President of Portugal

Speech made to the Assembly

Monday, 23 September 1996

Madam President, before I deliver my speech – in Portuguese, naturally – I thank you for your personal words directed to me and for those in relation to my country.

(The speaker continued in Portuguese) (Translation) Madam President, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, it is with heartfelt emotion that I address this illustrious Assembly today. Not only am I honoured by President Leni Fischer’s invitation to take part in the celebrations commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Portugal’s accession to the Council of Europe, but the years spent in this House, as the first Portuguese member of the European Commission of Human Rights, have left their enduring mark on me.

In fact, what better challenge could there be for someone who, like me, has always acted in uncompromising defence of human rights; what better opportunity to pursue the ideals which have always guided me both as a citizen and a politician; and what greater personal satisfaction could I have, as a lawyer concerned with human dignity, with the abuse of power, and with the denial of justice than to have had the honour of working here?

So I am not being immodest when I say how truly proud I was to be allowed to give my committed contribution to the tangible application of that which constitutes the emblematic and unsurmountable reference to European democratic life: the European Convention on Human Rights. I can assure you that I am also deeply pleased to be back here, walking down the same corridors again, encountering so many friendly and familiar faces and greeting those with whom I shared so many hours of exalting work and stimulating conversation.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Europe has always been present in moments of crisis and it has always been able to unite under its roof the best of the European spirit. It became the first institutional landmark of European construction in the midst of a ravaged and rudderless continent.

By adopting the democratic principles and values which constitute our common heritage, the Council of Europe was able – at that crucial moment – to project the vision of a new European identity, contrasting the fratricidal wars due to expansionist temptations and totalitarian abberations with an ideal of a union of European democracies. Thus the Council of Europe became the symbol and the guardian of a new principle of legitimacy which, of necessity, excluded all despotic regimes.

It is important to mention this exclusion as it gave strength and confidence to those who fought for freedom and democracy over the decades. As a Portuguese, I cannot fail to highlight this fact and its meaning for all those who opposed the dictatorial regime in my country. When that authoritarian regime was deposed and a pluralist democracy installed, twenty years ago today, Portugal took its rightful place in this Assembly. This act of recognition of the legitimacy of Portuguese democracy was decisive in its consolidation and constituted the first institutional step towards Portugal’s reconciliation with Europe and integration in the European construction process.

The Council’s political support for Portugal immediately after the revolution of 25 April 1974 was decisive at a time when Portuguese democracy was being established. I recall particularly the various reports prepared on the political situation in my country between that date and Portugal’s accession to the Council of Europe, as well as the specific support given to us in various fields, foreshadowing the co-operation given today to the democracies of central and eastern Europe.

Within the context of the consolidation of the democratic institutions and practices in my country, I emphasise also the fundamental role of the Council’s experience in human rights and in legal co-operation in terms of establishing the constitutional framework of my country as well as the post-constitutional legal framework.

The jurisprudence of the European Court and Commission of Human Rights has shown us the force of a system created by the European Convention on Human Rights which has constantly adjusted to new situations. This jurisprudence played an influential role in preparing the Portuguese legislation which confirmed rights which had been defined by the bodies in Strasbourg, or established new forms to guarantee the rights laid down in the Convention. It has constituted a considerable source of inspiration when interpreting the constitutional and legal rights of the Portuguese.

Similarly, Portugal has always been at the forefront in supporting a solution for modernising and strengthening the protection system instituted by the Convention, and I am particularly pleased to mention our accession to Protocol No. 11, which will be formalised shortly.

I am pleased to see that the very close co-operation between Portugal and the Council continues to assume new dimensions, geared always to searching for the answers to the major issues affecting our societies. I therefore expect the Council to be represented in Lisbon in 1998 at the Universal Exhibition, whose theme is the oceans and their protection.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, I believe that it is obvious to everyone that Portugal has a decidedly active role in the Council of Europe, which shows the importance we attach to it as the bastion of democratic principles and values that are the foundations of our identity, and as the natural forum in which to deal with the principal issues of the future which will decide the common destiny of our European democracies.

