President of Portugal

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 1 February 1995

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great honour for me to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe today on behalf of Portugal, at the invitation of its illustrious President, Miguel Angel Martinez, who is also a close friend.

I have ties with the Council of Europe by virtue of old memories linked to my country’s recent history and my own political career. I had my first direct contact with the Council in April 1970, when Portugal was still a dictatorship. At the invitation of the Socialist Group, led by the late Mr Czernetz, I had occasion to provide the group with information. In my capacity as a member of the anti-fascist resistance living in exile, I subsequently attended the debate on the situation in Portugal and the human rights violations that were occurring in the country and the colonies it had at the time. My involvement with the Council of Europe prompted the dictatorship to bring criminal proceedings against me and call for a sentence of two to five years’ imprisonment.

Some four years later – after the Revolution of Flowers in September 1974 – I was able, in my capacity as Foreign Minister of the first provisional government, to address your Parliamentary Assembly in order to request that Portugal be granted observer status immediately, as the first step towards full membership, which did not materialise until 1976.

I remember that during the debate which followed my statement at that sitting, on 28 September 1974, I was asked by one member of the Assembly whether I was still a minister at the precise moment I was speaking, for on that day the first serious crisis of the revolution was taking place in Lisbon and undermining the democratic course on which Portugal had embarked. It heralded a particularly troubled political period, which did not end until the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic was adopted on 2 April 1976.

I addressed the Council of Europe again in April 1977 – by which time Portugal was fully constitutional – as Prime Minister of my country.

Fortunately, the circumstances in which I am addressing your illustrious Assembly today are much more pleasant for Portugal. Over the last twenty years, the Portuguese have experienced a difficult and traumatic decolonisation process, established a properly functioning democracy governed by the rule of law and embarked on a new stage in their relationship with Europe and the rest of the world, by becoming fully-fledged members of the European Community, now known as the European Union.

Our chequered history and all the problems we have had to face are familiar to all, as are the serious political, economic, financial and social crises we have had to overcome. As I have before me so many representatives of states which have recently embarked on the road to democracy, with all the problems and contradictions that entails, I feel it is appropriate to outline again the approach chosen by Portugal and the irreplaceable role which such institutions as the Council of Europe played in preparing the new framework for my country’s international integration, in particular its European integration.

I am well placed to understand what the countries going through the complicated adjustment to the post-communist era expect of us, and I am particularly aware of the contribution that is required of us, as Europeans, when it comes to devising a political framework that is realistic but open and based on genuine solidarity, and that will enable them to find their place in a Europe no longer governed by the mentality of the eastern and western blocs and by a balance based on terror, and which was constantly on a knife edge.

At first sight one might tend to think, taking a simplistic approach, that the collapse of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the radical change which it symbolised and sparked off in the political world order would have made the Europe-wide integration process easier. We now know that this is not at all the case.

The first reason is that the disappearance of the rationale underlying the eastern and western blocs did not, unfortunately, do away with the super-powers’ claims to control their spheres of influence or with their interests and powers in this respect.

The second reason is that the necessary reorganisation of multilateral institutions which have decades of history behind them and have simultaneously affected politics, the economy and security either directly or indirectly, has been slow and raised thorny problems. This is particularly true at a time like this when certain states which have taken on extra responsibilities are faced with very complex internal challenges.

The third reason is that the countries embarking on reform are in very different situations as regards recent history, the pace of change and the scale of their resources and ambitions, which makes it impossible to devise uniform solutions from the outset.

As other heads of state and government have already said in this Assembly, I think there is an urgent need for clear ideas and a definite plan for the restructuring of Europe. This does not necessarily mean setting up new multilateral organisations: there are already too many. The European Union, Nato, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the WEU and even, on a wider scale, the OECD itself, provide us with a sufficiently varied and sometimes even overlapping framework for us to be able to meet the expectations in terms of solidarity and integration of the new democracies, without undermining the stability and effectiveness of these organisations.

