Portugal holds the revolving Presidency of the European Union for the second half of this year. It says it has three priorities: the new EU treaty, Brazil and Africa. As he prepared to take up the EU Presidency, Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates, spoke to EuroNews about those priorities.
He also said that the so-called “tripartite presidencies” system, whereby the current Council Presidency and the two subsequent Presidencies meet and consult, is a good innovation and has been extremely useful in terms of continuity.
José Sócrates: “One thing surprised me: the interaction between the three presidencies was really positive! In the beginning, I was slightly skeptical, but in reality, this was a very positive experience. The decision to press ahead with this programme has made the European agenda much more stable.”
EuroNews: “The German presidency had as its objective reviving the European Constitution and, one way or another, it succeeded. What’s the Portuguese Presidency’s essential goal?”
José Sócrates: “Germany succeeded in getting what it wanted from its presidency: that is a mandate. And we must transform that mandate into a treaty. We know that getting the final details right is always the most difficult part, that’s when tricky areas appear. But we’re ready for that. Of course, it will be a very demanding task, but, as I told you, we are prepared. I think that Europeans, European politicians, the European economy, the European people want to move on from this crisis as quickly as possible. We are neither too ambitious nor excessively optimistic. We don’t have a wild level of optimism that would cause us to speed up the timetable. I think that the most important thing is to start the IGC, the intergovernmental conference, as quickly as possible. And we will start it on 23 July, and we’ll see if it’s possible to complete all the negotiation and conciliation work so that at the next European Summit (in October) the leaders can discuss the text. And approve it!”
Euronews: And this new treaty, would it be the subject of a referendum in Portugal?
José Sócrates: I think that it’s premature to talk about the method of ratification for a treaty which doesn’t exist yet. We don’t have a treaty. We have a mandate to make a treaty. Does anyone know what the actual wording will be? No, nobody! That’s why I think it’s premature to discuss the question of the ratification before knowing the substance of the text. I think that next we must have a debate on the subject and I am prepared for that.
EuroNews: “One of the things we already know about the new treaty it is that the so called ‘double majority’ voting system will come into effect only in 2014, with a transition period to 2017. Does that mean ten more years of possible paralysis for Europe?”
José Sócrates: “As you know, I’d like it to start immediately. But treaties only come into force when the 27 EU member states decide they will. It was the only possible compromise. And I think it’s reasonable. If a country has possible concerns, if it feels that its strategic interests are at risk, this delay is a reasonable one. But I understand the Polish position and I think that the agreement we reached, is an agreement that made it possible for Europe to move forward. The reality is that before we were blocked and now we’re moving forward.”
EuroNews: “How will the Portuguese Presidency deal with the Kaczynski brothers?”
José Sócrates: “Portugal has a excellent dialogue with Poland. Poland has a strong interest in the evolution and the development of Europe. It knows that Europe is a great region where it can assert and defend its interests. And then, you know, we are a union. We are not an alliance. And as we are a union, each part is essential, irreplaceable.”
EuroNews: “What about Britain, do you think Gordon Brown will be easier or more difficult to work with than Tony Blair?”
José Sócrates: “I don’t know Gordon Brown. I hope to meet him soon. I think we’re due to meet on 7 July. But I can tell you that with Tony Blair – who is a very realistic and very pragmatic politician – agreements were always easy, because he is a pro-European politician. But, naturally, he knows the uniqueness of Britain and, in the European Council, he always had very clear positions, which made it possible to keep Britain in the European boat, but preserving what Britain regards as its particular sensitivity.”
EuroNews: “The international media has compared you to Tony Blair. They call you the Portuguese Blair.”
José Sócrates: “It is a great compliment. But I don’t deserved it.”
EuroNews: “Why not?”
José Sócrates: “I think that Tony Blair made a considerable contribution to the European centre-left’s political programme. It was very important, in terms of opening up, in promoting a more open and cosmopolitan left, a left that is less defensive, more assertive, more pro-reform. I think that, in this role, he’s irreplaceable and that’s why I think that somebody who has only been in office for two years and half in Portugal doesn’t deserve to be compared with Tony Blair.”
EuroNews: “With regard to foreign policy, the Portuguese presidency starts with a summit with Brazil.”
José Sócrates: “It’s a matter of great satisfaction to me that we begin our presidency with this Brazil summit, a country with such close ties to Portugal. Europe has already held summits with Russia, with China and with India. But it’s never had a summit with Brazil. If Europe wants to have an understanding and a coherent policy with the so-called BRIC – that is Brazil, Russia, India and China – it is also necessary to include Brazil in these summits”.
EuroNews: “One of your priorities is to give new momentum to relations with Africa.”
José Sócrates: “Between 2000 and 2007, we haven’t had a politically structured and institutional dialogue with Africa. That can’t continue. Europe has already decided to hold a summit with Africa during the Portuguese presidency. Because there are many unanswered questions that need to be addressed: questions of development, matters relating to migration, but also relating to endemic diseases, the fight against poverty and questions about sustainable development.”
EuroNews: “During the last Portuguese EU presidency the Lisbon Agenda was established with the aim that by 2010 Europe would be the world’s most competitive economy with full employment. Do you still believe that’s possible?”
José Sócrates: “Europe’s in what we could call a correction phase. Not only it is getting better, but also the Lisbon Agenda is starting to produce results. We carried out a very good revision of the agenda in 2005. The task ahead of us now is a fresh revision, a new cycle for the Lisbon Agenda. And I think that Portugal is able to do that. We are preparing to do it by retaining the original idea of the Lisbon strategy: it has a very important economic dimension – competitivity – but it has also a social dimension and an environmental dimension.”