Professor Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, one of Portugal’s most influential political commentators, addressed the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce at the Sheraton Hotel last week. Marcelo has become a household name in Portugal through his contributions on television about the political scene.
Speaking on the theme of “Portugal and Europe”, he attacked the European political establishment for its lack of “leadership” and “passion” and for its passivity in tackling the future development of the EU.
Marcelo addressed an audience over a lunch co-hosted by the French Chamber of Commerce. The former head of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) jokingly praised the “Anglo-French entente” as a “magnificent example of European unity” before going on to analyse the challenges faced by the EU and Portugal.
The key questions for Portugal, he insisted, were how to boost economic growth and how to handle the continued expansion of the EU. He described himself as “a firm and determined Euro-enthusiast” but also “a realist”. Therefore, he felt he was well placed to list the positive but also the negative developments in the EU over the last few years.
He praised the introduction of the Euro, which, he said, had demonstrated the “weight and vitality” of the European single market. But he also noted that the common currency had accentuated the different rates of development of EU members. He also extolled the virtues of the Lisbon Agenda of 2000 that had promised to modernise the European social model and usher in a new era of greater skills and flexibility. But, five years down the line, Marcelo said that insufficient steps had been taken to implement its strategy. He also said there had been various interpretations of the Stability and Growth Pact and that some countries had found its conditions difficult to apply. But he said it was vital that members observed the EU’s stipulations.
EU lacks “one voice” on foreign policy
The professor conceded that divisions over Iraq had undermined the collective voice of the EU. “After Iraq, Europe no longer speaks with a common voice,” he said. “Naturally, this only accentuates the pessimism some people feel over Europe’s capacity to display the barest unity on defence policy,” he added.
Marcelo lamented that leaders no longer felt the necessity to explain fundamental issues to their citizens before referendums. He called for a more “pedagogical approach” to important matters affecting the EU and bemoaned the absence of strong European leadership. He said some leaders merely reacted to situations and harboured “uncertain convictions” over the EU, a trend, he maintained, that dated back to the Prodi area and one that was still visible today. There was also a lack of confidence in political authority and continued pessimism in some European economies, particularly in Germany, France and Portugal.
“lack of passion”
He called for more “transparency” from political leaders, not “confidentiality”, and said that larger members should regain the initiative in leading Europe. Marcelo said the forthcoming referendum on the European Constitution was an example of the “lack of passion” from the establishment. He said that President Sampaio should call on political parties to begin the process of educating the Portuguese people about the importance of the European Constitution and the revisions it would bring to the Portuguese constitution. Such a process in all countries holding the referendum was “urgent”, he said. Gabriel Hershman