EU opinion & policy debates - across languages |

On 12 June, 1985, Portugal and Spain formally signed the Accession Treaty to join the European Community. For both countries, this followed a period of democratic transition and set in chain a complex process of adjustment that has seen both contributing to European integration. Membership in the European Community led to a sharp increase of per capita income and economic modernisation, and, as original founders of the Economic and Monetary Union, both have helped to shape the direction of the European Union, thus ‘normalising’ relations with their European neighbours after periods of isolation. However, EU integration has presented both countries with its own set of challenges. Following economic crisis and political ferment both Iberian nations are now recovering, but the European Union needs to make a leap forward towards a more solidary and democratic Union.


The Presidents of the European Movements in Spain and Portugal, Eugenio Nasarre and José Conde Rodrigues together with the European Movement International’s President Jo Leinen recall what European integration has meant to Spain and Portugal and take a look ahead.


Entry into the European Community: A Historic Event for Spain

When the Hague Congress took place (7 to 11 May, 1948) Spain was completely isolated from the international world order that had emerged from World War II. Franco’s dictatorship had no place among the democracies that were busy reconstructing Western Europe. The project of European integration, which was driven by the Hague Congress, was based on the ideals of democracy, freedom, the rule of law and social justice.

In these adverse circumstances, the European Movement Spain had to work in exile. A great European, Salvador de Madariaga, was its president in those difficult years. He always linked the quest to recover democracy in Spain with the goal of integration into the European project. The Spanish democratic forces, resisting the dictatorship of Franco, similarly believed that once freedom and democracy were restored, it would be the vocation of Spain to join the process of European construction.

It was the European Movement which led the first public meeting of the Spanish democratic forces, at the Congress of the European Movement in Munich 1962, which marked a turning point for the extension of European ideals in Spanish civil society. The European Movement went on to play a major role in promoting a broad consensus in favour of Spain’s participation in European integration.

Later, following the first free elections in Spain, in 1977, the first major decision of the government led by Adolfo Suarez, was to request the opening of negotiations for the entry of Spain into the then European Community. Suarez was supported by all political forces that were represented in the Parliament. The negotiations lasted eight years, which were crucial to give Spain time to modernise its economic and social structures and prepare to comply with the acquis communautaire. The Socialist government of Felipe González completed the negotiations. And, on 12 June, 1985, the Accession Treaty of Spain to the European Communities was signed on the same day as the Accession Treaty with Portugal.

The entry of Spain into the European Community was a historic event that concluded the work of the democratic transition in Spain. It ended Spain’s long term isolation within Europe and allowed the Spanish people to enjoy a fully functioning democracy and modern social and economic life. It was undoubtedly a popular decision, based on political integration with our neighbours, and that feeling has been kept alive these thirty years.


Portugal: Adapting through difficult times

Portugal perceived similar political benefits from a greater union with its European neighbours, and formally applied to join the European Communities on March 28, 1977, eventually signing along with Spain in 1985 (incidentally, this was signed by Mário Soares, who later became president of the European Movement International between 1997 and 99). Portugal’s policy makers eagerly endorsed the European integration process, and, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, they embraced the Economic and Monetary Union (the launch of the single currency) project. It soon became an economic policy priority to be in the group of early euro adopters.

On January 1, 1999 Portugal, along with Spain and nine other European countries, introduced the Euro as its new currency. While Portugal experienced rapid economic growth in the years that preceded the launch of the Euro (between 1995 and 2000), the country’s macroeconomic performance following its introduction was below expectations. Nonetheless, the country registered strong progress in a number of socio-economic indicators, such as educational attainment, production structure, and the structure of exports.

Very few had argued against joining the Euro. In fact, most economists and most policy makers had quite positive views about the benefits of the Euro project – and buoyed by strong popular support for integration allowed more focus on often painful economic modernisation. Following this tangent Portugal, along with Spain benefitted hugely from the investment of the EU structural and cohesion funds and greater access to other European markets throughout the 1990s. Indeed, when the two countries ratified the Treaty of the European Union (Maastricht Treaty in 1992, and the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997), the reciprocation of Portugal into the international community might have been deemed complete, and popular support for the EU remained very high.

When the financial crisis struck in 2007-2008, the response was immediate: austerity. Policy measures were numerous and blunt. They focused on raising fiscal revenues and reducing fiscal expenditure. They did not explicitly target improvements to the balance of payments (the cause of the crisis).  And, in so doing, neither did they focus on much needed boosts to productivity and job creation. This has left Portugal wheeling in an economic quandary in recent years, which many have linked to the European project and its ability to deliver positive results for European member states and citizens.

The European Movement Portugal believes that Portugal should be thankful to the European Union for the support and aid in its transition to a developed democracy and in economic recovery.   However, on the 30th anniversary of its European integration the economic environment surrounding the future of the Eurozone in particular is corroding the good faith and belief in the wider European project for European member states and European citizens.


Looking ahead

While Portugal and Spain have clearly benefitted greatly from European integration over the past 30 years, both were hit hard by the crisis. The populations of both countries have had to endure tough measures as a means of responding to this situation, and have managed to fight their way back towards economic growth. Portugal left the Economic Adjustment Programme in June 2014. And, according to Eurostat calculations, following years of recession, Spain’s economy grew by 1.4% in 2014 and Portugal’s by 0.9%. With justified hope that they’ll now leave the crisis behind, this recovery needs to be supported by EU policies that focus on investments and not only austerity.

We should never give up on reason and sound principles. Our common future as Europeans is again at stake, a century after the great 1914-1945 turmoil era. Thirty years on from the signing of their Accession Treaty, the Portuguese can be confident in their nation’s culture and nearly 900 years of history, but have a much weaker connection to ‘Europe’ as a whole. The current state of uncertainty revolves very much around the Eurozone crisis and the perceived idealised view of early Europeanists and whether it is too late to change the current course.

European level action will require a leap forward to not only safeguard economic freedoms but also to protect the social rights of the Union’s citizens, which will enable all Member States to benefit from the European project once again. The Juncker Investment Plan (European Fund for Strategic Investments) is a good start, which will trigger trickle-down growth, but that has clear financial and political limits.

From a Spanish point of view the European Union is today facing many important challenges as a consequence of a world in a constant state of flux. From immigration to the economic and social development of its neighbours from the south, and from the rise of extremism to the defence of values that have been realised by the European community, it makes sense to deal with such issues together. This is why the Spanish European Movement is concerned by the selfish positions taken by some Member States, especially regards the Mediterranean, where the European Union is the best placed actor to assume a major role that will benefit all, rather than hinder a few.

The European Movement International has called several times for the strengthening of the Economic and Monetary Union to equip the European Union with the capacities to deal with both present and future challenges in order to help foster sustainable growth, and give a revived direction to the future of Europe. Sometimes taking a look back can help indicate the best route forwards.

Author :
EurActiv Network