Germany and Portugal: Like-Minded Partners for Europe

  • Martin Ney
  • 31 July 2020

The relations between Germany and Portugal have thus been shaped for decades by a shared commitment to democratic values and a shared European outlook.

On 21 July we witnessed a moment of historic importance for Europe: After more than 90 hours of intense negotiations, the longest European Council summit of the European Union came to an end with 27 European leaders agreeing on a financial recovery package of momentous proportions as well as the next Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-27. This result lays the groundwork not only for the economic recovery from the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic – it will furthermore be instrumental in making our Union better equipped to confront future challenges in key areas such as digitalization and climate change.

Holding the presidency of the European Council, German chancellor Angela Merkel played a significant role in negotiating and facilitating this outcome. What tends to be overlooked is that for the past two years, Germany, Portugal and Slovenia have been working together closely on the trio-programme for our subsequent presidencies of the European Council 2020/21 in order to align our priorities and ensure the continuity of our efforts. On a bilateral level, last year Germany and Portugal developed an Action Plan for Enhanced Bilateral Cooperation identifying relevant issues on the bilateral and European level. It was signed by Foreign Ministers Heiko Maas and Augusto Santos Silva in Berlin on 22 May 2019. This plan also laid the groundwork for the elaboration of our joint trio-programme.

Since July last year when I took up my posting as the Ambassador of Germany to Portugal, one thing has become very clear to me: it is the strong commitment to European values what unites Germany and Portugal. Europe is our future and we both want this Union to work!

Our shared commitment is founded in our shared history. German civil society commitment in Portugal dates back as early as 1290 when a German merchant founded the St Bartholomew Brotherhood of Germans in Lisbon to help crusaders in need who had remained in Portugal – an admirable social institution still active today. . In the more recent political history I want to recall the 1970s when the support of former German Chancellor Willy Brandt and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) was instrumental for the re-founding of the Portuguese Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS) and thereby for Portugal’s transition to democracy. In 1973, dozens of Portuguese opposition politicians were invited to Germany, their travels were organized and financed. The result was the founding of the PS on 19 April 1973 in the West German town of Bad Münstereiffel, where the delegates appointed Mario Soares as their leader. And even after stepping down from his role as German Chancellor in 1974, Willy Brandt remained personally committed to backing Portugal’s transition to democracy and later lobbied for Portugal’s accession to the European Community, now the European Union.

The relations between Germany and Portugal have thus been shaped for decades by a shared commitment to democratic values and a shared European outlook. Not surprisingly personal contacts among political leaders are frequent and friendly. In 2018 alone Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas came to Portugal. Last year president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa visited Berlin and Rostock, Defense Minister Joao Cravinho just returned from a bilateral visit from Berlin and Foreign Minister Santos Silva is about to travel to Berlin in August.

However, German-Portuguese relations have more to offer than high-level contacts. The German-Portuguese Chamber of Industry and Commerce has been present in Portugal for over 65 years, facilitating business contacts, investment and trade between our two countries. With its DUAL programme, it has also been providing high quality applied training to the Portuguese workforce since 2011. Currently, there are 400 German companies operating in Portugal, providing direct and indirect employment to around 50.000 Portuguese workers. Most likely as a result of that engagement, I was honoured to receive the Premio EXPRESSO 2019 for the country that contributed most to the growth of the Portuguese – for the second year in a row.

Our civil societies are also deeply connected. Currently, there are several hundred Portuguese students of the German language at the Goethe Institute, which also contributes to the cultural landscape in Lisbon and Porto. Their most popular event, the yearly concert series Jazz im Goethe Garten, unfortunately, had to be cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The German Schools in Porto, Lisbon and Algarve provide quality primary and secondary education to 1.700 students each year, the majority being Portuguese citizens. Furthermore, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) currently funds four academic positions in Lisbon, Porto, Aveiro and Coimbra. In the field of research cooperation, Fraunhofer Portugal, funded by the German research organization Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, has been developing cutting edge solutions in technology and innovation since 2007, focusing on human-centered design, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Last but not least, our yearly German-Portuguese Forum aims to facilitate the exchange of German and Portuguese civil society on current affairs. Portugal hosted a highly relevant conference on migration at ISCTE in Lisbon last year, featuring a keynote address by the Director-General of the International Organization for Migration, António Vitorino. Our colleagues in Berlin are currently working on this year’s edition on the topic of reconciling green economy with economic growth.

The coronavirus pandemic is a tremendous test for our societies, the European Union and the world at large. Nevertheless, Germany and Portugal, together with Slovenia, have adopted the programme of our Trio-Presidency of the European Council 2020/21 over the past months in order to respond to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic while not losing sight of other important dossiers such as digitalization, climate change and guaranteeing the sovereignty of the EU on the world stage. There cannot be any doubt that this is a pivotal moment for the European Union. During our subsequent presidencies of the European Council, Germany and Portugal are entrusted with special responsibility for advancing solutions in these trying times. We already overcame the first obstacle of many obstacles on 21 July. I am convinced that over the coming months, together, Germany and Portugal will continue to play major parts in making the European Union fit for the future, in solidarity and for the prosperity of all European citizens.

  • Martin Ney
  • Ambassador of Germany to Portugal