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EAD Lisbon 2016 - Q&A Session

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The 9th May 2016 the Faculdade de Direito - Universidade Nova de Lisboa organized with the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna and CesUE a MoreEU European Awareness Day at Teatro Tivoli in Lisbon, with an audience of more than 500 students from the Portuguese capital. The institutional greetings by the Secretary of State of the European Affairs, Ms. Margarida Marques can be watchedat this link .

After the first representation ever of “Europa: que Paixâo! História de um amor atormentado”, the brand new Portuguese version of the multilingual musical recital by Daniela Martinelli and Francesco Pigozzo (the prologue of the show is available here ), Professors Nuno Piçarra and Francisco Pereira Coutinho of FDUNL and Martinho Lucas Pires, PhD student at FDUNL, conducted a Q&A session with the audience in the theatre. The entire session is available on MoreEU YouTube channel here . In this article, Ms. Teresa Mamede - student at FDUNL, she worked hard for the organization of the event - offers a detailed summary in English of the whole session.

The idea of gathering three different generations (1957, 1978 and 1988) on the stage was that they would each have a different and personal perception of the EU and what working and studying in it implicates. The students showed themselves greatly involved in the activity and their questions demonstrated concern on a wide range of issues, from the present to the future time.

 

1st question ― I would like to know, in your opinion, if Brexit is a good or a bad thing.

Francisco Pereira Coutinho ― It's a disaster. Unity in diversity. The British are very pragmatic people and are very important to achieve some balance between Member-States. That is precisely one of the biggest difficulties. The UK it’s the oldest democracy in the world and functioned as a guiding light to the democratic consolidation in Portugal in the 20th century. Evidently I don’t think the EU is going to end if the UK leaves, but it will be a disaster to the European integration process. The worst about it are the reasons evoked to justify Brexit, ones of a xenophobic nature, a lot of misinformation going around, populist politics whose discourse is against the Union in the name of an irrational nationalism that should not exist in the 21st century. Unfortunately this an universal phenomenon. You all saw that Donald Trump won the primaries last week in the US. It’s very sad when we watch developed countries fall to the siren song, but we have got to have hope and believe that the referendum’s result is no for Brexit. There is one more thing that need to be pointed out which is there has been a lot of noise about this question for decades. Mainly after the Maastricht Treaty has been signed which involved further politic integration, strong isolationist currents have stood up against the UK belonging to the EU. That is why they don’t have the common currency and an exception system concerning free movement of people. That is also why it would be uncanny to me the “yes” to Brexit.

Martinho Lucas Pires — I fully agree with what has been said so far concerning the Brexit issue. Nonetheless, I believe that the referendum is also an opportunity for an informed debate in the UK and also to the EU itself to reflect on its problems. The referendum was summoned by the British government after the UK got a renegotiation of its permanency in the EU. Whatever happens, weather the result is positive or negative, I believe it will bring positive things to the Union as a whole, once it can lead to other forms of Union.

Nuno Piçarra — I just want to add two thoughts. First of all, I want to believe that the oldest constitutional state in the world has the majority of its electorate wanting to stay in the EU. If not, I think that means a second death to Winston Churchill, one of the main drivers of the European project. Initially, the UK did not integrate the European project per se. Instead financed it because in Churchill’s perspective the UK already had the Commonwealth. On the other hand, the integration project was supposed to include some defeated countries and others that were in the process of losing their colonies. The UK joined the Union for very pragmatic reasons. The Commonwealth was more of a symbolic union that didn’t have actual power on the international scenery. Since this happened in 1983 the UK was never a Member State like all others. In my opinion this difference is largely rightful. If all this translates in Brexit I believe it would specially result from the failure and incompetence of current British politics.

 

2nd question — Could you explain the advantages of being part of the EU?

