Amid warnings that Portugal's democracy could be endangered by a delay in Common Market membership, Lisbon's Premier Francisco Sa Carneiro emerged from talks this week with President Valery Giscard d'Estaing announcing he was confident his country will become a full member as scheduled.
With both Portugal and Spain slated for entry to the European Community (EC) Jan. 1, 1983, the Sa Carneiro government had expressed dismay when the French President raised the possibility of delaying the two countries' membership last month. Spain voiced similar disappointment.
In a direct reference to Britain's demands for substantial reduction in its EC budgetary contributions, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing had warned that the Community should "first clean up its first enlargement before starting on a second one." Although the British government only succeeded in obtaining a compromise reduction, the French bitterly accused their cross-channel neighbors of risking a breakup in the Community because of their "lack of fair play."
Wishing to spare the Portuguese prime minister the embarrassment of returning home empty-handed, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing reminded him that france has long favored European integration.
It was made quite clear, however, that the Community's agricultural and financial policies still remain the main stumbling block to any new partnership. "As far as Portugal is concerned," observed an Elysee Palace spokesman, "membership negotiations have already begun. They will continue in all Community domains whose rules have not been questioned." In other words, Portugal's membership must wait until the nine have thrashed out other problems.
Some French diplomats feel the EC moved too hastily in offering partnership to Greece, Portugal, and Spain -- all of which reverted from military dictatorships in 1974 and 1975 to respectable democracies. Ambiguous discrepancies in the EC budget were already well-known in Brussels at the time. But difficulties came to the fore only this winter when London began squawking about the "unfairness" of its Community contributions.
Furthermore, there is strong opposition in France, mainly among farmers who represent a major political lobby, to Portuguese and Spanish membership. Long grumpy over cheap agricultural produce from Italy, they fear the Iberians will seriously undermine France's protective market interests.
The Portuguese prime minister, who also conferred with Premier Raymond Barre and Foreign Minister Jean Francois-Poncet, arrived in Paris determined to go back with a firm guarantee of membership.
Faced with legislative elections this fall and a dangerously strong center-left coalition opposition, Mr. Sa Carneiro had turned EC membership into an electoral promise. This obliged him to exert as much pressure as possible on the French. He implicitly warned that a delay in membership might undermine Portugal's fragile democracy.
Prior to President carter's visit to Lisbon last week, the Portuguese government emphasized its "Altantic ties" with Brazil and the United States. "Portugal's membership in the EC is for us not the only possibility of development," a senior government official announced.
The Portuguese noted that an enlargement of the EC appeared to be a greater interest to Community members than those countries seeking partnership.
Privately, however, the Portuguese prefer to see themselves as Europeans. With roughly one-tenth of their labor force employed as migrant workers in France the Portuguese have tended to rely heavily on the French to blunt their economic disadvantages.
They also harbor a deep sentimental attachment.During the military dictatorship, numerous Portuguese intellectuals, politicians, and students -- including Sa Carneiro and Socialist Party leader Mario Soares -- lived in France for long periods. French newspapers, particularly Le Monde, are still considered essential reading for the country's educated classes.