Portugal. Portugal began the year of taking over the presidency of the EU for the first time, despite the fact that the Portuguese had been in the European Union since 1985. When Portugal was in turn for the first time, they rejected the presidency because they did not yet feel ready for the mission. The Presidency until July 1 seemed at first glance to be a transport route between Germany’s period until the turn of the year and France, which began July 1. But that did not happen. Prime Minister António Guterres and his staff managed to get through decisions on important issues and principles, as well as laying the foundations for the 14 EU countries’ sanctions against Austria to be lifted.
However, it soon became apparent that the sanctions were a burden to the EU and that most of the 14 countries wanted to remove them provided they did not lose face. The sanctions were first lifted during the French presidency that followed the Portuguese, but according to diplomatic sources, Portuguese diplomatic dexterity was the basis. António Guterres had a long private conversation in the bar of the hotel with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel at the summit in Santa Maria de Feira in June. Then, in exchange for Portugal working to remove the sanctions, Austria would have agreed to support a compromise on a common tax harmonization within the EU. The 15 EU countries could then agree on the “Fairy Compromise”.
- ABBREVIATIONFINDER: Offers three letter and two letter abbreviations for the country of Portugal. Also covers country profile such as geography, society and economy.
For twelve years, the other EU countries had tried in vain to get Austria and Luxembourg to agree on a tax harmonization. When Portugal managed to reach a compromise on this issue, it can be seen as a diplomatic achievement and the golden key that closed the door to a largely successful presidency. As usual in such cases, the security measures at the summits were rigorous. Everything also went smoothly, with the exception of one incident when a man, disguised as a journalist, threw a red ink egg inside the Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar. Security was further tightened, and in particular the search for eggs. Nevertheless, a Portuguese journalist managed to bring a boiled egg into and out of the meeting rooms.
There has been hardly any debate about the EU in Portugal, where the Portuguese are generally happy with the membership, which has given them increased living standards and reduced unemployment – the latter at around 4% at the end of the year. They were also pleased with the government and their prime minister. In last year’s polls, António Guterres was just one step ahead of President Jorge Sampaio, who supported 63% ahead of the presidential elections in early 2001.
Domestic policy was slowing down until the autumn, when Parliament would vote on the government’s draft budget. Then it was called. Although António Guterres and his Socialist Party PS (Partido Socialista) won a convincing victory in the 1999 elections, they did not succeed in obtaining a majority in Parliament, but had to settle for half of the 230 seats.
Therefore, the Prime Minister needed support from another party, but although he threatened to announce new elections unless the draft budget was adopted, he failed to get any opposition party to stand. António Guterres then turned to Daniel Campelo, MP for the right-wing People’s Party PP (Partido Popular) and did a political cow trading with him. It meant that Daniel Campelo would cast his vote in the budget vote against state aid promises of eight points to Ponte de Lima in northern Portugal, where he is mayor.
The cow trade triggered a scream from the opposition and murmurs in António Guterre’s own ranks. The prime minister reassured little conviction that there had been no cow trading at all but plans for state aid to the northern region had long since existed.
Paradoxically, most people were probably quite content with Portugal escaping a prolonged political crisis. Daniel Campelo is thought to have earned himself one of the country’s most popular mayors during the year.
According to COUNTRYAAH, the population of Portugal in 2000 was 10,297,001, ranking number 74 in the world. The population growth rate was 0.400% yearly, and the population density was 112.4262 people per km2.