It is now obvious that the European Union and Nato can no longer ignore the new situations in central and eastern Europe. But it is also clear that it will not be easy to establish conditions for the integration of the many potential candidates in these organisations, either by setting admission conditions or through the inherent and difficult process of internal restructuring. Pragmatism suggests a policy of gradual rapprochement, we need to proceed slowly, perhaps, but surely and with determination. To my mind this means following two approaches simultaneously: – on the one hand, it means strengthening the machinery for political and economic co-operation between these states and the European Union, through existing associate membership schemes or other worthwhile schemes; – on the other hand, it means taking integration a stage further and broadening the role of institutions engaged in wide-ranging multilateral consultation, such as the Council of Europe and the OSCE, and taking advantage of their greater institutional flexibility to consolidate various integration circles, which need not be concentric, and to launch new initiatives from which no-one is excluded.

As I see it, organising Europe means pursuing an overall approach to the reform of each of its institutions, co-ordinating their functions and creating opportunities for mutual co-operation. I believe that this co-operation is an important factor in the process of European integration, particularly with regard to one essential aspect which, I am sure, is of concern to you – devising and organising a new security policy to which the entire continent will be committed, with due respect for the commitments of individual states.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Europe is the oldest multilateral political institution to have been instrumental in the process of rebuilding post-war Europe. It has a truly unique heritage in the defence of freedom, the right to be different, tolerance and dialogue. It is the institution which, more than any other, represents what could be called “the Europe of principles and values”, as is so aptly expressed in its founding instrument, the European Convention on Human Rights.

I firmly believe in the principles and values which have always lain behind the Council of Europe’s actions: freedom, human rights, the rule of law and their corollaries – democracy, solidarity, tolerance, the fight against exclusion and the protection of minorities. Accordingly, I should like to say how pleased I am that I shall be able, in a few minutes, to attend the signing ceremony of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, which provides for a huge range of undertakings by states in this regard. The convention is all the more important in that conflicts and signs of intolerance which we thought were things of the past are re-emerging in Europe. The Council of Europe’s contribution in this field is irreplaceable and the adoption of this instrument is an important step towards the consolidation of the stability that is so necessary to our continent.

I have always warned against the illusions of those technocrats who seek to contain the design for an ambitious Europe within the limits of strictly economic considerations. It is for this reason that I would stress that the Council of Europe has an irreplaceable vocation in forging a united greater Europe, for it can avail itself of an institutional framework which welcomes cultural, geographical and political diversity, respects the equality of the different states and has developed a special vocation for dialogue and concerted action on some of the major issues of our time, including the protection of the cultural heritage and the environment, social security and bioethics, to mention but a few examples, which sometimes receive scant attention in other assemblies.

We must not, however, respond to what is still a somewhat illusory project by cherishing other illusions. If the Council of Europe is to perform this function, which is in keeping with its vocation and its aims, it needs the commitment of its member states so that it has the energy and the operational capacity to pursue new integration initiatives and ensure that practical, specific forms of co-operation and co-ordination are developed among the various institutions concerned.

In a nutshell, this means that we must agree on a political vision of European integration, we must be clear about the framework within which the organisations in question operate and about their functions. We must know the limits and the composition of the famous integration circles to which we are all referring today, which are very different from one another and very imprecise. We must be clear about the forms of co-ordination between national and supranational authorities, about the means whereby citizens can express themselves and about the machinery for the democratic security of institutions. Lastly, we must know what limits are imposed by Europe’s geography and understand its relations with the outside world, not forgetting the special case of Russia, on which Europe must try to take a clear stance.

