Portugal's President Cavaco Silva on the European Constitution, EU-US dialogue and freedom of movement

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Portugal's President Cavaco Silva on the European Constitution, EU-US dialogue and freedom of movement

Portugal's President Cavaco Silva on the European Constitution, EU-US dialogue and freedom of movement
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Aníbal Cavaco Silva is Portugal’s president having been elected in the first round of voting. An economist and university professor, he was the country’s prime minister for ten years, from 1985 to 1995. The centre-right politician now has to work with Portugal’s Socialist government.

When EuroNews’ Maria Barradas interviewed him, as he prepared to be sworn in, Portugal’s new president called for a fresh draft of the European Constitution to be drawn up and spoke out in support of freedom of movement of labour and services.

EuroNews: Mr. President, welcome to EuroNews. You are taking office at a time when Europe is focused on social questions. In particular, there is a lot of discussion about opening up markets in the original 15 EU countries to workers and services from the ten countries that joined almost two years ago. What do you think about that issue?

Anibal Cavaco Silva: Europe’s main principles rest on the four liberties: freedom of movement of goods, of services, of capital and of people. That’s what drives the internal market, which is the foundation of the European system. Restriction of movement of workers coming from the East was only acceptable on a temporary basis. With regard to freedom of movement in services, that was always going to be more difficult to initiate, but I believe that we’re on the right path following the decision taken by the European Parliament and we’ll see how this very important step can help revitalise Europe’s economy.

EuroNews: That brings us to another question: immigration and multiculturalism. Do the immigrants who come to Europe have the right to cultural and religious freedom or must they integrate and absolutely comply with the rules that existent in the countries they move to?

Anibal Cavaco Silva: Western democracies, as a matter of principle, respect all the cultural and religious customs of people from other countries, provided, of course, that they follow the laws of the countries they live in. And I believe that is what is happening and what must continue.

EuroNews: Let talk now about the relations between Europe and the United States. The Azores Summit, just before the Iraq War, marked a low point in that relationship. Do you believe that is the way co-operation should be across the Atlantic?

Anibal Cavaco Silva: No, I don’t believe so, because that was not a good time for dialogue from either side of the Atlantic. Europe and the United States share the same values and must maintain a constant, serious dialogue, committed to security, peace, fighting poverty and establishing sustainable development. I hope that the days of war in Iraq are in the past and that dialogue between the US and the EU will be easier and more productive in the future.

EuroNews: Europe is engaged in a major debate on its future. There are several possibilities under discussion: to forget the European Constitution; try to revive it; or to go on with a so-called ‘two speed’ Europe. Which do you think would be best?

Anibal Cavaco Silva: I don’t believe that the current text of the constitutional treaty, as it is, can be resuscitated, but nor do I think that it would be a good solution to have a ‘two speed’ Europe, where some countries would be excluded from certain policies. In spite of all that, I believe that the current text is a good starting point, but now European leaders need to work on mobilising public opinion in their countries, to show why European integration is important and to address their concerns.

EuroNews: But do you believe that the problem is really in how the treaty is written, or is it that the people don’t have confidence in European institutions? Why is there a lack of confidence and what needs to be done about that?

Anibal Cavaco Silva: The European Constitution can’t be built without taking into account European public opinion. I believe that this lack of confidence is related to several questions: first, the prolonged European economic stagnation; then Europe’s failure to take up the challenge of globalisation, and also perhaps a lack of debate on the true consequences of enlargement. For the moment, it is necessary, once again, to try to convince the people of the value of expanding the European project. This is the answer to employment problems, the social safety net, and the problems of globalisation. Europe has not been good in taking up the challenge of globalisation, notably the emergence of Asian countries like China, India in the near future and other countries of that region.

EuroNews: Portugal is marking 20 years since it joined the European Union. What do you feel is the country’s role and its big challenge as part of a new enlarged EU.

Anibal Cavaco Silva: The great challenge for Portugal, is to rise to a level of economic development which is close to the EU average. Portugal’s role is also to contribute its share to building Europe in order to solve the problems and address the concerns of its citizens. Finally Portugal can assist the European Union through its links with Africa, Brazil, Latin America and the United States. That is Portugal’s best asset.