United front on terror

PORTUGUESE PRIME Minister Durão Barroso and British Prime Minister Tony Blair declared themselves “united in adversity” during their recent encounter. At the end of the meeting, held at Barroso’s official residence in Lisbon last week, the two leaders were unanimous in calling on remaining EU members, notwithstanding differences over the invasion of Iraq, to project a united front against terrorism.

“The overriding message is unity among those who are duty-bound to combat terrorism,” said Barroso. “The struggle against terrorism is a question of self-defence,” he added. For his part, Blair stressed that it would be, “a victory for terrorists if death and destruction also provoked splits within the European Union”.

Tony Blair arrived in Lisbon from Madrid where he had participated in the memorial service to those killed in the train disasters on March 11. He stressed that the EU could not accept al-Qaeda’s version that the attacks are retaliation for the war against Saddam Hussein. “Iraq had not been invaded when al-Qaeda attacked Dar-es-Salaam (in 1998), or New York on September 11, 2001,” he pointed out.

Both Prime Ministers went on to stress the importance of helping Iraq on the road to peace and stability. “There are differences in the EU over this question, but we must not let these differences divide us,” said Barroso, adding that Portugal was available to continue in Iraq after June 30 – the deadline for transferring sovereignty – if the Iraqi authorities requested it.

Blair’s arrival provoked chaos in Lisbon. Special agents were scattered around roofs and roads, causing a bottleneck of traffic, particularly in Rato, S. Bento, Estrela, Avenida D. Carlos I and Belém.

Just 200 metres away from the door of the entrance to S. Bento Palace, a group of students from the ‘Bloco de Esquerda’ (Left Bloc), held placards and shouted slogans against the war in Iraq and against the anti-terrorism platform adopted by western leaders. “Durão, Bush and Blair – this is a war nobody wants,” they chanted. But during their joint press conference, Barroso denied that the demonstrations, within earshot of the journalists, were anti-war protests. Questioned by Sky Journalist Adam Boulton about the disturbances, Barroso replied: “They’re demonstrating against me over tuition fees; I accept full responsibility!”

At the end of the press conference, Blair went to Belém Palace for a 45 minute meeting with President Sampaio, followed by dinner with Barroso. During the dinner between the two leaders the possibility of António Vitorino being chosen to succeed Romano Prodi as president of the European Commission was debated, with Blair apparently agreeing with Barroso that Vitorino is “extremely competent” and “a very capable man”.