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9.10.2002 Jorge Sampaio, Portugalin tasavallan presidentti: Small and Medium Powers in the International Society

Dr. Jorge Sampaio, the President of the Portuguese Republic
Small and Medium Powers in the International Society
9.10.2002

Ladies and gentlemen,

The paths of Finland and Portugal have only sporadically crossed, situated as they are at opposite and extreme ends of Europe. Now, as Member States of the European Union, we are partners in a common destiny.

This fact imposes a duty upon us: to transform a relationship of friendliness and respect, although distant and hardly intense, into a truly active partnership involving not only our governments but also our societies in all human, economic and cultural aspects.

Thus, the reason for my being here in your country. I am very honoured to be the first President of the Portuguese Republic to make a state visit to Finland and I hope that it will bring about a new dynamism in our relationship.

Finland and Portugal joined the European Union at different times and for different reasons. In doing so, they were aware of the benefits of joining a community that would bring the isolation and vulnerability both experienced to an end.

We belong to a group of medium states that are proud of and resolved to maintain their independence. Individually, each us is not strong enough to upset the balance of power and to weigh in the calculations made by the great and the powerful to determine their strategies of power and influence.

It is common voice that there is strength in numbers. If we combine our voices, we will be able to make ourselves heard.

If, on the other hand, we stand on our own, it will be easier to divide us. Each of us will tend to concentrate strictly on defending its own narrow interests. We will be more easily manipulated and pressured.

This is true not only within the European Union, in the current debates about its collective future, but for the European Union as a whole, when it has to make a stand in the major debates that agitate the contemporary world.

Today I would like to share with you some thoughts around which I believe small and medium states will find much to agree on.

In the first place, we believe in peace. War is, as it has always been, part of international reality. For war to be morally justifiable, however, it must always be the last resort. We cannot want peace at any price but should always endeavour to avoid war.

In face of an obvious act of aggression, as occurred on September 11, it would be totally irresponsible and neglectful not to react. However, if we are talking about potential threats, the case is not as clear cut. Invoking the right of self-defence in such situations, without proving the existence of offensive intentions and the imminence of an act by the other party opens the door to all types of abuse. The international community should think twice before agreeing to this.

Secondly, we believe in international law. This means, first, that we endorse the principle of equality between states; second, that we wish to build an international society where law comes before force, justice prevails over crime, equity is stronger than iniquity; and, third, that we believe in multilateral solutions to the problems affecting the entire international community, which no state alone can resolve.

The concept of sovereignty has evolved. Nowadays the state is not the only subject of international law. The universal acknowledgement that each individual has basic rights constitutes a fundamental part of our moral code, which has been engraved on our civic conscience by the barbarity of totalitarianism.

So, in the third place, I would like to say, and underline that we believe in human rights. We cannot be indifferent when human rights are trampled upon as occurred for instance in East Timor and in the former Yugoslavia. We cannot remain silent before political oppression, deprivation of fundamental liberties, violence and misery.

Of course there are occasions and circumstances when such principles collide, giving us difficult issues to resolve. For instance, is it at any time legitimate to violate the sovereignty of a state to put an end to unacceptable situations such as serious humanitarian emergencies or situations of genocide? Who is qualified to judge the facts and the circumstances?

It was precisely because no neutral instances existed with acknowledged capacity to judge that the founders of the United Nations Organisation set up the Security Council, the body charged with deciding whether or not an act of aggression or a threat to peace justify the use of force, with the endorsement of the international community.

The Security Council is not a court, it is a political body that does not aspire to neutrality. This is expressed by the fact that the five major powers are permanent members with right of veto. Nevertheless, their decisions have legal value and are a source of legitimacy. During the Cold War the Security Council was paralysed by the opposition between the two superpowers. This in no way made it irrelevant, however. On the contrary, once the world ceased to be divided into two opposing blocs, the Security Council rapidly asserted itself as a central body in which to discuss war and peace, and Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter, which deals with threats to international peace and security, was repeatedly invoked.

To ignore or bypass the Council at this historic moment would be a serious mistake that would divide international society for many years to come. The struggle against international terrorism requires patience, persistence and a great degree of consensus and cannot be confused with the fight against rogue states, or with a new crusade.

No-one challenges the danger represented by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, particularly in the hands of unscrupulous regimes. No-one ignores the brutal tyranny to which the Iraqi people are subject. We all agree on the need to make Iraq comply with the pertinent resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. And we all know that the Iraqi regime only understands the language of pressure.

Nevertheless I do not consider that we have exhausted all non-violent means to resolve this crisis, nor that the situation is so urgent that it justifies a race into war.