It is not surprising, therefore, to see our specific commitment to the measures taken by the Council to protect foreign nationals’ rights – I am proud to say that Portugal is engaged in a campaign to legalise all foreigners in an irregular situation, and that many of these are already entitled to vote in local elections – our fight against the resurgence of racism, intolerance and xenophobia, the crucial issue of the protection of minorities, as well as the reinforcement of an effective worldwide solidarity which must be worthy of Europe’s universalist vocation. Europe must be increasingly aware of the worsening of international imbalances and inequalities which generate new tensions and new problems.

It is in the latter context that we value the role to be played by the North-South Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity, which we hope other countries will soon join.

I would also like to underline the role which respect for human rights should play in the context of the external relations of our states, in defining the foreign policy of a Europe which is open to the world, with effective conditions for international action but marked by an intransigent defence of the values of humanism, freedom and human dignity. As the “conscience of Europe”, as the bastion, as I said above, of the lasting values of our identity, we cannot remain silent when such values are trampled on, nor opt for the easy way out, adopting different criteria when assessing similar situations.

The situation in East Timor takes on exceptional significance in this context. The brutal and illegal occupation of this territory by Indonesia, the systematic violation of its people’s elementary rights, the arrogance – why not say it? – and the continued impunity of the oppressor, should be cause for deep reflection on the part of the international community. For our part, we will continue to spare no efforts to enable the people of East Timor to exercise freely and democratically their right to self-determination through internationally supervised consultation. This is the only way to progress in the search for a just and internationally acknowledged political solution for this issue, so as to bring to an end the many years of the internationally denounced and condemned systematic violation of human rights in that territory.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Europe has been present in a particularly active, meticulous and inspiring way in all processes of European re-democratisation, as the countries of Europe once again encounter the essential values of our civilisation.

With the end of the communist regimes, the Council of Europe was able to welcome the states of central and eastern Europe in which democracy was established under the banner of a return to Europe. Always true to its original vocation, the Council has shown that it had the authority to confirm and support the democratic transition of the post-communist regimes.

The Council’s firmness in defending democratic principles and values and the fact that it is still the most open and participated in of all European institutions makes it, as I said earlier, the natural forum in which to handle the issues of the future, the privileged place in which to forge the indispensable common ideas for the forthcoming stages of European construction. It is obvious to us all that Europe is going through a particularly complex period of transition.

Both the extent and the speed of the changes are striking. The European revolution of 1989 and the unification of Germany put an end to the old division of Europe brought about by bipolar rivalry. The end of the cold war radically altered the map and the European balance of power and led to the recovery of international autonomy by the principal regional powers. The dismantling of the communist regimes signified the end of an era of successive ideological confrontations between totalitarianism and democracy which had given rise to a century of wars and revolutions in Europe.

In the immediate aftermath, everything – both the best and the worst – seemed possible. The only certainty was that everything would be different. The main difficulty was then, in a phase of unavoidable turbulence and instability, to define the guidelines, to take the right steps forward, and not to lose this unique opportunity to achieve the unity of European democracies.

Five years on, both the most optimistic expectations and the most pessimistic forecasts have been set aside. The illusion of the straightforward victory of pluralist democracy and the rapid unification of Europe was endangered by the return of war, with the tragic consequences of the dissolution of the former

Yugoslavia, which caught all European institutions and powers unawares. On the other hand, however, the catastrophic scenarios of European disintegration, the restoration of authoritarianism in central Europe or the resurgence of the Russian threat were ruled out by a demonstration of the resilience of the European Union and of the Atlantic Alliance, by the dynamic attitude of the Council of Europe itself, by the democratic course of post-communist regimes and by the ongoing transition process in Russia.