Nuno Piçarra — The advantages of being a part of the EU for Portugal that were politically assumed are two: stabilizing the regime after the revolution and the development of the country. As to the stabilization of the democratic regime that came out of the revolution, the truth is that Portugal never lived under a consolidated democracy for so long, which fundamental rules are only marginally challenged by minorities without electoral expression. Therefore we have a lot to thank the EU for this stability. Regarding the economic development, over the last 30 years Portugal is one of the countries that most benefited from a very generous EU. When Portugal entered the Union, social cohesion policies reached its peak and we benefited from financial and development help that were crucial. Most of you don’t have memory of the Portugal I knew in the 60’s, of extreme poverty, high illiteracy rate, high child mortality rate, lack of infrastructures... Nevertheless, for a number of reasons, from a deficient political culture to politics that lacked leadership skills, Portugal didn’t make the most of what came from the EU. If we are in this situation currently we are the ones to blame, in my opinion. People from my generation didn’t have the capacity to leave future generations the legacy it should have left.

 

3rd question — If it is so hard already to tell young people to go vote, what can be done to improve European awareness?

Francisco Pereira Coutinho — We have to change EU’s structure. We need more Europe. The problem you raise is rightful and it is a result of the bizarre situation we live in. The people we vote for to govern us have very limited powers to proceed with their own political project because they have to share this power with the Union. You will also vote for the elections of the European Parliament that has gain more power over time but still can’t decide nothing on its own. Therefore the answer to your question lies in having a new advancement on EU, having a real European government that can address directly European issues. If we remain in the current situation in which we need to achieve consensus between all Member States to prosecute politics that affects everyone, whether they concern refugee policies, the economy or the monetary union, our democracy is going to be in a terrible situation that will generate alienation towards our politic system. The Union is still in construction and I believe the only way possible is forward. If you take into account Portugal’s geographic location you’ll realize that this is the only way we are going to play a role in the globalization process the world is living in. In the 19th century Europe Queen Elizabeth ruled three-fifths of the world but today, if the UK leaves the EU they will feel the disadvantages of not being a part of it. If we continue in the position we are today I believe the EU is condemned to a slow death.

 

4th question ― Recently was released the news that it will be imposed a fine of 250.000 € for each refugee not accepted. Shouldn't it be imposed by the Member States instead of creating coercive measures?

Nuno Piçarra ― Your question is very intelligent and very well put because it is based on common-sense criteria. It is shocking for the average person (that is all of us) that the European Commission would make such a proposal. Because this is only a proposal, there are strong chances of it not being put into practice. It's important to remember that the European Commission plays a key role in the European governmental system because they can submit proposals that address global issues. The EC doesn't always adopts the best solutions, like this type of administrative measures. I believe that all Member States should come to some agreement as to need to shelter people who need international protection, as is the majority of people that reaches the European borders. Even though it is crucial that the EU and the rest of the world find the capacity to properly undertake the refugees we can never forget that the consequences of the Syrian war escape the EU's control. There is not much the Union can do in this matter. Between yesterday and today Austria was swayed of the process of constructing a wall in the border with Italy. This was achieved through political pressure from a number of other Member States such as Italy and Germany and through the protest made by the citizens. This is for me a sign of hope.

 

5th question ― What can we expect from Turkey's membership application, since the country is divided in eastern and western parts?

Martinho Lucas Pires ― Turkey's accession process was, is and is always going to be complicated, not just at the geographic level since it has a foot in Europe and another in Asia, not just because of the economic and military factor, but because of the answer to the question "how far can the EU grow?". I don't think this problem is going to be solved in the next 5 to 10 years because of the conflicts that exist between some Member States. Even with all the agreements that the EU is making with Turkeys because of the refugee crisis it doesn't seem easy to me that this country is going to be a part of the Union also because of matters related to the rule of law.

 

6th question ― As we all know the unemployment rate is extremely high in Portugal in comparison to other Member States and youth unemployment is ever more worrying. Therefore, I would like to know what can be done to prevent emigration and how could Portugal and the EU cooperate to solve the unemployment issue.

