Portugal's foreign affairs minister João Gomes Cravinho with counterpart from North Macedonia Bujar Osmani © Georgi Licovski/EPA

Portugal “won’t suffer disproportionately” from crisis in Italy – minister

But Europe as a whole will suffer

The current political instability in Italy is harmful to the European Union but, while this affects the whole of Europe, Portugal will not suffer “disproportionately”, the country’s minister of foreign affairs, João Gomes Cravinho, said yesterday.

The minister made the comments – which in part refer to the interest rates that the country must pay investors in order to borrow money – during his visit to Albania and North Macedonia – countries that have begun negotiations to join the EU (see below).

He admitted the political situation in Italy is “harmful to the EU” but that, as a democracy, Italy will find the appropriate mechanisms within its normal institutional functioning to emerge from the crisis, “hopefully as soon as possible”, writes Lusa.

Italy is to hold snap parliamentary elections on 25 September, after the collapse of the government of national unity led by Mario Draghi, who was under pressure to resign after three important partners left his coalition: the 5 Star Movement (M5S), the League and Forza Italia, which failed to vote for a motion of confidence in the government requested by the prime minister.

According to Gomes Cravinho, “everyone suffers in some way when the EU is confronted with this kind of instability in a country as important as Italy.” 

According to the latest polls, the ultranationalist party Brothers of Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, is at around 23% in polls of voting intentions, ahead of the left-of-centre Democratic Party, which is on about 20%, and the far-right Liga (14%).

Forza Italia, the party founded by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, which has lost some of its leaders for refusing to support Draghi, is at around 8%.

Draghi has led a national unity coalition for the past 17 months, since February 2021, when he was appointed to help oversee the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and steer the country to economic recovery after the fall of his predecessor, M5S leader Giuseppe Conte, who has now helped cause the current political crisis.

The coalition was supported by practically all parties with seats in parliament, from the left to the far right, except for Meloni’s ultranationalist movement.

On 14 July, Draghi announced that he did not want to continue in government without the support of the M5S, when this party abstained in a first vote of confidence.

At that time, Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, rejected Draghi’s resignation and asked him to seek new political solutions, with adequate support in parliament.

Last week, Mario Draghi won a second confidence motion, but lost the support of three of the parties supporting his coalition – the M5S, Forza Italia and the League – which prompted him to visit the president again, to reiterate his request to resign. This was then accepted, leading to the calling of snap elections.

For now, Draghi remains ‘at the helm’ and has said “Italy has everything (needed) to be strong, authoritative, credible” in the world (…) “let’s get back to work”.

EU accession of Albania and North Macedonia “crucial to European Security”

Gomes Cravinho has stressed that accession to the European Union of countries like Albania and North Macedonia is “very important for the security architecture of the whole of Europe” and that Portugal can help them in the formal talks that have now started.

“The accession of these two countries, but also Montenegro, is very important for the stability of the whole region, and the stability of the region is very important for the security architecture of the whole of Europe,” he told Lusa, after a two-day visit to the two countries, both of which have begun formal negotiations to join the EU.

Gomes Cravinho said EU expansion in the Balkan region represents not only the “enlargement of an economic arrangement, but something that is a geopolitical progress for the EU and also for Portugal.

The EU on 19 July launched formal accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, with what the European Commission described as a “historic moment” marked in a ceremony in Brussels attended by the president of the commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the prime ministers of the two candidate countries.

The opening of the negotiations, for which the governments in Skopje and Tirana had long been waiting, came after North Macedonia on July 17 signed a bilateral agreement with Bulgaria, so breaking the long-standing deadlock that had also delayed the start of talks with Albania. The following day, the EU’s 27 member governments gave the green light for the first intergovernmental meetings, which were held on July 19 in Brussels.

According to Gomes Cravinho, while the two applications differ, there are “successful multi-ethnic democracies” in both countries.

“In the case of North Macedonia, a country that has several minorities, it has an Albanian, Serb, Bulgarian and Croatian minority and manages, through the political system, to develop a mechanism for peaceful coexistence, which I think is an excellent example for the rest of the region,” he said.

He stressed the two countries will now enter “a first phase of very intense negotiations” and that he had passed on to both governments Portugal’s willingness to support them in this.

“The signal I wanted to give is that Portugal is available to support (them) politically, but also to give something of our experience in these accession negotiations, and of our experience also of life within the EU, to help the process,” he said.