Portugal at EU helm seeks to strengthen external relations

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With all eyes fixed on the advancement of the new EU Treaty negotiations, Portugal has set out another ambitious project for its six-month EU presidency: concrete progress on EU’s external relations, particularly with regards to Africa and the Mediterranean.

“According to many observers, the most mediatic and politically sensitive dossier of the Portuguese EU Presidency will be the negotiation and agreement on a new Treaty,” said State Secretary Manuel Lobo Antunes, presenting his country’s priorities for the next six months on 28 June 2007 in Brussels.  

However, in addition to the intergovernmental conference (IGC) mandated to negotiate a new EU treaty, that Portugal aims to conclude by the December EU Summit, the country has other priorities too. These concern external relations in which, according to Lobo Antunes: “Europe needs concrete progress.” 

Portugal is very committed to relaunching EU’s relations with Africa. “The EU-Africa Summit is something that we do not give up on. All resources at our disposal will be used for this summit to take place in December,” added Lobo Antunes, stating also that he regretted that seven years had already passed since the first high-level dialogue with Africa took place in Cairo. The second was planned for 2003 but did not take place, as some European nations opposed the presence of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, accused of violating human rights, in the summit, whereas the African Union insisted that all its members should be present.

With regards Africa, Portugal, a country now considered as an attractive destination for African immigrants, will place special emphasis on implementing a “global approach to migration”, as thousands of illegal migrants from Africa press at the EU’s borders. Portugal’s Employment State Secretary Fernanco Medina said earlier in June that Portugal would push for a “realistic” approach to legal migration – one that includes social inclusion alongside tighter border controls – to help solve Europe’s looming job-shortage crisis. 

The Portuguese Presidency will also seek to establish a privileged partnership with Brazil, with the first ever EU-Brazil Summit on 4 July, develop a “fresh approach” towards the Mediterranean region and hold summits with China, India and Ukraine.

On the issue of Turkey and French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s efforts to clearly define the EU’s borders, Lobo Antunes said: “On Turkey the position of the Portuguese government is very clear, we think it is fundamental that Turkey joins the Union once it fulfils all conditions. We are not there yet.” He explained that it was the Portuguese aim was to put the Turkish accession process back “on track”.

However, he also made clear that the immediate priority was the new Treaty. He said: “Let us first focus on concluding the treaty and then let us address if need it be the question of further enlargements.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski is already questioning parts of the political agreement made on 21-22 June, concerning the voting system in the Council. Portuguese State Secretary for European Affairs Manuel Lobo Antunes gave a clear reply. “We cannot accept that, we have a political compromise at the highest level and we must stick to that,” he told reporters at a press conference in Brussels on 28 June. 

He added: “What we agree is to the mandate and nothing else. That is why we have demanded a detailed mandate to avoid member states giving their own interpretation.”

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