Francisco Pereira Coutinho ― Youth unemployment is in fact a scourge in Portugal and in Spain as well. We also need European answers to meet this challenge. I understand we all want to remain in our country but the possibility of emigrating is real and one of the advantages of being a part of the European Union is that we can do it legally and not be discriminated. Nowadays you have the European Labor Market that didn't exist in your grandparents or your parents' generations. But the EU also has to find answers to address the problems that emerged in periphery countries, such as youth unemployment. This can be solved by us giving more money to the EU. One of the most misunderstood aspects of the European integration project has to do with EU's budget. It is very low and thus cannot respond to the disparities in levels of development between Member States. Not all Member States face the same challenges as Portugal. It's essential that the richest States give more money to the Union so there can be an income redistribution. Otherwise the project will fail.

 

7th question ― In your personal opinion, what is the most important thing for young people to be aware of when entering the working population?

Martinho Lucas Pires ― I think that is a big question to ask. In the face of what we have been talking about here today and because we are celebrating Europe Day, I believe we need to be aware that as part of the EU, and as Professor Pereira Coutinho said, we have lots of opportunities not only in our small country, but also in other Member States. Of course this doesn´t mean that things are necessarily better if we leave Portugal, nor that staying is necessarily worse. It is just a simple consequence of the free movement of people that exists in the EU. But wherever you go you´ll need to work hard and make an effort to be better every day to get what you want.

Nuno Piçarra ― I just want to add that especially for your generation that knows high unemployment rates, it's key that you know really well the area you intend to enter but above all have the sense of thoroughness, hard work, honesty and the perception that every beginning is difficult, so is the beginning of the working life. Today more than ever you have to forget some laid-back attitude that sometimes is instilled in your generation. Today the cool and popular professors are the ones that give everyone good grades and doesn´t fail anyone. Young people like yourselves have to prepare to the possibility of having to make sacrifices in order to succeed.

 

8th question ― My question has to do with The United States of Europe and the federalist system within Europe. We have already spoke about the potential loss of Member States and the gap that exists between north and southern countries. So I would like to know if you think it could be possible to have a Union of European States in our time and what would be the advantages and disadvantages of that kind of Union for Portugal.

Francisco Pereira Coutinho ― I’ve already partially answered that question. In fact the goal since the 50’s is to create some kind of United States of Europe. However, the path to achieve that was and still is very sinuous, since all Member States would have to lose more sovereignty. The biggest advantage of a Federal Union is that we live in a globalized world and we could be a part of a bloc that would serve as a leading light for democracy and human rights. I don't believe the EU has reached its full potential because we haven't solved some political issues. Everyone recalls when last summer all European political leaders decided the future of Greek people. It wasn't decided by European politics but by German, French, English etc. politics and that is a problem. We went through something similar here in Portugal with Troika which represented the EU but also a lot of its biggest Member States. These asymmetries have to be fought and that can only happen if we have more Europe, if we can have greatest redistribution of the wealth that is created by the Common Market. Here in Portugal we have the problem of being in the periphery. Just like in other federations the periphery suffers because the development and wealth is concentrated in some specific areas. Evidently, we are also to blame as Professor Nuno Piçarra said before but we definitely need more Europe to overcome the crisis we live in right now. The disadvantage is losing more sovereign powers. But in recent History we have demonstrated our poor capacity of self-government, we have made serious mistakes, so I wouldn't mind to give away more sovereignty if that means achieving something together.

Martinho Lucas Pires ― I would just like to add as to the question "what do we need to have a Union of Estates?" that we are already a Union of States, we are already a Federal Union to some extent. What we are missing is the refinement of that Federalism and to establish what we want from it. Sometimes the Union's problem is being too integrated in some matters and not in others.

Nuno Piçarra ― History does not repeat itself but History has examples in both directions: political unions that made way to a political power such as the US and others that became a simple colony to the Empire such as Ancient Greek State Cities. As to the EU, having a Federation of political unities that are so specific, so heterogeneous in its History, economic capacity, culture, is something new and in this way we can't compare it to anything that has ever existed before. The EU showed in the last years resilience and strength that some thought it didn't have. Still this doesn't mean the Union wouldn't disaggregate if these issues we've been talking about are not solved. People are the ones that will play a decisive role in History making here.