Nevertheless, the main problems facing Europe have not yet been resolved and their final meaning has not been defined. I believe that it is imperative, at this crossroads, to concentrate our efforts on three priorities: seeking an institutional formula to reinstate Russia within the European balance; gradually integrating the new European democracies into Nato and the European Union; and providing a framework of stability, safety and progress based on the strengthening of the multilateral regional institutions and on open, humanised and fully participatory societies.

The transition process in Russia will be a long one and will be determined essentially by internal developments.

It would not be fair to raise false hopes as to foreign influence or even Europe’s capacity to meet the complexity and degree of difficulty of a three-way change in the type of state, regime and economy which characterises the singular transformation of the largest state on the continent.

Nevertheless, Russia cannot be excluded from the formation process of regional power balances and, whatever its situation, it is important to do everything possible to ensure that its legitimate interests are recognised within a European framework of stability and security.

I would like in this regard to underline the importance of Russia’s association with multilateral institutions and co-procedures.

Russia is a founding member of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and is a member of the Council of Europe; it is also attached to Nato within the framework of the North Atlantic Council, in its capacity as a member of the Partnership for Peace programme, and as part of the peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Whilst its integration in Nato or in the European Union is not being discussed, alternative co-operation frameworks and procedures are equally relevant and should be developed in order to prevent avoidable fractures and to associate Russia with prevailing European balances.

On the other hand, the gradual integration of central and eastern European countries in European and western institutions is decisive both to the consolidation of their democratic regimes and the guaranteeing of the stability and security of a vast area of Europe.

In this context I do not think that it is reasonable to continue to postpone for much longer the schedules and time-limits for the enlargement of the European Union and Nato.

It is not my intention to minimise the real difficulties and the great complexity of the process of enlargement, but what is at stake is our capacity to react to a rare opportunity to achieve the unity of European democracies in which the consolidation of such democracies is the key to lasting regional peace and security.

Both the density and the extent of multilateral integration processes have become the hallmark of Europe on the international stage. The conclusive meaning of the transformations which have occurred in Europe depend in the last resort on the consolidation of these institutions, the European Union and Nato in particular. Any stagnation or paralysis could be a prelude to the possibly irreversible decline that would be implicit in the construction of a Europe of democracies that were faced with the multiplication of phenomena of fragmentation, separatism and the resurgence of ethnic movements and of atavistic reflexes, the consequences of which can be fully grasped in the tragedy which is the former Yugoslavia.

It would be irresponsible to deny the risks of the proliferation of such trends, which could endanger the stability and continuity of states and democracies.

Hence the need to concentrate all our efforts on the consolidation of the dynamics of integration, in particular of the multilateral institutions which represent the European ideal and which can be achieved in all aspects – moral, political, economic and cultural.

As the oldest post-war European organisation, as the institution which symbolises a Europe of principles and values, the Council has a fundamental role to play in building the democratic security of our continent. It should therefore contribute to an effective, far-reaching co-operation with the European Union and with the OSCE, being careful not to waste efforts nor to duplicate aims.

I think that this path to the unity of European democracies is the proper guideline to overcome the period of transition following the extraordinary transformations of recent years.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the European project cannot be restricted to a narrow technocratic or economic vision. That is why the Council of Europe is so important to the deepening of this project, as the organisation which, because of its members’ geographical, cultural and economic diversity, best reflects the wealth of Europe and possesses the best conditions to adjust and define orientations for the major issues facing us.

The defence and promotion of human rights, the preservation of our cultural heritage, the environment, drugs, bioethics, social security, the terrible facts of exclusion within our own societies, and the role of science are some of the important issues which the Council addresses, and to which it must continue to direct particular attention.

I should like specifically to refer to science and its intimate link to democracy. Democracy needs science. We either continually deepen the scientific bases of our knowledge of nature, the human being, and society, and so promote a spirit of criticism and participation, or we witness the inexorable destruction of the powers of argument and, with their disappearance, the legitimacy of the order on which democratic society is based.

