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José Manuel Diogo: Lula’s new term is a great opportunity for Brazil, Portugal and Europe, says Durão Barroso


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José Manuel Durão Barroso was everything a politician could want to be. Left-wing revolutionary, right-wing ruler. Peace negotiator. Chancellor and Prime Minister of Portugal. President of the European Commission and non-executive chairman of Goldman Sachs International, one of the largest banks in the world.

Today, between international conferences and global mentoring programs, he chairs the general assembly of the Portuguese diaspora and directs the Global Vaccine Alliance, Gavi, tasks he performs without any remuneration and which allow him to continue to have a global action.

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The ten years he spent directing the executive destinations of European politics, between 2004 and 2014, made him —like António Guterres, also a former Portuguese prime minister and current secretary general of the UN— one of the most influential Portuguese speakers in the world. international scene.

He has an intimate relationship with Brazil inscribed in his DNA — his father, Luís António Barroso, born in Rio in 1922, the year of the centenary of independence, was a Brazilian citizen even before becoming Portuguese — and the former Portuguese prime minister regularly visits his family who lives there. “At least once a year,” he says.

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Barroso is very optimistic. He says he believes that, with the return of Lula (PT) to the Planalto, what began two decades ago in Brazil’s relationship with Portugal and Europe can now be completed, with the chance of giving rise to a new centrality in international geopolitics.

This interview took place in Lisbon, this Tuesday (3), at a table at Cícero Bistrot — the same restaurant that welcomed President Lula and his entourage on their visit to Portugal on November 19, 2022.

She will be part of a series of conversations in which, at this iconic Cícero table, unavoidable personalities “from there and from here” will debate ideas, exchange arguments, anticipate future trends and understand the existing potential in Brazil’s relations with Portugal, Europe and the world.

How can Lula influence the relationship between Portugal and Brazil? I see President Lula’s new mandate as a great opportunity to relaunch relations between Portugal and Brazil, but also between Brazil and Europe. I do not try to comment on Brazilian internal politics. However, it seems to me that the relationship between the two countries, in recent years, has not been the best. Not that there were any problems.

There was no real institutional relationship between the two countries. Exactly. Not with Europe. These periodic summit meetings, which I instituted and in which I participated in several with President Lula and President Dilma, have remained, in recent years, in the “freezer”, so to speak. Hope this all comes back. Brazil is, in fact, one of the most important economies in the world, and for us, in Portugal, it has meant much more than economics. My wish is that Brazil once again becomes a priority for Europe and that Europe once again becomes a priority for Brazil. For Portugal, this renewed relationship should translate into an opportunity to achieve economic, political and cultural achievements.

When, 20 years ago, President Lula took office for the first time, the vision that the two countries had of each other was completely different from the one they have today. The world changed. Today, in Brazil, Portugal is given much more value than before. The relationship was nostalgic but distant. However, nowadays Brazilians are the largest foreign nationality in Portugal.

He chose Portugal for his first “state visit” even before taking office… There was complicity between the two countries in Lula’s first passage through the Presidency. This complicity was translated into agendas shared by both nations. One of them was the Mercosur agreement. I spoke many times with Lula about this. Both the president and Brazil wanted the European Union-Mercosur agreement.

Is Mercosur the biggest thorn in the side between Brazil and Europe? The truth is that, at that time, the biggest difficulty came from Argentina. Lula wanted the agreement, but he didn’t want to leave Argentina isolated or put too much pressure on the Argentine government. Here in Europe we also had France, which, due to its agricultural production, did not share the same enthusiasm as the others. Today the situation is different, also due to the position, already expressed by President Lula, in relation to the Amazon. It seems to me that there are political conditions to relaunch the European Union-Mercosur agreement.

Will the deal really come true this time? I was in Brussels a few weeks ago and I can confirm that this will exists within the EU. The motivations for this will even seem to me to be, in the first place, geopolitical. With the world more fragmented than ever, because of this terrible war in Ukraine, it is necessary to show that, in this broken world, two continents like Europe and South America can join hands and work. Not just in regional terms. Europe for Europeans and South America for Latin Americans. We need successful cases of international cooperation. Even to demonstrate that we are not condemned to lock ourselves up in our own geographic silos.

What do you need to do to start the process? Being Portuguese, I will try not to exaggerate our role. But, trying to be objective, it seems obvious to me that Portugal is important in this whole process. Portugal has a special relationship: affections also count. Not just the dimension. Realpolitik cynics sometimes defend the idea that all that governs politics are interests, but this is not true. I remember the issue of Timor-Leste. Everyone told us that the cause of Timor was a lost cause. “Timor is on the other side of the world”; “Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation in the world, how do you expect to achieve independence for Timor-Leste?”

The truth is that it was possible. It wasn’t just Portugal. It was, first of all, the Timorese. But with the support of Portuguese-speaking countries. I am not naive, it is obvious that interests are fundamental in politics. But there are also affections, passions and affinities that condition the way of doing politics and influence results that cannot be explained in any other way. It is from this perspective that Portugal could play an important role in the relationship between Europe and Mercosur.

He is saying that Portugal can have a leadership position in the process of implementing the Mercosur agreement with the European Union. I know this government well [de Portugal]. He wants to play an important role in Europe’s relations with the outside world and wants to participate in establishing an agreement such as Europe-Mercosur. The European Commission, with whom I was recently, also wants the same. President Lula, if he hasn’t changed his mind, also wants the agreement.

What can you do now? at the first summit [a acontecer no mês de abril em Lisboa], there will be negotiating teams that have to underline the existing difficulties and start working to overcome them. It will be a very difficult negotiation. Itamaraty is made up of very competent people and very tough to negotiate [pausa para risos nervosos], but in the end we will come to an agreement. Since the European Union is also not easy to negotiate, for 27 countries the agreement is not easy. But I believe it will be this time. This would be very good for Brazil, for Europe, for Portugal and for the international order.

It would create a new meaning for this international order. It is as if they were creating new transcontinental bridges. Exactly. Even because there is a real threat. I have used the expression: regionalization is the new phenomenon of globalization. We have a US that is increasingly focused on itself. Despite Europe having a good political understanding with Joe Biden, protectionist policies, which began in the Trump administration, still today have not completely disappeared from American foreign policy.

Not forgetting China and Russia. In China the case is even more serious, and in Russia the situation is tragic. Europe may fall into the temptation to close itself off, and Latin America may do the same. In this context, it would be great if there were at least one great success story. It would be the Mercosur-European Union link.

Let us now speak in more detail about the prism of the Portugal-Brazil relationship. There have never been so many Brazilians living in Portugal. Talking about 500,000 to 700,000 and estimating that it could grow even more. It is necessary to take care of those who come the most, however, there are many complaints about the inability that the Portuguese government has to process the demand that the country itself has created. This is an unresolved problem that exists in the Portuguese administration. But it doesn’t just affect Brazilians, it also affects Portuguese. I myself, a few days ago, as president of the General Assembly of the Portuguese Diaspora Council, publicly criticized this. Consular services, due to lack of resources, do not provide the services they should. But Brazilians in Portugal are not alone. The Portuguese themselves who live abroad have the same problem: either to import a car or change residence.

But it is necessary to solve this problem, it represents a big risk for the image of Portugal. These situations must be brought to the attention of the authorities, diplomacy, civil society forces and Brazilians living in Portugal. Nowadays, it’s practically impossible to walk around Lisbon, go to a restaurant, take a taxi —living normally in society— without constantly running into Brazilians: that’s a total change. When, 20 years ago, President Lula won for the first time and came here [a Lisboa] and I received him as prime minister, it wasn’t like that.

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