Enlargement as ethical imperative

Portugal has traditionally been favourable to enlargement, both in terms of the elite and of public opinion. Notwithstanding the argument that might be made that this results in a loss of funds and market-share and even of foreign investment to poorer new members with lower labour costs. The question of enlargement still seems to be seen primarily, in normative terms. The ethical imperative prevails, of not denying other democratising countries the kind of opportunities that Portugal enjoyed by integrating the EU. This trend has remained relatively constant in terms of preferences expressed by Portuguese public opinion, notwithstanding the recent times of economic crisis.[1] But it is unclear what would happen if economic difficulties continue and some political protagonists were to forcefully raise the question of the possible costs to Portugal of enlargement. That populist possibility, however, does not seem to be in the horizon at present.
The broad Portuguese consensus in favour of enlargement – including in the more controversial case of Turkey – also means, however, public and published debate of these questions is limited. Namely, there was no significant public reaction to the Commission strategy document on enlargement.
Still the Portuguese Presidency made a point of presenting as a fitting final political and technological success – the necessary material and software was provided by a Portuguese company – the ability to enlarge Schengen to a number of Eastern European members, with the Portuguese Prime Minister stating “there could have been no better ending for the Portuguese presidency”.[2]
This is significant evidence that the political climate in Portugal is still broadly welcoming of further enlargement. But it would seem safe to say that this is the case only if enlargement continues to be to followed by further integration, i.e. the new members, namely the recent arrivals, are seen as committed to the principles and aims of the Union, and if enlargement does not visibly detract from a commitment to funding the poorer regions of existing member states.
One exception to this lack of interest, lack of information and debate on enlargement to the East is the dispute between Kosovo and Serbia. This has been heavily reported on the Portuguese press. And has given rise to some degree of public debate and analysis, but unfortunately no opinion polls. Prominent concerns among opinion-makers and commentators have been references to the dangers of setting precedents that would encourage violent separatism elsewhere, not least in neighbouring Spain. There have also been ample references to the need to preserve EU unity. The academic Marques de Almeida, currently a senior advisor to the European Commission President, argues pointedly that Kosovo will be a ‘crucial test’ of EU external action on the ground in the most vital matter of all for its credibility: preserving peace in Europe.[3] A further cause of concern is the possibility of violence erupting as a result of an inability by the EU of keeping the process under control, not least because there are Portuguese troops stationed in Kosovo. Admiral Reis Rodrigues is paradigmatic of these concerns.[4] Another good example of the prevailing pessimism as to the ability of finding a good solution to the problem is the analysis of Ambassador Cutileiro, who was heavily involved in EU negotiating team trying to solve the Yugoslav problem in the 1990s and is now working with European Commission President Barroso, and does not believe that any good and fair national solution – that has been evading diplomats since the Versailles treaty of 1919 – will now miraculously emerge.[5]
The Portuguese government has reflected these domestic misgivings, by following a cautious line. This was particularly evident during the presidency. Portuguese officials made clear informally not to have to get dragged into Kosovo, and were hoping that the situation there would not develop in such a dramatic way so as to force them to be distracted from other more vital foreign policy concerns. After the presidency, Portuguese decision-makers and analysts converge on the need to avoid open violent conflict and any dramatic divisions within the EU, but it has no very clear or rigid position.

[1] Eurobarómetro, Relatório Nacional Portugal, Vol.67 (Spring 2007), p. 29.

[2] José Sócrates [Portuguese PM], EU Presidency News Release in: (21.12.2007).

[3] João Marques de Almeida, ‘Kosovo e África’, Diário Económico (10.09.2008).

[4] António Reis Rodrigues, ‘Kosovo: A Atracção da Independência’, Defesa e Relações Internacionais (30.11.2007).

[5] José Cutileiro, ‘Curdos e Albaneses’, Expresso (06.08.2007).