It would certainly be useful – as many responsible people have argued – if Europe could be forged with Russia. If it became a member of the Council of Europe, this would be a first, very significant step in that direction. But Russia’s accession, if it takes place, must be accompanied by full respect for the principles and values which, as we have seen, form the core of the Council of Europe’s achievements and sustain its activities. Accordingly it is for Russia, not the Council, to create the conditions needed for future integration. It is Russia, not the Council, that can in truth facilitate or prevent the taking of this fundamental step by pursuing a policy which provides credible confirmation of its commitment to the values of peace and the democratic principles that underpin this Organisation.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it is impossible to reflect on Europe’s future without referring to the problems of the European Union, which is the central core of the integration process in Europe. Despite the withdrawal of Norway’s application, which confirms both the democratic basis of the Union and the need for a through debate on its nature, the first enlargement since the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty must be considered a political success and a sign of vitality.

This brings to a positive conclusion an especially productive stage in the life of the community, marked by the breathtaking end of the post-war period and the vision of an outstanding European, Jacques Delors, to whose work I pay tribute. The new stage now beginning, symbolically inaugurated by a new Commission, which has my best wishes for success, presents an important challenge in the immediate future: that of preparing and organising the 1996 intergovernmental conference, which will have the difficult task of revising the Treaty on European Union for the first time.

This is a key opportunity – and perhaps the only opportunity this century – for us to agree on the conditions for achieving a politically, economically and institutionally strong, united and coherent Europe. To this end, it is essential that we transcend the vision of a Europe organised exclusively around fundamental economic freedoms and concentrating on the unification of markets and the standardisation of financial policies.

Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not unaware of, and am not underestimating, the importance of unifying the internal market and of economic and monetary union as a means of bringing the grand European design to fruition. I also know how difficult it has been to obtain the results already achieved in these fields, and I am aware of the sacrifices that will be needed in view of what still remains to be done. But nor do I doubt that an economic Europe is unlikely to be sufficient or even feasible unless it has a strong political dimension upheld by the institutions and given democratic legitimacy through effective parliamentary scrutiny of the decisions taken in Brussels.

I have never concealed my views on the matter. The European Union will always, given its historical background and essential objectives, be a new kind of political entity, different from the models of the past. But I find it difficult to see how it can abandon certain federal and confederal components, which are still given so little means of expression – despite the looming spectre of supra-nationalism – and are still far from being a reality, since the joint budget is less than two per cent of the domestic product of the Twelve.

I firmly believe that the main danger at this stage of European integration lies not in further political and institutional “deepening” in itself, but rather in the Union’s inability to pursue this deepening successfully, in that it is becoming further removed from the public, whose legitimate aspirations are being undermined, and in that responsibility for shaping the processes of social change and the balance of power between states is being left to the mercy of a relentless trend towards economic globalisation.

I do not think this is the right approach for a Europe that is internally united and based on solidarity and is externally active, politically adult and autonomous. That is the kind of Europe we should be interested in constructing, a Europe that is now prepared to complete on the political front the long reconstruction process that began after the war.

This political dimension does not, as many claim, mean establishing a continental super-state – a prospect which, fortunately, may well be unfeasible. The aim is quite different: it is to ensure respect for the diversity of nations, which is one of Europe’s assets, in a context of real political co-operation and security in Europe. This means giving substance to the principle of subsidiarity, which should be the bedrock of the European Union and its first line of defence against any perverted tendency towards hegemony, centralism and bureaucracy.

We need to strike a new balance in the process of European construction. The new situation created by successive enlargements and the globalisation of markets will increasingly vindicate the arguments of those who criticise the excessive application of European rules applied in a uniform manner to completely different national situations in the various production sectors. At the same time, it will also highlight Europe’s shortcomings in areas such as citizenship, defence and security policy, science, culture and social cohesion, where inadequate multilateral agreement is seriously limiting the possibilities for common development.

I hope that the discussion on the revision of the Treaty on European Union will help us to find positive responses to these concerns. Above all, I hope that it will move us away from the unavoidable temptation to destroy the balance between small and large states for the sake of reconciling the deepening of European integration with the progressive enlargement of the Union to the whole continent. That approach would be unacceptable and would undermine the unique nature of the union we are trying to achieve in Europe which is, and must continue to be, an alliance of freedom and a community of equal partners in which the weight of individual states is not merely proportional to their relative power, and is not reflected in absolute terms in their institutional standing.

