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Interview: Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates


Interview: Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates


At 52, José Sócrates has just been elected for a second time as Portugal’s prime minister. Despite the economic crisis Socrates remains confident that Portugal can continue to progress in the fields of education, innovation and new technology. After four and a half years in power, the thing he is most proud of right now is to have finally seen the Lisbon Treaty come into force.

euronews, Maria Barradas: ‘‘The Lisbon Treaty is finally here. Are you totally satisfied with this treaty, or, after two years, Do you think there are things that could have been done differently?’‘ Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates: All treaties, when they are put in place signify renewal and Europe, with the Lisbon Treaty will not only become stronger and more responsive to the hopes of European society and European economic needs, but also answer global challenges. The world needs a stronger Europe. It’s not only Europeans who need it, it’s the whole world that needs European values, perspectives and culture to be stronger and the Lisbon Treaty strengthens Europe in the world. euronews: ‘‘During the choice of the EU’s high representatives, one had the impression that the nominations of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton were designed to show Europe giving up its strong political position to focus more on the single market. Is this true?’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘No. I don’t see things like that. I think these two people have had a long political journey and have already proved themselves in the framework of the European project. These are nominations that underline the importance of bringing together the two most important political families – The European People’s party and the Socialists – to support European institutions. This was enormously important and we have been successful. Moreover, these two figures have a lot of political experience, and whether its the former Belgium prime minister or British Commissioner, they are people well known in Europe and will certainly live up to their duties and their tasks.’‘ euronews: ‘‘But do you believe that the world will really see them as strong personalities?’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘Personalities become strong after having accomplished their duties and I have no doubt that the ex-Belgium prime minister is going to do a good job. I know him quite well, I know his thinking and his commitment to Europe. He’s a great European, a man who has values and political principles centred from a European standpoint and I have no doubt that he’s going to do excellent job so Europe can assert itself.’‘ euronews: ‘‘There seems to be a certain frustration in terms of public opinion towards these two appointees. At a time where we’re speaking of an enormous need to bring Europe closer to citizens and vice-versa, do you think the nomination procedure that was followed helped bring this about.’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘These two candidates were chosen in line with the Lisbon Treaty. I don’t see any other way to do it. The president was chosen by the Council and it’s a completely democratic choice, because around the table their was no Prime Minister who had not been elected and who did not represent their citizens.’‘ euronews: ‘‘The media have spoken a lot about a non defined criteria, as if it wasn’t known what kind of criteria Europe was looking for.’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘Well, I think that the criteria that adapts best to the European president is that of a pro-European, and that criteria, without doubt, is the former Belgium prime minister.’‘ euronews: ‘‘To get over the worst effects of the economic crisis, Brussels gave Portugal four years to meet the criteria of the Growth and stability pact and reduce the deficit as planned to 3 percent. Is this deadline realistic and is it an obligation for the Portuguese government?’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘I think this deadline is realistic, but I would like to start by telling you something. In terms of the worst effects of the crisis there are some that have passed and others that have not. We have to be aware that the duty of all states is to encourage growth and employment. This is the priority. There’s no other. After that we can start to cut the public deficit in order to restore confidence to the international markets and ensure the sustainability of public finances. But the most important thing that I have to tell you, at this moment, is that the EU has a policy of continuity in the budget stimulus plans until the end of the crisis and the crisis is still not over: besides one only has to look at the unemployment figures across Europe. We cannot leave our citizens unemployed, we must continue the recovery plans, that means, public investment to create jobs.’‘ euronews: ‘‘But for how long do you think in Portugal for example are we going to have double digit unemployment figures?’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘We’ve already started the road to recovery in Portugal. In the last two quarters we’ve had positive growth, in comparison with the last quarters, but that has still not had an impact on employment. My view is that during 2010, we will start finally see a recovery in employment. The main priority in my mind is to continue doing what the state has to do at the moment, meaning sustaining the economy to recover jobs.’‘ euronews: ‘‘Portugal has just organised the Ibero-American summit and the principal theme was innovation and growth. How important is a meeting of this kind for a country like Portugal?’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘The summit has enabled two things. First, to discuss the economic crisis and the response by states to this, and also identify areas which we can agree on the reform of world institutions, and I mean all institutions – the World Bank, IMF – there is a lot of changes to make in global economic regulation. What is the secret of economic success in society? I would say that it’s knowledge, innovation and technology. Portugal, for example, held the fourteenth or sixteenth place in the European rankings for public services on-line. The availability of and sophistication of services – and we are, at the moment, the first. That means we’ve reformed our public services very rapidly in only four years, to allow us to reach the forefront. Today, all our children learn English as soon as they arrive at school. All children in Portugal – I don’t know if you know – have access to a computer, whether they’re rich, poor, inland or on the coast. That’s why we hope to become a country where we speak English better and master all the technologies of information and communication. And by giving you these examples it means that with these projects we can develop and change a society very quickly, for stable economic growth.’‘ euronews: ‘‘We finish on a note of optimism. Thank you very much prime minister.’‘ José Sócrates: ‘‘No, its me who thanks you. Thank you very much.’‘

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