I most sincerely thank the kind and inspiring words with which His Most Reverend Excellency, the Apostolic Nuncio, deemed to address me, on behalf of the Diplomatic Corps, as well as his comforting expression of confidence in Portugal’s future.
I would also like to thank you all for coming and wish you, and your families, a happy and prosperous 2012.
2011 was a tough and demanding year, with events that bear witness to the close interdependence that characterises current relations between countries.
Allow me to highlight two examples that I think are particularly illustrative of what I have just said: the systemic nature of a crisis which some insisted, for too long, in presenting as being confined to a single Member State of the Euro zone, and the spreading of the events in Tunisia to the whole of a vast region, into a phenomenon known today as the “Arab Spring”.
The financial crisis in the Euro zone exposed serious weaknesses and structural imbalances in the economies of various Member States and the European institutions’ difficulty to respond appropriately to the situation.
The degree of economic and financial interdependence was underestimated, and a climate of mistrust and doubt was allowed to grow both over the capacity of certain States to meet their financial commitments and the existence, within the European Union itself, of the means and the political will to guarantee the survival of the single currency.
It took time for people to see that the failure of the Euro would jeopardize the internal market, foster protectionism and weaken the European Union’s voice on the international stage.
To effectively overcome this crisis of confidence, European institutions and the Member States of the Euro zone will have to act as a true Economic and Monetary Union, in which, together with budgetary discipline, there should be a concerted drive in favour of real economic convergence, in which the necessary discipline in the management of public finances goes hand in hand with policies to promote economic growth and employment.
The most indebted and financially weakened countries have address the imbalances in their public accounts and implement reforms aimed at increasing competitiveness; those which have some room to manoeuvre and have a positive balance of trade should adopt more expansionist policies; the European Union has to promote a strategy that favours economic growth and the creation of jobs, in particular for young people; and financial authorities, namely the European Central Bank, have to guarantee the solidity of the financial system, the financing of economies and state, without a shadow of a doubt, its determination in defending the integrity of the Euro zone and the credibility of the single currency.
The coordination of the economic policies of Member States, foreseen in the Treaties, and whose reinforcement has been much talked about recently, applies as much to the requirement of budgetary discipline as to the need to promote economic expansion.
Portugal will play its part, which means that, as it has always happened in the past, it will scrupulously fulfil its commitments under the program of budgetary adjustment and structural reforms signed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. A program which was endorsed by political forces that represent over eighty per cent of the members of Parliament.
We are aware of the difficulties, which, while quite considerable, are not greater than our determination to overcome them. We are certain that Portugal’s success will also be a success for the European Union.
2011 was also marked by popular revolts that spread through Northern Africa and the Middle East, in favour of societies where citizens can freely exercise their rights to civic and political participation and aspire to a future of freedom and well-being.
We should look to these developments with the hope of someone who believes in the supreme values of popular will and freedom of expression. Therefore, Portugal condemns the violence and repression that continue to be used to contain people’s aspirations to a freer and fairer society, as it is currently the case in Syria, and supports all efforts aimed at putting an end to this situation, in particular those being undertaken by the Arab League.
Support for the construction of fairer societies cannot remain mere rhetoric. One must remember that at the root cause of many of these movements is frustration, mainly among the young, over the lack of prospects for economic and social progress.
The international community, in general, and the European Union, in particular, should therefore continue to lend their support to the creation of conditions for the development of the economies of the countries of southern Mediterranean.
Our challenge, which will be one of the most important of the current year, is to help to cement, on sustainable basis, the progress achieved in terms of freedom, democracy and prosperity, thereby reducing the risk of a return to the dark days of repression and deprivation of individual rights and liberties.
This was a year in which we had the privilege of hosting Heads of State of some of your countries, events of which we hold cherished memories and which constitute a very valuable contribution towards strengthening our bilateral relations.
It was also a year of Portugal’s earnest participation in the Ibero-American Summit, in Asunción in Paraguay, which marked the twentieth anniversary of the foundation of a project which became a reference on the international stage and an asset of undeniable strategic value.
My recent visit to the USA helped to further strengthen the very close ties and fruitful cooperation that we enjoy with that nation, both at bilateral level and within the multilateral organizations to which we both belong.
It was also, once again, an occasion to confirm the invaluable role of the vast communities of Portuguese and their descendants throughout the world in fostering relations between Portugal and the countries where they live, as well as their firm and patriotic determination in helping Portugal to overcome its present difficulties.