The balance of relations between small and large states has played a decisive role in launching, sustaining and developing the process of European integration over the last forty years. Understandably, however, the present institutional structure, which basically retains the features of the original model, will not be able to cope easily with a community of twenty members – in a future phase – whose aims are to bring about economic and monetary union and absorb a succession of new members, unless fundamental institutional reforms are carried out.

Nevertheless, although institutional reforms are essential, they will be self-defeating if they undermine the fundamental principles of the European Union, factors that must not be forgotten in the changes which have to be made. In my view this does not really have much to do with the great debate about a multi-speed or variable-geometry Europe or a Europe of concentric or superimposed circles. The existence of different rates of integration – which are in fact inevitable – will always at least partially reflect the room for manoeuvre which individual states will wish to retain in their integration strategies. In my view, what must be avoided is for the different speeds to be taken as a pretext for differences in status, leading to a situation where individual states’ relative power is determined directly by their size or wealth and level of development.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to conclude by making an urgent appeal for us to reject conformism. Instead we should champion the innovative spirit, creativeness and faith in the European ideal which enabled the first steps to be taken almost fifty years ago to rebuild a divided and dependent Europe that had been tom apart by war.

The challenges facing us today are perhaps no less difficult and demand just as much energy. Despite all the problems, however, the conditions are much better. As you try to find new solutions to the new problems facing us as the century draws to a close, I suggest that you look again at the values of humanism which inspired the generation of the founding fathers.

And I call on you to try and build a Europe closer to its citizens and their concerns, while respecting their opinions, their objections and their role in decision-making, even if this sometimes means advancing more slowly. Europe will succeed only if it is a citizen’s Europe. You must fight Europessimism and short-sighted expressions of national self-interest so that we can build a Europe of solidarity – between nations and between peoples – and a Europe of science, culture and environmental protection, which is open to the outside world and able to play its rightful role on the international stage by defending the rule of law, justice and peace.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Mr President, thank you for your address which was greatly appreciated by the members of this Assembly.

Mr Soares has said that he is prepared to reply to spontaneous questions from members of the Assembly, for which I thank him.

There is a great deal of spontaneity and a large number of members want to take advantage of this opportunity. There are more than twenty names on the list. I shall not authorise supplementary questions. I would ask everyone to formulate their questions very precisely, and I beg Mr Soares to reply as briefly as possible, so as not to cause immense frustration.

May I remind you that the grand ceremony of signing the convention on minority rights will be held at 12.30 p.m. I invite all of you to attend this important event. I call Mr Unal from Turkey to put the first question.

Mr ÜNAL (Turkey)

Mr Soares, during the visit of President Suleyman Demirel to Portugal between 15 and 17 December 1994, you referred to Turkey’s relations with the European Union, stating that European unity could not be complete without Turkey. In that context, how does Portugal assess the idea of Turkey’s full accession to the European Union?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (translation)

Yes, I think that Turkey is a European country and that Turkey is a missing bit of Europe. But it still has a long way to go before joining the European Union. The existing rules cannot be side-stepped.

Mr HUGHES (United Kingdom)

Portugal has often been described as Britain’s oldest ally. Are you aware, Mr Soares, that Euro-scepticism is now rampant in the United Kingdom, apparently even in the highest levels of government? Other countries have displayed similar tendencies. Are you aware that there is now speculation about a two-speed development in the Community to cater for those countries that are happy about a free trade area, but are rather reluctant to proceed further, for example, with the creation of a Euro-currency? Would you care to comment further on those issues?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

agreed that Portugal was indeed an old ally of the United Kingdom and that the two countries were close in many respects. But there were differences, too. Although Portugal also had its own Euro-sceptics, most Portuguese people believed in European solidarity. This excluded the concept of a two-speed Europe, although he was prepared to take this on board as long as it did not prove detrimental to the small states within the Union.

