Portugal Hopes to Push EC Priorities to the South
But moves toward cooperation with North Africa are often thwarted
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The EC, keen to boost its profile in a region it considers central to Europe's security and economic interests, is slated to host at least one of the seminars emanating from the multilateral portion of the Middle East peace talks.Skip to next paragraph
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In addition, a second conference for organizing Western aid to the republics of the former Soviet Union is in the works. After the Washington conference in January, which focused on emergency aid, the EC is looking to discuss medium- and long-term economic assistance in Lisbon conference at the end of May. Pessimistic on GATT
In addition, the Portuguese claim the 5 1/2-year-old Uruguay Round of international trade talks is at the top of their agenda. Privately, however, they say they are "rather pessimistic" about any breakthroughs before 1993 - in part because of US presidential and congressional elections, but also because of elections slated across the EC.
France holds regional elections in March; Italy will have parliamentary elections in April; and Britain will hold national elections sometime this spring - perhaps as early as April 9.
That string of elections is also contributing to fireworks over the EC's next five-year budget, another issue the Portuguese hope to wrap up during their presidency. Some analysts believe a special EC summit will be needed to settle the budget, but the various European elections don't facilitate talk of larger national contributions to the EC. Showing competence
The British have already come out against the EC Executive Commission's proposal to raise EC spending by one-third, from $86 billion this year to $113 billion in 1997. Portuguese Prime Minister Anibal Cavaco Silva has promised the British not to call a special "budget summit" before British elections.
Simple pride always pushes EC members to leave a mark during their presidency, but the Portuguese appear all the more determined to handle this opportunity competently. They are well aware of proposals floating around the EC that would make Portugal's first presidency its last.
With a growing chorus of voices saying the EC is becoming too important in world affairs to be guided by a six-month presidency rotating among a spectrum of weighty and not-so-weighty international players, proposals are growing to lengthen the presidency and limit it to the EC's five larger members: Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
No reform will take place before the EC's next treaty revision, set for 1996. But the Portuguese, who will not have another turn at the presidency until at least 1998, are already playing the small states' advocate.
"The spirit and whole basis of this Community is solidarity," says Balsinha, "and if the small states are denied a leadership role in such an important way, that vital element would be lost."
Another proposal for keeping everybody involved is to go to regional presidencies: the Iberian Peninsula, the Benelux countries, a Scandinavian presidency (after Sweden, Norway, and Finland join, as anticipated, later in the decade). Such an alternative would be a telltale test of nationalsm's hold across Europe.