Soares rebuilds Portugal's ties to Europe

Portugal is regaining its rightful place in Europe, says Prime Minister Mario Soares. In an interview with the Monitor, Mr. Soares outlined his plans to use membership in the European Community to solidify democracy.

``We went 40 years under a dictator with outsiders saying we're not ready for democracy,'' he said. ``Now in 10 short years, without much disturbance, we have created a strong democracy.''

Portugal's next step is to rejoin Europe. After eight years of negotiations, Portugal is finally joining the European Community. The formal treaty is to be signed here next month.

``The next five years will be decisive,'' Soares said.

Other subjects on which the prime minister touched:

Portugal's role in the world. Soares said he wants to carve out a fuller role for Portugal in Europe. ``Now [with the EC membership], we're regaining our rightful place.''

But he supports a more restrained role in its former African colonies of Mozambique and Angola. ``We don't want to intercede,'' he said. ``We will always be at their disposal in the search for peace, but we can't interfere in their internal affairs.''

Terrorism. A shadowy group, the Popular Forces of the 25th of April (FP-25), has carried out bank robberies, bombings, and assassinations since 1980, including four recent mortar attacks against the US Embassy or NATO sites here. But Soares is convinced terrorism does not threaten Portugal's democracy.

The country's constitutional problems. The prime minister leads the government, formulating policies, but the President is commander in chief of the Army and has veto power over all legislation.

Soares and President Antonio Eanes have battled constantly over policies. A presidential election is due next year, and it is widely rumored that Soares will run in an effort to gain the presidency for the Socialists.

His ambitions remain unclear. ``I never said I wanted to be president. But I haven't said the last word on the subject either.''

The economy. Under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund, Soares has instituted a tough austerity program that has almost balanced the country's trade deficit and reduced inflation -- but at large human cost. He sees little room for fiscal maneuver.

``Thanks to our efforts on the trade balance, we don't need the IMF anymore,'' he said.

The nationalized industries. His coalition partner, the moderate Social Democratic Party, accuses Soares of not restucturing Portuguese industry, much of which was nationalized after the 1974 coup and subsequently made uncompetitive. Soares pleaded for moderation.

``I'm doing what I can, what is possible,'' he said. ``You can't change everything overnight.''

Unpaid workers. For up to two years, about 100,000 Portuguese workers have received no wages. Under Portuguese law, bosses can't fire them. Because they can't find other jobs, the workers keep toiling in the hope that one day they will be paid.

Soares rejected the idea, however. ``If a company goes broke in the United States, does the state step in and pay the wages? That's what the workers want us to do. If we pay, it will be like in the East bloc.''

Hunger. Austerity has multiplied poverty. The shantytowns outside major cities are growing. There are reports that many people are going hungry.

``It is true that there are people who live poorly here, on small salaries, in bad housing, but I have never met a person who comes here and says he can't eat.

``I heard there was hunger in Set'ubal across the river from here. I started a program to feed the poor. No one came. They said they didn't want charity. If they were really hungry, they would have come, charity or not.

``The communists have put out this idea that people are hungry. Then they go and march all the hungry people down the street -- in good clothes.''

The future: For Soares, all these problems pale before the establishment of democracy. ``With political stability, we can develop,'' he said. ``We must work, work, and work, but I believe in this country.''

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