Mr MACHETE (Portugal) (interpretation)

sought confirmation that variable geometry and concentric circles would not lead to discrimination against the small and least developed countries within the Union.

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

replied that this was precisely what Portugal wanted to avoid, stressing that all member states of the European Union must be on an equal footing.

Mr BERGER (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, the European Union of which your country is a member is fortunately tending, as you pointed out, towards a process of enlargement which respects national diversity.

Do you think that this new approach might delay or even jeopardise the monetary union which is supposed to be in place by the end of the century?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (translation)

I beg your pardon, I did not understand your question.

Mr BERGER (Switzerland) (translation)

Do you think that the new approach adopted by the European Union for its enlargement might slow down or even jeopardise the introduction of monetary union which was supposed to take place by the end of the century?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (translation)

Slow down perhaps, but never jeopardise.

Sir Russell JOHNSTON (United Kingdom)

Does President Soares find a contradiction in the attitude of those people who oppose more effective and integrated supra-national structures in the European Union and simultaneously seem to oppose giving the intergovernmental – in our case, the interparliamentary – Council of Europe adequate resources to fulfil its responsibilities? Is he aware that our budget has been frozen? He has said that he is committed to the Council of Europe, so does he agree with the freezing of that budget at the very time when we are being asked to do more and more in central and eastern Europe to nurture and support the new democracies there?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said he did not agree with the freezing of the budget and had launched an appeal for more support and better funding.

Mrs AGUIAR (Portugal) (interpretation)

asked whether it was not essential for citizens resident in host countries but from other countries of origin to have legal rights and dual nationality.

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said it was important to fight for integration of immigrants in the political life of their host countries. But it was necessary to proceed cautiously, for instance, by starting at a local level.

Mr PINI (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, you are a leading figure in European political life; could you describe your personal vision of European integration, this ideal which is pursued but never achieved? Is it federalist or centralist?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that the question did not have much meaning, but there should be a strong federal component.

Mr SOLE TURA (Spain) (interpretation)

asked Mr Soares for his opinion on the problems of security and development in the Mediterranean.

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that this was one of the most worrying problems in Europe, especially in the southern parts of the Mediterranean. It was essential to create a forum for discussion. The whole of Europe had a vital interest in the Mediterranean area. He favoured all initiatives that were aimed at guaranteeing security in the Mediterranean.

Mr ÇILOGLU (Turkey) (interpretation)

recalling that the European Union was trying to integrate with the central and eastern European countries whilst violent crimes continued in the former Yugoslavia, in particular in Bosnia-Herzegovina, asked whether the new emergent republics were in the backyard of Europe.

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that there were problems in the translation and that he hadn’t fully understood the question, but that the situation in Bosnia gave rise to the most serious concern. It showed that Europe did not have the capacity to solve such problems. However, if the European Union and other European organisations had not been in existence the war in Bosnia might have been far more serious and put the stability of the whole of Europe at risk. He favoured the accession of the former Yugoslav republics into the pan-European organisations but noted that there were serious problems which had to be solved first.

Mr GALANOS (Cyprus)

President Soares, you come from a European country that is at one end of the Mediterranean. How do you envisage the future enlargement of the European Union to include two states at the other end of the Mediterranean – Cyprus and Malta? Are they included in the concentric circles?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that he was in favour of enlargement of the European Union but that that enlargement must be carried out according to the rules.

Mr GÜNER (Turkey) (translation)

In our member countries a worrying increase in xenophobia and intolerance is unfortunately apparent.

Mr President what, in your opinion, is the best way of combating these attitudes?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that he was keen to make progress in the fight against xenophobia and that he saw the Framework Convention on National Minorities as a major step in the battle. Improvements could also be made through education and co-operation and it was essential to pursue these avenues as tolerance was a fundamental prerequisite of democracy.