A little over a week ago, Portugal concluded the first year of its mandate in the United Nations Security Council. Fulfilling the commitments we assumed before your countries, we defend the greater transparency of this body and a reform of its working methods.
We have also furthered the discussion on the new challenges that face international security — including the forced displacement of populations affected by climate change, organised crime and pandemics — and on the way in which the Security Council can address them, in the context of conflict prevention.
I made a point of personally chairing the first open debate of the Security Council, under the Portuguese Presidency, on protection of civilians in armed conflicts. In so doing I wished to highlight the importance we attach to multilateralism and to the role of the United Nations.
I decided to speak in Portuguese, reminding that I was using one of the fastest growing languages in the world, which fully justifies being granted the status of official language in the different international entities to which the States of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries are members, including the United Nations.
In the last twelve months, we have had the general support of your countries in pressing ahead with the priorities for our mandate in the Security Council; a support that greatly honours us and for which I would like, today, to thank you once again.
2012 will also be an intense and demanding year.
First and foremost within the European Union. What is at stake is to defend the greatest asset that Europeans have to meet the challenges of the present and the uncertainties of the future: European integration, of which the Economic and Monetary Union and the single currency, the Euro, are, today, structural pillars.
We are confident that the European Union, as was the case in other tough situations in the past, will emerge from this crisis revitalised, stronger, more cohesive and better equipped to respond to the challenges that lie before it.
For the countries of the “Arab Spring”, the forthcoming years will be a time of reform and consolidation of democratic structures and institutions. Portugal, as a neighbour and as a friend, will continue to emphasise the need to effectively support this process, through dialogue and cooperation with the democratically elected political forces and through initiatives that contribute to economic and social development.
Throughout 2012 we will continue to give special priority to the further deepening of the relationship with our partners of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, supporting the efforts pursued in this regard by the current Angolan Presidency.
The Summit of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries in Maputo will certainly be a high point in the common drive to strengthen our community, making the most of the assets that we share in the approach to the challenges of the global and uncertain world of our times.
This applies also to the relations with our Ibero-American partners and to the strengthening of our special partnership within the context of the annual summits. I would like to reiterate my wishes for success to the current pro-tempore Presidency, held by Spain, our neighbour and friend, and reiterate our determination in making the Cadiz Summit another landmark in the consolidation of the Ibero-American community.
This will also be the “Year of Portugal in Brazil and of Brazil in Portugal”, which we look on as a privileged opportunity to further improve the very special bonds of friendship and cooperation that unite both our peoples and countries.
Throughout the year we will continue to mark the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Portuguese to the Asian continent, an historic event which has had a lasting effect on Portugal and on many of these countries, whether in terms of language, heritage or traditions.
These commemorations will be also an opportunity to further improve the bilateral cooperation we enjoy with our Asian partners, geared towards the future.
Within this context, I intend to make a trip to some countries in the region which will include participating in the commemorations of the tenth anniversary of the independence of East Timor.
We will continue to actively and responsibly take part in the discussion of the topics on the United Nations Security Council’s agenda, namely the Peace Process in the Middle East, where we hope it will be possible to achieve tangible and satisfactory progress, as well as the situation in Syria and the respect by Iran of its commitments towards the international community. The broader promotion of respect for Human Rights in the world will be one of our priorities in this regard.
However tough the international economic and financial context may be, we cannot forget our commitments to the less privileged populations of the planet. We should be able to do better and to do more with the resources available, which will only be possible through greater coordination of international efforts.
The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Growth is going to be held in June, in Rio de Janeiro. Twenty years after the first Rio Conference and ten years after the Johannesburg Conference, we will called to adopt an integrated approach to issues such as climate change, the food crisis, the right of access to water and the preservation of the oceans, granting them the political priority that they deserve within the collective strategy of sustainable development.
The growing interdependence between nations that I referred to at the start of my speech, the uncertainty that blights the world today and the global nature of many of the challenges that I have just mentioned require, more than ever, greater dialogue and cooperation between peoples and countries.
Throughout its long History, Portugal has been a country open to the world, a country of bridges to other places, cultures and civilizations. This is an essential characteristic of our foreign policy.
I want to assure you that it will continue to be so, in the name of a better future, a future of lasting peace, justice and prosperity. It is in the hope of this future that I would like to renew my wishes of a prosperous 2012 to you all.