Saturday, April 8, 2023

Crucial foreign affairs issues




Portugal continues to keep a close eye on foreign affairs all over the world, even though it has greatly downsized and is now just a small country on the sidelines of major power politics.

Starting from the early 16th century, Portugal controlled an empire that stretched from Asia across Africa to South America. After granting independence to occupied territories in the 19th and 20th centuries, it still has close ties with the lusophone nations.

This past couple of  weeks it has been quietly involved with other foreign relationships of even more critical importance globally. As one of the 12 founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1949, Portugal has welcomed Finland as the 31st member. Since Finland showed interest in joining the alliance and formally applied in May last year, Portugal has fully supported it as a way of strengthening NATO and consolidating the European Union. It amounts to a major change in Europe’s security landscape, all the more so as the war in Ukraine shows no sign of abating.

While Portugal is the most distant country from Russia in mainland Europe, Finland shares a 1,340 km border with the Russian Federation. It is roughly four times the size of Portugal with half the population. Finland’s accession to the alliance ended its history of military non-alignment. “A new era has begun,” the Finnish presidency said in a formal statement.

It continued: “Each country maximises its own security. So does Finland. At the same time, NATO membership strengthens our international position and room for manoeuvre. As a partner, we have long participated in NATO activities. In the future, Finland will make a contribution to NATO’s collective deterrence and defence.”

Another Nordic EU nation – Sweden – has applied to join NATO. Its population is almost the same as Portugal’s, yet it has five times the landmass. Nearly all NATO members, including Portugal, would welcome Sweden to the alliance. Hungary and Turkey are the only exceptions and they have been blocking entry. Turkey has taken issue with Sweden’s criticism of Turkey’s Muslim attitude to human rights. Even though Hungary, unlike Turkey, is a member of the EU, it is ruled by the far-right in contrast to Sweden’s government, which is made up of the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party. Hungary’s autocratic president, Viktor Orban, is pro-Putin, contemptuous of EU bureaucrats and firmly opposed to Muslim immigration.

Portugal’s Socialist government wants nothing to do with the far-right, including the Chega party that has been gaining momentum in its own country.

China has become another ever-present danger for the Western world. There have been rising concerns here even though Portugal and China have been on good terms since Portugal’s Age of Discovery. The reasons behind this modern friendship include Portugal’s return of the colony of Macau in 1999 and China’s keenness to expand trade with both Portugal itself and its former colonies. Thousands of wealthy Chinese - more than any other nationality - have invested in luxurious Portuguese property and gained residency here under the Golden Visa scheme.

The concerns now are that China has seriously fallen out with the United States and NATO, while it has close ties with Russia.  President Xi Jinping has recently had cordial talks with Vladimir Putin and, although China may not be directly helping Russia’s war effort in Ukraine, it has certainly not condemned it.

The EU’s President Ursula von der Leyen accompanied France’s President Emmanuel Macron on a visit to Beijing just before Easter to discuss bringing peace to Ukraine as soon as possible. Macron said the West must engage with Beijing to help end the crisis and prevent things spiralling out of control, perhaps even sparking Putin’s threats to go nuclear. That, of course, would push global warming even further into the background.

Brexit has soured relations between the whole of EU bloc, including Portugal despite it sharing the world’s oldest alliance, the Treaty of Windsor, signed in 1386. The EU fallout is crippling Northern Ireland because of a disagreement over the Windsor Framework that replaced Northern Ireland’s devolved government protocol.

At a much happier regional level, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa, went to Lanzarote recently to meet with his Spanish counterpart, Pedro S├ínchez, and preside over the 34th Luso-Spanish summit. The theme was "Portugal and Spain: Europe in the Atlantic". It was regarded as a landmark in bilateral relations. In addition to the meetings to analyse several areas for cooperation, legal agreements on new lines of joint action were signed.

 

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