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).