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Mediterranean Quarterly 15.3 (2004) 95-129

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From Authoritarianism to the European Union:

The Europeanization of Portugal

Following long and often contentious negotiations, Portugal joined the European Community (EC) on 1 January 1986.1 European integration followed the establishment of democracy in Portugal, a precondition for EC membership. My purpose in this essay is to use the experience of Portugal's membership in the EC/European Union as an opportunity to reflect on what has happened since 1986 and draw some lessons from the Portuguese experience. I will identify the basic changes in the economy and society of Portugal that occurred as a result of European integration.

Entry to the EC has brought many benefits to Portugal. The country has successfully taken advantage of the conditions established in the accession treaty. EU membership has improved access to common European policies and the EU budget. At the same time, Portugal's trade with the EU has expanded dramatically, and foreign investment has flooded in. One of the main consequences of these developments has been a reduction in the economic differentials that separated Portugal from the European average. Since 1986, Portugal's average per capita income has grown from 56 percent of the EU average to about 74 percent. The culmination of this process was the participation of the country as an original founder of the European Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999. [End Page 95]

From the standpoint of European policies, EC membership mattered to Portugal because the EC's decisions had an important impact on the country. Indeed, some of the decisions adopted by the EC had an even greater impact on the Portuguese economy than some of the decisions of Portugal's national administrative offices (for example, on trade or agriculture). In this regard, entry into the EC allowed Portugal to influence decisions taken at the European level that affected the country and over which before accession it had little influence, and in any case, no voting power. Since its accession, Portugal has played an important role in the process of European integration and has become, again, an important actor in the European arena. At the same time, Portugal has contributed decisively to the development of policies and an institutional design of the EU that have been largely beneficial to its interests. Finally, Portugal has participated successfully in the development and implementation of the Single Market and the EMU.

The process of integration into Europe has also influenced societal and cultural developments. As part of quasi-sequential processes of decolonization, democratization, and European integration, Portugal has attempted to come to terms with its own identity and culture. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Portuguese have become mainstream Europeans, and that many of the cultural differences that separated Portugal from its European counterparts have dwindled as a consequence of the integration process.

Integration, however, has also resulted in a loss of sovereignty and in cultural homogenization. Furthermore, the implementation of the necessary economic reforms associated with EC membership was also painful and caused economic and social problems. Finally, accession has brought more economic and cultural integration with Europe but also fears, exacerbated by issues such as size, culture, and nationalism.

At a time when European countries are on the threshold of major changes, with an ongoing ambitious plan to integrate the economies of Central and Eastern Europe, the lessons derived from the analysis of the Portuguese experience should be instructive to scholars, students, and policy makers working on expansion and integration issues. Moreover, the examination of this case will shed new light on the challenges (and opportunities) that less-developed countries face when trying to integrate regionally or into the global economy. [End Page 96]

The article proceeds in three steps. First, I outline the historical process of Portuguese European integration. In the second section, I analyze the political, economic, and social consequences of EU integration. In the third section I examine the challenges presented to Portugal by the ongoing enlargement of the EU. The essay closes with policy recommendations to confront the challenges...


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