Within the context of such crucial issues it is not superfluous once again to emphasise the role that citizens’ associations can and must play in discussing, promoting and defending the Council’s ideas and aims.

Citizens must be mobilised. In such uncertain times the success of democracy will depend to a great extent on the “institutions” answer to citizens’ legitimate desires. In this context we do not have to underline the specific responsibility of parliaments as the centre of political life in democratic and representative regimes.

The Council has made serious attempts in some fields to co-ordinate with nongovernmental organisations, thus reinforcing the direct and active participation of the individual in the pursuit of its actions and initiatives. But we must go further and increase the direct action with civil society in order to mobilise all possible resources for a joint combat which will enable us to stand up to the major challenges facing us today.

I mentioned social exclusion: it is the other side of a reality marked by the conquest of economic competitiveness within a context of productive globalisation and disappearing frontiers. It is a European problem and as such must be dealt with, otherwise we shall see our societies becoming increasingly and dangerously dualistic with weakened internal cohesion.

When faced with the issue of unemployment we cannot abstain from determined, purposeful policies served by measures which are compatible with the size of the problem that we wish to attack. In this struggle it seems to me to be important to enhance associative activities and the ideas of collective interest and public service. In particular, I think that it is necessary to rally European intellectuals and creators around the great causes of civic participation, the fight against dualism, poverty and exclusion. What better way to demonstrate the energy and ability of this Council of Europe and of democracy than to enhance the constant struggle for the eternal values that we share, resorting to the new technological means which are the mark of our times?

Why not launch, throughout Europe, a major campaign to promote associative activities and to disseminate the Revised European Social Charter, supported by the media, making an appeal to the many intellectual creators who are anxious to pledge themselves to joint combat against the dualism and exclusion undermining our societies? I, for my part, will give all support to such an initiative stemming from the Council.

Ladies and gentlemen, no democracy is perfect. There are always differences between the rights set down in the texts and their enactment, requiring leaders’ and citizens’ constant presence and their attention – their permanent awareness.

Politics is always aimed at human beings. Their welfare is the essence of any progress worthy of its name, and this fact must always prevail over, and be present in, our scientific and technical advancements, which are so often conditioned by material interests which deflect them from their noblest designs.

Respect for human beings, for their inalienable rights, which are the essence and raison d’être of this Council, lead me to make a heartfelt appeal, here and now, for the total abolition of capital punishment on this continent. I am backed up in this earnest appeal by the fact that Portugal was a pioneer in this area, having abolished the death penalty more than a century ago.

I would equally like to express our wish to see this Assembly and the governments represented at the Council approve the convention on human rights and biomedicine as soon as possible.

Such are the times in which we live that the Council must, always and before each challenge, show its vitality. I am convinced that that is what it will do.

Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, twenty years ago, when it became the nineteenth member of the Council of Europe, Portugal demonstrated its determination to defend human rights and its commitment to European construction. Twenty years later, thirty-nine European states are represented here. Today democracy is another word for Europe.

As for myself, I would like to repeat the gesture of twenty years ago and reiterate Portugal’s confidence in the future of Europe.


Thank you very much, Mr Sampaio, for your most interesting statement. Members of the Assembly have expressed a wish to put questions to you. I remind them that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. The first two questions relate to the Portuguese-speaking community. I call Mr Iwinski and Mr Lopez Henares to put their respective questions.

Mr IWINSKI (Poland)

I want to put one question, not as a representative of the country whose delegation – due to alphabetic order – is sitting at the Intergovernmental Conference next to the Portuguese delegation, but as a person who has a command of your mother tongue.

Recently, Portugal has paid great attention to the activities of the Association of Portuguese Speaking Countries, whose members include, among others, Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. Would you comment on the role of that organisation and the possibility of it contributing to overcoming the contradictions that exist between North and South?

