Saturday

28th Jan 2023

Small Portugal saddled with EU treaty and Turkey issues

  • Lisbon - Portugal is inheriting a busy and difficult agenda (Photo: EUobserver)

Portugal took over the EU's hotseat yesterday (1 July) with the rush already on to secure a new treaty for the bloc before member states become tangled up in a debate on Turkish EU membership, a potentially even more divisive topic.

The small 10-million strong country on Europe's south western coast has plenty of ideas of what it would like to do to put its stamp on the bloc for the six month presidency - but its tenure is set to be shaped and judged on these two hot issues.

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Lisbon must turn the outline agreed by EU leaders at their bad-tempered summit ten days ago into a 'reform treaty' – a document to replace the ill-fated European constitution that was rejected in 2005 in two referendums.

Diplomats say they want to do this as quickly as possible going on the assumption that the longer member states have to think about their outline, the more "creative" they will become in their interpretations of it.

It plans to have a full draft treaty ready for an EU foreign ministers meeting on 23 July, the day official treaty negotiations start and get the whole thing wrapped up by mid-October.

But there are already signs it may not go as smoothly as Lisbon officials hope.

Poland is threatening to re-open a key part of the agreement, claiming that during the summit it was promised stronger powers to block decisions than is currently stated in the text.

So far, Portugal has responded to the threat with a mixture of determination and cajoling. Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates over the weekend said he felt the treaty mandate was "clear and precise" and that he thought there had been a "misunderstanding."

Opening the negotiating door somewhat, foreign minister Luis Amado said that Lisbon "will have to clarify what really was agreed that night."

Turkey

Aside from pinning down Polish and other leaders to what they agreed last month - Portugal also has to stop member states being sidetracked by the Turkey issue, which France is threatening to force onto the political agenda.

Having already blocked the opening of Ankara's EU accession talks in the politically symbolic area of economic and monetary policy, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has also called for debate on the final borders on the EU to be opened and for a working group to be set up to examine further enlargement.

Portugal - in favour of Ankara's membership bid - is warning of the consequences of this action. Cutting membership negotiations "will raise a great deal of problems for Europe," says Mr Amado, although he conceded it cannot do much if Paris insists on the debate.

But he questioned whether it was "wise" for the Union to consider tackling another highly divisive issue when it has not wrapped up the treaty question, saying "we would like to close the constitutional file first."

Russia, Kosovo and Zimbabwe

While Portugal also wants to focus the EU's attention towards Mediterranean countries rather than solely towards the east - and plans to host the first ever EU-Brazil summit - it will not be able to get around other tough issues such as Kosovo and Russia.

Relations with Moscow are going through a difficult patch complicated by the EU's high dependency on Russia for energy and more lately by president Vladimir Putin's anger at US plans to place missile defence shields in Poland and the Czech Republic.

It will also be up to Lisbon to maintain the EU's fragile line on Kosovo – with a diplomat last month telling EUobserver that its common approach on how to approach the future status of the province was "paper thin."

Meanwhile, the invite list to the December Africa-EU summit is likely to cause headaches, too.

Portuguese politicians from the prime minister downwards used verbal contortions before a group of journalists in Lisbon on whether Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwean leader with pariah status in the international community, would be coming to the meeting.

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