Portugal and the Future of the European Union

By Silva, Aníbal Cavaco | The Brown Journal of World Affairs, Spring/Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Portugal and the Future of the European Union


Silva, Aníbal Cavaco, The Brown Journal of World Affairs


When Thorbjørn Jagland, then Nobel Committee Chairman, announced in October 2012 that the European Union (EU) would be the Nobel Peace Prize laureate that year, he underscored the extraordinary achievements that underpinned the decision: over six decades of contributions to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights in Europe. The statement read by Jagland acknowledged the "grave economic difficulties" that the world's largest economic bloc was going through but emphasized that the Committee preferred to underline the "stabilizing part played by the EU" to make much of Europe a "continent of peace."1

I was, at the time, president of the Portuguese Republic. I made a statement welcoming the decision, explaining that "the Union continues as a model of peace, cooperation, and solidarity" and stressing that "selfish nationalisms" could not prevail over the community's founding spirit.2 Cohesion was undoubtedly a part of this spirit and a central theme in European integration, especially after 1981 when Greece became a member, and after 1986 when Portugal and Spain joined the bloc.

It is, in fact, impossible to understand the longest period of peace and cooperation in the history of Europe without taking into account the role that solidarity and cohesion played in the EU project. Likewise, it is impossible to understand the recent history of Portugal without recognizing the structural contribution of European integration to the country's economic and social development. Portugal became a member of the then European Economic Community on 1 January 1986, 55 days after I became prime minister, an office I held until 28 October 1995.

In the first ten years after the Carnation Revolution in April 1974, Portugal experienced intense political instability and resorted to two bailouts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). International organizations did not believe in Portugal's ability to overcome structural difficulties and the development gap in relation to European countries. Joining the EU was a historic and decisive step, without which it would have been very difficult for Portugal to move toward convergence with Europe. It marked a clear choice in favor of a market economy instead of the socializing tendency inscribed in the Constitution of the Republic that had prevailed in the post-revolution period, which involved mass nationalizations and land occupations that alienated businessmen and reduced national wealth.

Confidence generated by the political stability of the decade between 1985 and 1995, and by four social partnership agreements negotiated between the government and unions and employers' confederations, allowed Portugal to make a success out of its membership. At a time of drastic changes in Europe-the fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany, the collapse of the communist regimes of Eastern Europe, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and war of Yugoslavia-the success of Portuguese integration in the EU is, to a large extent, a result of the convergence between accession and the end of the political instability that marked the previous decade.

Portugal was largely a beneficiary of integration, not only due to the support from structural funds that allowed the country's development, but also because major domestic reforms freed Portugal's economy and society from an excessive state presence and established a climate of confidence favorable to investment and dynamic civil society. Between 1986 and 1995, the Portuguese economy grew at an average rate of 4 percent a year, compared with 2.4 percent for the European Union as a whole, despite the recession that hit Europe in 1992-1993. Over the same period, per capita income, adjusted for purchasing power parity, rose from 56.2 percent to 68.3 percent of the average of the then 15 EU member states, an increase surpassed only by Ireland.3 Following a firm and permanent negotiation, Portugal took full advantage of opportunities opened by the accession. …

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