Mr Costa with Mrs Merkel
Even in 2018 when this photo of Mr Costa with Mrs Merkel was taken, the headline was "Merkel comes to Portugal to discuss future of Europe"

PM would like to see “Commission of the wise” reflect on future of Europe

Is this another step by António Costa towards being “very useful to Europe”?

Despite assurances last year that he was at the helm of government for the long haul, prime minister António Costa has been giving observers considerable food for thought this weekend.

In Addis Ababa supporting efforts by President of the European Council Charles Michel – and the only non-African political leader present – he has also been pontificating on the idea of a “commission of the wise” to “reflect on the future of the European Union”.

Says Lusa today: “Costa would like to see (Angela) Merkel, (Mário) Draghi and (former European commissioner Pascal) Lamy in the commission of the wise”. 

Talking to Público, the PM stresses that the idea for the commission came from conversations he has had with European Commissioner Ursula Von der Leyen (with the names appearing to have come from his own thoughts on the topic).

Says Lusa, Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi were previous heads of government (Germany and Italy), while Pascal Lamy was European commissioner and director general of the World Organisation for Commerce between 2005 and 2013.

According to Mr Costa, the European Political Community (EPC) (created last year on the suggestion of France’s President Macron) “is a good initiative” and could lead to “a Europe with a more variable geometry”.

It could, for example, include countries that either don’t want to enter the EU, “like Norway”, or which have already left “like the United Kingdom.

“I’m not sure that there wouldn’t be some current member states that would feel better in the EPC or with an active participation in the Internal Market but nothing else”, he said. 

“And I believe there is room and urgency for there to be a hard core that wants to deepen the level of integration in foreign and security policy, in budgetary solidarity, in industrial policy…”

Ukraine’s accession to the EU

As for Ukraine’s intention to join the European Union, António Costa reiterated the position he has taken from the beginning, saying he felt from President Volodymyr Zelensky “a positive appreciation” regarding “the frankness” of the Portuguese position.

“We have warned that we cannot ignore the various countries of the Western Balkans, which are also candidates and have been waiting longer. 

Enlarging the EU by accepting Ukraine “raises three types of problem. 

“First of all there is a problem of a political nature” since “Ukraine will be the 5th largest country in the EU, which implies a rebalancing of internal power relations.

“I won’t go into details, but I’ll give just one example. It took a great deal of imagination for Mrs von der Leyen to come up with 27 portfolios for 27 Commissioners…”

Europe has to adapt to the new context created by the war

In the interview, the Portuguese Prime Minister also argued that Europe has to adapt to the new context created by the war in Ukraine.

The European Union “must have the humility to realise that the world has changed and that it has to adapt very quickly to the new reality, otherwise it will end up in the situation of the aristocrats who, in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, did not realise that the world was changing and that, if they did not keep up with change, they would quickly become bankrupt aristocrats”.

What is fascinating about this interview is the context in which it has appeared. The PM has just been associated with the most State interventionist housing programme in decades (one that has infuriated various sectors of business and society) – now he is suddenly ‘moving swiftly on’ to discuss migration to the EU from Africa, and changes in the European political hierarchy.

At the same time, television pundit Ana Gomes – a Socialist who rarely has much in the way of positives to say about Mr Costa – has just told her Sunday evening slot that António Costa appears to have taken a new step towards “the demonstration that he could be very useful for Europe”.

“We need to prepare ourselves that in 2024 we will be having elections, and I am not just talking about the European elections”, she said.

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