisis and to the risk of “parallel diplomacy”.
Contrary to some other member states, the setting up of the European External Action Service (EEAS)[5] was not a matter of great debate in Portugal, as it was generally seen as complementary to national diplomacy. As explained by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Luis Amado, at the beginning of the year, “we do not see the European [External Action] Service as a limitation to the action of the member states, but rather as a complement that may reinforce said action. For a country like Portugal, it is possible to express its interests through that service in several regions of the world. It is true that the great member states will have more relevance in the projection of their interest, but that’s the reality”.[6]
It is expected, however, that some controversy may arise after the designation of the future European ambassadors, in particular if the final result of this exercise does not recognise the privileged relationship which exists between Portugal and some regions of Africa and South America or if it is considered as a “downgrade” when compared to the actual situation (the current heads of the European Commission delegations, for instance, in Angola and in Brazil are Portuguese nationals).
More recently, Amado also addressed this issue in another interview where he stressed the fact that thirty Portuguese diplomats were among the candidates to the EEAS and that he is expecting that the designations will be based upon their merits and respect for a sound balance between the different member states. In particular, Amado stated that, besides João Vale de Almeida, former chief cabinet of the President of the Commission and now EU Ambassador to the USA in Washington, the Portuguese government would be pleased to stay represented in Angola and Brazil, although it recognises that it is not directly involved in the selection procedure.[7]
The debate on the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI)[8] is almost inexistent so far. Apart from some few articles published in the press or in blogs[9] after the European Commission presented the proposal defining the rules and procedures for the ECI at the end of March 2010, it is quite difficult to find any references to the initiative and even official institutions appear not to pay great attention to this subject. Recent experiences – such as the 2009 European Citizens’ Consultation organised in Portugal by the Instituto de Estudos Estratégicos e Internacionais (IEEI) – tend to show that, although this kind of initiatives is highly appreciated, the degree of effective participation is clearly below expectations.

[1] See the Portuguese chapter on current issues.

[2] The five year term of the President of the Republic, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, is coming to its end, a new election is scheduled for the beginning of 2011. The Portuguese Constitution does not allow for the dissolution of Parliament and a subsequent general election during the last six months of the presidential term.

[3] Teresa de Sousa/Isabel Arriaga e Cunha, Publico, 21 November 2009. Former President Mário Soares also criticised the appointment of Herman van Rompuy by stating that “Europeans in general don’t know who he is, and that’s a bad thing“.

[4] Visão: Europe: from bad to worst, 15 July.

[5] Proposal for a Council Decision establishing the organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service, 25 March 2010, available at: (last access: 30 March 2010).

[6] Interview in the newspaper Público, 3 January 2010.

[7] Interview in the newspaper Expresso, 24 July 2010.

[8] European Commission: Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the citizens’ initiative, COM (2010) 119, available at: (last access: 6 April 2010).

[9] See, for instance, Eva Gaspar: Quer fazer uma nova lei europeia?, Jornal de Negócios, 31 March 2010; Isabel Estrada: Iniciativa de Cidadania Europeia - precisamos mesmo de mais instrumentos?, Correio do Minho, 25 March 2010; Cidadania Europeia: O Novo Direito de Iniciativa Popular, Jovem Socialista, the official blog of the Socialist Youth newspaper.