Mr LOPEZ HENARES (Spain) (interpretation)

asked what the Council of Europe’s relations were with the Portuguese-speaking community.

Mr Sampaio, President of Portugal

The association of Portuguese – speaking peoples was created after several years of effort. It responds to the need to consolidate the processes of democracy and the affirmation of common elements of culture and the mother language – Portuguese. We wanted to play a very positive role in the relationship with regional, world and multilateral organisations. We believe that there is a specificity in that approach and that it should correspond to modern times. We hope that our community can play a role in achieving peace, in the dialogue between North and South and in emphasising the importance of a Portuguese-speaking community.


The next four questions relate to the future of the European Union. I call Mr Frey, followed by Mr Medeiros Ferreira, Mrs Veidemann and Mr Gross after which I will ask Mr Sampaio for his reply. Mr Frey, your question please.

Mr FREY (Switzerland) (translation)

As our President has just reminded us, Portugal is a bridge between continents and is also – as you have just demonstrated, President – a country that is very much involved in the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Now the European Union is changing, it is moving towards enlargement and will ultimately admit east European countries, which means that its centre of gravity will shift northwards. How does the representative of a Latin country view this trend? Would you now be in favour of opening the door to, say, Morocco, which has applied for membership?

Mr MEDEIROS FERREIRA (Portugal) (interpretation)

asked how the President saw the Council of Europe developing in the light of changing attitudes to the countries of eastern Europe?

Mrs VEIDEMANN (Estonia)

Thank you for your excellent speech, Mr Sampaio. The Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) has continued for some time. What has been your experience of the conference so far and what are the perspectives relating to enlargement of the European Union?

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, a very interesting debate is taking place in Portugal on the consequences of the introduction of majority voting in the European Union’s Council of Ministers, and people are afraid that the small states will no longer have the same right to decide on issues as the large states, a right they have today, when fewer majority decisions are taken. What conclusions do you draw from this discussion? Have you gained ideas from this debate for developments towards a federal Europe with a European constitution that allows the small states to preserve their identity and status and to participate without surrendering their principles and without democracy being weakened in the process?

Mr Sampaio, President of Portugal (translation)

I will reply to Mr Frey first of all.

We have always felt that widening and deepening were two sides of the same coin. As a southern country – and there is a domestic consensus on this point – we should join in the enlargement of Europe for strategic purposes and this is an imperative which Portugal supports with great enthusiasm.

Thus we hope that at the end of the complex process, by which I mean the Intergovernmental Conference, negotiations can be opened with applicants. We do not wish to see any country given preference and would like applications to be dealt with in a just manner.

Yet there are other avenues, such as the association agreements, which emerge from agreements reached at meetings and from various committee decisions. I recall the Barcelona Summit proposing new Mediterranean policies designed to give extra weight to North-South policy.

Widening and deepening, and I should stress that I am not speaking on behalf of the government, which has its own representatives – although we speak with one voice on this score – should be pursued in keeping with the fundamental principles. More effort is needed to deal with enlargement. Of course all the countries concerned will have to work to meet this major challenge.

There can be no talk of widening, deepening, peace and security without the show of solidarity Mr Frey referred to.

(Mr Sampaio continued in English) I have already dealt with Mrs Veidemann’s question. I hope that enlargement will meet the expectations of all concerned. You will understand from my speech that I have great faith in the IGC achieving economic solidarity and our employment aims. Enlargement must be viewed as an extra element to be reintroduced in the construction of Europe, and under the original framework. As we approach this political dimension we must be clear that it helps to create a spirit of unity, solidarity and peace. My country has therefore been in favour of enlargement and at the IGC we must address ourselves to the challenge and acknowledge that solidarity and regional development must be maintained.

