A sense of common identity

EU leaders have agreed a June deadline to try to ratify the new European Union constitution. Among the key changes in the new constitution will be the creation of an EU Foreign Minister and a permanent President for the Council of Ministers to replace the current six-month rotating presidency.

There will also be a new ‘exit clause’, which, for the first time, lays down a procedure for leaving the European Union, as well as a suspension clause that sets out a system for member states to agree to suspend a country that violates the Union’s basic principles. In addition, the European Union charter of human rights, first proposed at the Nice summit in 2000, is to be enshrined in the constitution.

Speaking to The Resident, António Sobrinho, the administrator of Lisbon’s European Union Information Office, explained that the most contentious issue for smaller nations such as Portugal was the demand for greater voting power to protect them from larger EU nations. “I don’t know of any changes affecting foreign EU residents in Portugal. In terms of voting rights and other entitlements, there will be no significant changes. I know the Prime Minister wants to see the final version of the constitution to ensure that the principle of equality is respected.”

Eminent economist and The Resident columnist, Dr. Jorge Vasconcellos e Sá, is in favour of the creation of the European constitution. “There is an old saying ’Quod non est in actis non est in mundo’, which means ‘what is not written does not exist’. The first advantage of a written European constitution is that we will all know the rules of the game and the extent of the power of the commission.

The second advantage is that it gives us government by rule of law and not by man. It will create transparency in the rules of the game. The third advantage is that even if it strengthens the power of Brussels that would be a good thing because it will create a stronger Europe. I believe monopolies are bad things and at the moment America is the sole monopoly, the sole superpower, and that needs to be challenged.”

As far as changes to day-to-day life of foreign EU citizens living in Portugal are concerned, Dr. Vasconcellos believes they will be minimal. But he thinks the constitution will help to enhance a sense of common European identity. “Everyone will know precisely what their rights are as European citizens living in another part of Europe and not just as expatriates living in Portugal. At the moment, a foreigner living in Portugal has few rights and is seen as just that – a foreigner – and their principal allegiance is to their home country. But the new constitution means people will come to see them as fellow Europeans.”

Dr. Vasconcellos believes the government has been hesitant to support the principle of the EU constitution because it does not want to open another line of combat at a time of economic challenges and uncertainties. “The duty of the opposition is to oppose. The opposition wants to fight battles and at the moment the government has other priorities on its hands,” he told The Resident.

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