Portugal plays pivotal role in new storm clouds gathering over Europe

Reports on Friday’s Mediterranean summit of EU countries in Athens have been very different, depending on which country’s newspapers one reads.

In Portugal, the buzzword coming out of the conflab was “concrete responses”.

Diário de Notícias concentrated on prime minister António Costa’s pronouncements that Europe has to find these ‘concrete responses’ in order to fix the endemic problems of unemployment and weak economic growth that are causing “angst” for the general population – particularly young people.

But in the UK, the Sunday Times took a much wider view of the meeting, calling it one of Europe’s “Club Med” (an allusion to the upmarket French holiday operator) which has banded together to “tell Merkel to end austerity”.

The bottom line, claims the ST, is that southern countries are effectively taking advantage of behind-the-scenes chaos prompted very much by the Brexit vote to push their own agenda.

Says the ST: “Europe’s “Club Med” of southern countries will this week confront Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, with a divisive demand for an end to austerity when EU leaders meet – without Britain – at a summit in the Slovakian capital, Bratislava.

“The conflict will complicate efforts to use the meeting to paper over the cracks in the union and forge a hard line on Brexit,” the paper adds.

Leaders from the EU’s ‘Mediterranean group’ – France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus and Malta – issued an “Athens declaration on Friday, calling for the easing of austerity, tighter security and a solution to the migrant issue”.

French president François Hollande has joined the cause, led by Greek PM Alexis Tsipras, “who has warned Europe could disintegrate if it does not make tackling unemployment a priority”, says the ST.

Describing the Athens summit as one of a number of “fissures” opening up, the paper explains that planners in Brussels are now worried “as they look ahead to a referendum on immigration in Hungary, a re-run of the presidential election in Austria almost won by a staunch rightwinger, the presidential campaign in France and parliamentary elections in Germany.

“Besieged on the left and the right, the European Commission and its leading governments are crafting a strategy they hope will appease voters and send a signal that leaving the union is not an answer.”

Elsewhere within the paper, columnist Andrew Marr warns of what he calls the “march of Europe’s new goose-steppers” and the refugee crisis which is “provoking a split in the EU that will go far beyond border fences”.

But here in Portugal, for now, we are getting only veiled warning of this new mood. Visão, for example, carries another story on the “concrete responses” angle, but with a photo of Costa smiling warmly at Tsipras, his arm apparently patting the latter genially on the back as the pair climb some stairs.

“We do not have to be ashamed of being from the south,” Visão quotes Costa. “We have to know how to assume a position within the EU that defends the perspective of all these countries. It is the best way that we have for Europe as a whole to be better positioned within the world.”

To “cement this position”, Visão explains that Portugal will be the next southern country to receive the Mediterranean EU countries’ summit, presumably in 2017.