I apologise to Mr Gross for not being able to speak German, although I have made a little effort this afternoon. Talk of a federal Europe is premature. The subject is being debated everywhere, but let us take a step-by-step approach, which has been pursued over the decades of European construction. The experience of Maastricht is that although there may be common ground the different identities must be taken into account. The challenge is how to combine the different identities and common purposes of the countries concerned in the partnerships that develop. I prefer to approach the matter in this way rather than hold a debate that need not be held for a long time. We have so much to do and to decide before that, so I should prefer to stick to basics.


The next two questions will be taken together. The first is from Mr Martins and the second is from Mr Roseta. I call Mr Martins.

Mr MARTINS (Portugal) (interpretation)

asked the President, as a member of the European Commission of Human Rights, how co-operation in human rights matters could be encouraged between member states.

Mr ROSETA (Portugal) (interpretation)

agreed with the content of the President’s speech but questioned what could be done to protect human rights in respect of the use of information technology and biomedicine. Individuals had a right to benefit from the development of human rights and it was important that the Assembly’s recommendations should be more widely publicised in member states.

Mr Sampaio, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that Protocol No. 11 would be an important measure in the implementation of decisions taken by the European Court of Human Rights. It was essential to acknowledge the right of access of individuals to that court. While Portugal was at a learning stage it could not act in an ideal manner. However, the establishment of international jurisprudence had been of great assistance.

While he supported Mr Roseta’s call for the strengthening of moves towards human rights for everyone, the Assembly should adopt a balanced approach and help to extend and uphold the efforts made by pluralist democracies. Further efforts should be made to affirm the ideals of Europe’s common culture and to recognise the role of individual citizens in the working of international institutions and organisations.


Thank you. I think that, to avoid getting into difficulty, the next four questions should also be taken together. I invite Mr Dinçer, Mr Carvalho, Mr Robles Fraga and Mr Sold Tura respectively to put their questions in thirty seconds each. Mr Dinçer, you have the floor.

Mr DINÇER (Turkey)

Mr President, your country has a rich history. In the recent past, Portugal was an important imperial power. For reasons that are well understood, Portugal also has close relations with many developing countries of Africa, Asia and South America such as Angola, Mozambique and my own country. Portugal has the potential to make a real contribution to international aid programmes. What are your views on co-ordinating the common efforts of European countries in accelerating the democratisation and development of the countries that I have mentioned?

Mr CARVALHO (Portugal) (interpretation)

noted that many problems in Europe were still unsolved, particularly social problems. There were 34 million unemployed in Europe, half of them young people. There was also the problem of social and regional inequality. He asked whether current European policies, particularly deregulation and privatisation were proving a threat to the right to work and were jeopardising social cohesion.

Mr ROBLES FRAGA (Spain) (interpretation)

said that democratic changes in Spain and Portugal had contributed to an improvement in relations between the two countries. He asked how Mediterranean countries could make a more positive contribution towards European co-operation.

Mr SOLÉ TURA (Spain) (interpretation)

said that regionalisation had become an important issue and Europe must look to support both the cities and the regions.

Mr Sampaio, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that he would answer the questions in reverse order. In reply to Mr Solé Tura’s question, he said that there was a difference between regionalism in Portugal and in Spain. Regions in Spain were administrative rather than political. Decentralisation without breaking up the state was important with respect to the matter of subsidiarity and was a way to strengthen the democratic process. Consultation was needed to ensure that decisions were acceptable.

In reply to Mr Robles Fraga’s question, he said that Portugal and Spain had seen an improvement in bilateral relations. He hoped that in constructing Europe, new generations had no problem with wider European co-operation.

In reply to Mr Carvalho’s question, he said that Portugal must realise that the cost of accession was lower than not joining. He supported Portugal’s efforts to integrate. It was important that the IGC should consider the problem of unemployment.

In reply to Mr Dinçer’s question, he said that wider co-operation was possible, and he hoped that it would emerge.


Mr President, on behalf of the Assembly I thank you for your speech and for your answers to members’ questions. That concludes the questions to President Sampaio.