Future enlargement after ‘Georgia’ shows decline in popular support

The mil­i­tary con­flict in Geor­gia was fol­lowed in the press – name­ly with cor­re­spon­dents being sent to the war zone.[1] But it did not gen­er­ate a great deal of pub­lic atten­tion or any in-depth debate, name­ly in terms of its pos­si­ble reper­cus­sions for the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy (ENP) and enlarge­ment of the EU. These are not high salience issues in Por­tu­gal, since they tend to be rel­a­tive­ly con­sen­su­al.

Offi­cial posi­tions of the gov­ern­ment regard­ing the enlarge­ment of the EU have, in line with pub­lic sen­ti­ment as expressed in suc­ces­sive polls, tra­di­tion­al­ly been favourable to enlarge­ment. This per­sis­tent trend seems to be based large­ly on nor­ma­tive pref­er­ences, for giv­ing oth­er Euro­pean coun­tries fol­low­ing the path to democ­ra­ti­za­tion and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment the same oppor­tu­ni­ties that the young Por­tuguese democ­ra­cy had in the 1980s and 1990s. Still it is worth not­ing that for the first time the polls seem to show a trend towards a decline of pop­u­lar sup­port for future enlarge­ment of the EU.[2]

This may be a reversible con­se­quence of the eco­nom­ic cri­sis – if the lat­ter does not prove endur­ing and pro­found – but it may also reflect a deep­er change as a result of the fad­ing mem­o­ries of Por­tuguese tran­si­tion to democ­ra­cy. Per­haps more impor­tant at the lev­el of the polit­i­cal elites tra­di­tion­al­ly favourable to the EU and enlarge­ment is the on-going impasse regard­ing the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of the Lis­bon Treaty. The con­ver­gence of these fac­tors may well lead to a more cau­tious Por­tuguese posi­tion regard­ing future enlarge­ment, par­tic­u­lar­ly regard­ing coun­tries that are part of the ENP, like Geor­gia, but have not been promised mem­ber­ship. How­ev­er, the promis­es made to coun­tries like Croa­t­ia, and oth­ers in the West­ern Balka­ns, as well as Turkey, tend to be seen as beyond the point of no return, and in effect essen­tial for ensur­ing present and future Euro­pean secu­ri­ty. That is not the case of the Cau­ca­sus.

NATO enlarge­ment is a theme that has deserved very lit­tle pub­lic atten­tion and debate so far. But the offi­cial posi­tion tends to be cau­tious as a result of the con­cern that this will lead to greater ten­sions with Rus­sia, which are seen as unde­sir­able for Euro­pean secu­ri­ty, fore­most­ly in terms of ener­gy secu­ri­ty. Still there is no sym­pa­thy for what many see as Russ­ian bul­ly­ing of small­er coun­tries; ana­lysts, how­ev­er, have also point­ed to the pol­i­cy of the Bush admin­is­tra­tion regard­ing Geor­gia, in par­tic­u­lar, as unhelp­ful and prob­a­bly hav­ing encour­aged, even if inad­ver­tent­ly, impru­dent Geor­gian actions. There was there­fore sup­port for the medi­a­tion of the French Pres­i­den­cy, which was seen as con­crete evi­dence that a more bal­anced and pos­i­tive action in the region was pos­si­ble, and that it was the best strat­e­gy for Europe. In terms of analy­sis, the inter­est for the cri­sis tend­ed to be con­cen­trat­ed most­ly on the think tanks that have a research inter­est on the matter.[3]




[1] See e.g. http://www.rtp.pt (Pub­lic TV): Geórgia/Rússia: Durão Bar­roso recusa regres­so à guer­ra fria e apela à manutenção das cabeças frias, avail­able at: http://www.rtp.pt (last access: 6 Sep­tem­ber 2008).
[2] See Bruno C. Reis/Mónica S. Sil­va: Report for Por­tu­gal, in: Insti­tut für Europäis­che Poli­tik (ed.): EU-27 Watch, No. 7, Sep­tem­ber 2008, Berlin, avail­able at: http://www.iep-berlin.de/fileadmin/website/09_Publikationen/EU_Watch/EU-27_Watch_No_7.pdf (last access: 25 Jan­u­ary 2009).
[3] See e.g. Gina Soares: A União Europeia no con­fli­to entre a Geór­gia e a Rús­sia, avail­able at: http://www.ieei.pt (last access: 20 Decem­ber 2008).