 

9th question ― Knowing that the Eastern European countries come from a communist economic model, I wanted to know if you think their integration was something positive or negative to the EU.

Francisco Pereira Coutinho ― I think that it was especially important for those countries integrating the EU. Countries such as Poland had an incredible economic development after it. There is a funny story that allows us to perceive the stereotypes that the public opinion often creates for no reason. When membership was given to this eastern States, like Poland, Slovakia, the Baltic countries, among others, there was a big discussion in France about Poland joining the Union. It was said that France would be invaded by what became known as the "Polish plumber". The Polish would invade France and the French would be out of work. And this was the campaign made by some parties, such as the National Front. After Poland's accession what we could observe was that this country developed and the number of Polish who moved to France was residual, it was precisely the number that France needed to take up its Labor Market shortcomings. This story reveals how a country that came from a centrally planned Soviet type economy adapted and right now shows growth rates much higher than ours. Poland is a very good example of success in European integration.

Nuno Piçarra ― I would just add one more thing to your question. These countries integration in the EU had positive and negative aspects. I am totally in favor of that integration. The current problems with some of them even makes us smile when we think that at some point the problem was seen as the "Polish plumber" because it was absolutely a false problem. However, it is not a false problem the question of whether the UE really has the capability, strength and dynamics to stop antidemocratic slippages in these countries. Eastern countries have evidently emerged after decades of being under the Communist regime and taking the first steps into Democratic is never easy. What is not safe and is worrying in my opinion is the role that the UE is going to have in preventing this situations that are already visible, particularly in Hungary and in Poland. Nonetheless, I still believe that it was unthinkable that Eastern European countries could continue on the fringe of the Union after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

 

10th question ― We have noted that the higher economic capacity of people from countries outside the EU, namely the USA and India, as well as the low price of oil, the epidemic caused by Zica virus in South America, the growing instability in the Middle East and in Northern Africa and the terrorist attacks that have taken place in some European cities, have contributed to an increase in tourism demand in Portugal. Our country, to lesser extent, has also been the target of threats from fundamentalist Muslim groups. To this extent, is the EU implementing security measures? If so, which ones?

Francisco Pereira Coutinho ― Your question allows us to touch the crucial points that we have to discuss nowadays. Security issues are now a priority for us all. And the answer is not easy. Professor Nuno Piçarra said before that the cause for the flow of refugees that we have now is the war in Syria. Syria is close to our borders. Earlier somebody also asked about Turkey's integration. If Turkey becomes a Member, Syria will be at the Union's frontiers. So the problem of the Syrian war is also our problem. But it is unsolvable because we don't know how to solve the Syrian war problem. Do we have the military capacity to solve it? Is there a European army to address it? The answer is no. We still do not have a European defense policy and this makes us rely on the Americans and the possible interest of the US administration to intervene. This is something that makes me particularly frustrated because the security problems we have are a result of terrorist threats which are a global threat and thus need global answers (which we don't have). We all remember the terrorist attacks that took place in Paris made by people that came from Belgium and from Syria. The Belgian security services did not warn French security services. Just take the US example where there is a security service such as the FBI. This makes it much easier to contain such threats and fight the problem at its source. In order to have this capacity in Europe we truly need to take a leap forward and waive more sovereign powers namely the ones that regard security and defense policies. Portugal fortunately has not been a victim of any terrorist attack, but this could change, we are very exposed. I hope that due to the scourge that has been in countries like Belgium and France, we can finally have some kind of development regarding the common defense and security policy that we currently have in the EU.

Nuno Piçarra ― Has you well know, the EU doesn't have military forces that would be capable of intervening in war. Even countries that do posses this kind of military force hesitates to use it since these places are in such an intricate situation. Nonetheless, the EU has the diplomatic route which is the only thing left to help resolve such conflicts. As for your question, nowadays the EU has instruments such as common databases and tools for exchanging information that makes fighting terrorism more effective. What I think is sad is that there must be a terrorist attack to take a leap forward in consolidating the prevention of terrorism and organized crime.

 

Post by Teresa Mamede, student at Faculdade de Direito - Universidade Nova de Lisboa

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