I would like to say a word about the European Union's position on this issue. Once again, when confronted with such a vitally important matter, the European Union was unable to present a united front. We must not despair, however. Even if we admit the exception of our British friends, I still believe that it is possible for the remaining countries of the European Union to come together on a decisive, core point, namely that in this particular case, rushing into action without the backing of a broad coalition and without the sanction of the Security Council would lead to great instability in the world, already deeply shaken by the consequences of September 11 and by a precarious global economic situation. We must beware of creating precedents that could then be invoked by others against us!

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to use what time I have left to talk about the role of small and medium powers in the context of the European Union.

We believe that equality between states is a basic principle that must in all circumstances be respected and defended. At the same time, our aim is to create an institutional structure that will deepen and consolidate the union between our peoples and enable the European Union to respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

Very soon the European Union will have more than twenty Member States, of which at least two-thirds can be said to be small and medium powers. I understand that this might cause some anxiety to the larger powers, leading to some badly disguised attempts here and there to govern the European Union through a directory.

I do not believe that these attempts have a strong chance of succeeding. The European Union is a community of law and it is inconceivable that it should exist in any other form. I do think, however, given the growing complexity of Community law, that we should clarify the rules of the game and make them more easily understood by our citizens. In democracy, laws seek to protect the weak against the strong, to provide equal opportunities for all, and to ensure that the common good prevails over individual interests.

Thus, we, small and medium powers, should not be wary of clearer, more precise rules. I would like to see the next Intergovernmental Conference adopt a constitutional charter setting out the basic principles of the Union in terms everyone can understand.

I believe that we must also find a clearer definition for the principle of subsidiarity, the distributions of competences and the mechanisms to resolve any conflicts of competence.

I am also in favour of a stronger role for national parliaments in the European Union, although in this regard much depends on each parliament's own interest in keeping abreast of European affairs.

I therefore welcome as very positive and significant the proposals recently issued by the Convention to grant national parliaments an ex ante right to monitor the application of the principle of subsidiarity.

It is a good start and one that paves the way for the idea of a second chamber, which I think in the long run inevitable, as an institutional expression of the principle of equality between states.

We know that an enlarged Union will force us to rethink the organisation of executive power. We must have a strong body with political legitimacy to safeguard the common good. I believe that, in this area, small and medium powers should defend the prerogatives and the role of the Commission. We want a Commission acting in accordance with clear, equitable methods, operating on a principle of rotation for the distribution of tasks, both at the level of the college of Commissioners and at the level of the general directorates.

We already have a tried and tested method to promote integration: the Community method. We are both small open economies, vitally dependent on external trade. We have everything to gain in being integrated in a single market, whose rules we helped draw up, in which the same currency circulates and where there is free movement of people and goods.

I believe that we must gradually enlarge this method to matters of the third pillar. The fight against terrorism and the combat against international organised crime, in a space where people can move freely, with an extensive external border, require strong co-ordination mechanisms and even common institutions.

European construction is an evolving process but Europe must come to some conclusion, however temporary, in the constitutional debate in which it has been involved for the last ten years. We must refocus the debate on more concrete aspects of the European agenda such as economic policy, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, increasing the Union's defence capacities and combating organised crime.

I have in particular drawn attention to the need to correct the deflationary bias in Europe's economic policy - putting the target of economic growth on a par with controlling inflation and the need to increase the defence budgets of Union countries. I believe that in this regard we should consider common investments that could at the same time stimulate the economy and benefit the defence effort.

We have an ambitious agenda ahead of us but there is no reason to falter. Despite the difficulties and the scepticism, we are forging ahead, assimilating successive enlargements and consolidating successes few believed in, such as our shared currency. The Euro is undoubtedly a manifestation of Europe that individually affects each of our citizens! The forthcoming enlargement will be qualitatively different from the others, it is true, and raises many difficulties and doubts. Nevertheless it represents a tremendous opportunity for over one hundred million Europeans and for the democratic states that represent them. It will certainly benefit and strengthen the Union, and help it to overcome its current internal organisational difficulties.

These are the words of conviction, hope and optimism that I wish to convey to you at this moment of transition in international life, so overburdened with tensions. We believe in our collective future and we believe that the European Union has a major role to perform in the fight, constantly renewed and never finished, for a better world, a world that will be more just, more prosperous and more peaceful.

We want to build a European Union sure of its values, firm in its convictions, united by common interests, attracting the allegiance of its citizens without stifling the democratic life of its Member States, an advocate of peace but ready to defend its interests, an example and a model for other regions of the globe. That is the European Union we wish to build for the good of the future of our two countries and 1 am sure for mankind in general.

Thank you.