At the beginning of the 1990s, Portugal's relations with Western Europe were closer than ever before. Historically, Portugal had remained aloof from Europe, its main link to the continent being a long-standing alliance with Britain. In 1949 Portugal became a founding member of NATO, in 1955 it joined the United Nations (UN), in 1960 it became a part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), and the following year joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Portugal signed a free-trade agreement with the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1972 and gained admittance to the Council of Europe in 1976. In 1988 Portugal became a member of the Western European Union (WEU).
Portugal's application to the EC in 1977 marked a major change in its relationship with Europe. After years of negotiations, it was granted admission on January 1, 1986. Becoming part of EC affected not only the country's economy but also government and society. As the poorest member of the EC, Portugal would receive large grants from the EC bodies to bring the country's infrastructure, living conditions, and education up to the level of the community's other members. The formation of the EC's single market in 1993 would be another step toward Portugal's integration into Europe.
As a result of these and many other international ties, traditional issues of whether Portugal would be First, Second, or Third World, socialist or capitalist, European or South Atlanticist were no longer issues at the beginning of the 1990s. Portugal had become part of the community of Western, European, democratic states. Nevertheless, Portuguese worried at times whether their country's identity might be lost in this larger community and whether its industry and commerce would be able to compete in the large tariff-free single market. Although it had prospered since it joined the EC in 1986, the real economic challenges would come in the 1990s.
EC membership had meant that Portugal had close voluntary relations with Spain for the first time in its history. Until then Portugal had maintained a wary distance from its large neighbor, although once, against its will, it had actually been a part of Spain for sixty years (1580-1640). For the most part, however, Portugal looked to its alliance with Britain for support in remaining independent. Although the Portuguese no longer believed that Spain posed a military threat, they were concerned that the stronger Spanish economy could gradually absorb them.
After the revolution, relations between the two countries were tense at times. As a means of tempering disputes, a treaty of 1977 set up a Luso-Iberian Council to promote cooperation. In addition, the countries' prime ministers have held occasional summit meetings since 1983. The most serious disagreements have centered on the access of Spain's modern fishing fleet to Portuguese waters. Spain won on this issue but made some economic concessions to Portugal in return.
Some of the tensions between Portugal and Spain during the 1980s had a military origin, however. When Spain joined NATO in 1982, the Portuguese feared that an Iberian Command would be created with the result that Portuguese forces would come under the control of Madrid. Portuguese objections to this proposal ended when Spain was included under the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). Portugal kept its long-standing role under NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic (SACLANT).
Portuguese ties with Britain, also an Atlantic power, dated from the signing in 1386 of the Treaty of Windsor, the longestlasting alliance in the Western world. The two countries had long secured mutual benefits from this treaty. Portugal sought British protection against Spain and later France; Britain saw Portugal as its point of access on the European continent when other avenues were closed. This was the case at times during the Napoleonic period and during World War II when Britain was allowed to use the Azores for military purposes. Also binding the countries together was substantial British investment over the centuries, most notably in Portugal's wine and port industries.
Portugal traditionally maintained good relations with France, mainly to balance Spain's power. Portugal also had strong feelings of affinity with France, and French intellectual trends had a steady following in Lisbon. French influence was seen in the Portuguese legal system and administrative system. Until recently, when it was displaced by English, French was the second language of educated Portuguese. Many working-class Portuguese also had links with France. During the 1950s and 1960s, some three-quarters of a million Portuguese emigrated to that country in search of work.
|Country Studies main page | Portugal Country Studies main page|