Mr DE PUIG (Spain) (interpretation)

asked if Mr Soares thought that enough was being done to enhance North/South relations within Europe in the light of the establishment of the North/South Centre in Portugal.

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that Portugal was honoured that the centre had been sited there and that it wished to support it as much as possible. He highlighted the broad relationships that Portugal had with several North African and South American countries. Unfortunately little progress had been made in the last twenty years to make this dialogue more dynamic. Aid given to the Third World had simply gone into governmental coffers. It was necessary for an immediate change in the structure of international aid if Europe and the rest of the world were to achieve peace.

Mr LOPEZ HENARES (Spain) (interpretation)

asked if it were possible and appropriate for the Council of Europe to have political relationships with North African countries.

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that is was not for him to give guidelines of operation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe was the most flexible institution in Europe; it was the first to welcome new countries and he referred the Assembly to the assistance that had been given to Portugal in the past. The Council of Europe should establish a dynamic dialogue with North African countries.


You spoke about building the new structure of Europe. Would you like to present your position on the question of the extension of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to central and eastern European countries? Would you comment on that in the context of the security of the Russian Federation?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that he had made state visits to various countries in central and eastern Europe, and that he had had opportunities to speak with leaders. Their main concern was neither economic development nor entry to the European Union, but rather security. The partnership structure, which was now being set up, was the way forward. He stressed, however, that it was essential to develop better understanding of what was happening in the Russian Federation, and that he could not make any forecast.

Mr IWINSKI (Poland)

Portugal has traditionally maintained a special relationship with other Portuguese-speaking countries, namely, Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, as is quite natural, even if you put aside Gilberto Freire’s bizarre theory of Luso-Tropicalidade formulated one year ago. What type of role, according to you, can such a co-operation and relationship play in the contemporary world?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that it was a miracle that Portugal now had cordial relations with Brazil and its former colonies in Africa, despite previous colonial wars. Following changes in the Portuguese Government in the 1970s, it had proved easy to establish peace and dialogue. This had been particularly important in the case of Brazil. The fact that Brazil was a member of the Organisation of American States, that Portugal was a member of the European Union, and that Angola was a member of the Organisation of African States, did not preclude contacts. It was notable that each of the former Portuguese colonies in Africa now had organised democratic governments, although he accepted that this process was still under way in Angola.

Mr RUFFY (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, all of us here are very grateful to you for your endeavours to secure peace in Angola. Unfortunately, the fighting resumes after every truce and the death tall in this war continues to mount.

In your opinion, what additional conditions must be met in order to ensure lasting peace? Can Europe, must Europe intervene in one way or another?

Mr Soares, President of Portugal (interpretation)

said that the United Nations had made a great effort in Angola, and that Mr Boutros-Ghali had achieved a great deal. It was important to support the United Nations; the United States was also making efforts, and it was up to the European institutions to make a contribution, too.

Mr HAGARD (Sweden)

I have already received an answer to my question, which was on Angola.

Mr VRETTOS (Greece)

My question is about the economic implications which could bring about the restructuring of the European Union into a basic core of countries, with peripheral countries belonging to certain associations. My question has already been satisfactorily answered in the reply to the question asked by my Portuguese colleague.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

That brings to an end the questions to Mr Soares. I thank you most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for your statement and for answering my colleagues’ questions.

We will now attend the ceremony for the signing of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Before closing this sitting, Mr President, I wish to present you with the medal of the Parliamentary Assembly. I did not wish to give it to you in my office, as I preferred to present it publicly here. There will not be many moments as happy as this for myself and the Assembly.

Personally and on behalf of the Assembly, I wish to salute Mrs Soares who is present here on the rostrum. She is also a great friend, a woman who has shared our values and our efforts for democracy, freedom and social progress. Maria, we are delighted to have you among us.

(The President of the Assembly presented the medal of the Parliamentary Assembly to Mr Mario Soares, President of the Portuguese Republic.)