terça-feira, 30 de agosto de 2011

EXTERNAL VOTE - tha case of Portugal

EMIGRATION AS A CULTURAL TRADITION

Portugal is among the European countries with the highest percentage of its population living abroad, around 5 millions out of a total of 15 millions.. Emigration is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it is a traditional trend since the age of Discoveries.
Notwithstanding its comparatively small territorial area in Europe and the similarly modest size of its native population Portugal projected itself over the entire world – across the centuries and in particular during the Modern Age – on a scale seemingly incommensurate with these two factors, territory and population. The embodiment of this global projection persist today, no longer as a strategy of the State but as a way of living of individuals inside many communities made up by emigrants or people of Portuguese descent settled throughout the most diverse regions of the world.
In truth, as pointed out by historians of several nationalities, the Portuguese were always a people with a marked international vocation. It was evidenced to the highest degree at the time when navigators tracked the uncharted oceans ferrying European culture to the remotest corners of the world, the unknown bulk of Africa, India, Japan, and South America and so on. But an international vocation was manifested even before the navigators and definitely continued after them with traders who followed the same routes, and emigrants, in the broad sense of the word, who left their homeland, with or without the incentive or the permission of the Crown; the first settlers in the fifteenth century of the Atlantic islands of Madeira, Azores, Cape Verde, São Tomé e Principe and later on Brazil, side by side with those who were in the process of settling amid inhabitants in Africa or in the Oriental Kingdoms.
In the XVI century, 360.000 out of an estimated one million people were already travelling or living in far away lands. The absence of one third of expatriates became a steady feature of our demographic reality, until now - all the way through very diverse circumstances, and destinies, the exodus went on, naturally with ups and downs. After the first half of the eighteenth century a new phase unfolded in the history of Portuguese emigration (emigration "strictu sensu") with successive waves reaching out to Brazil, by far the main destination, but gradually extending to other overseas territories, in south America , Argentina, or in North America, in Hawaii, in the Caribbean area.
From the 50's the targets of emigration shifted to the more developed countries of Europe with an enormous predominance of France and until the sudden rupture in mass departures caused by the world crises in the mid seventies over 1.500.000 Portuguese, preferred near territories, like Germany, Luxembourg, the UK, and later Switzerland and Spain. The majority left the country in a clandestine way, against prohibition or severe restrictions from the Portuguese government. A comparable number rushed in the very same conditions and at the same time, to far away countries like Venezuela, South Africa, Canada, and even Australia.
Emigration was always an individual choice, and almost always considered as excessive or disproportionate by the authorities, who tried to prevent it or limit its size by laws and rules, in practice never with much success.
As many authors put in writing, the one and unrelenting traditional emigration policy, was prohibition or limitation of freedom of circulation. Women were particularly discriminated, because family migration was seen as more prone to integrate definitely in the host country - which is of course true, but family reunion is, as we see it now, one of the fundamental human rights. It was not, of course, the only fundamental right then denied to them.
But on the other hand, controllable emigration was highly appreciated and indispensable as the level of remittances sent back was colossal and needed to the equilibrium ofpublic finances and also to the enhancement of the situation of the poorest rural communities and to the development of the country as a whole .The country, people and State, lived to a large extent on the savings and investments of emigrants. The links they kept with their families and their motherland were far and wide acknowledged, but recognition did not embrace a statute of rights, namely, political rights.
In the absence from the territory, the nationality was not lost - unless they adopted another nationality - but remained, in fact, as latent or dormant. As a consequence, while abroad, they suffered an authentic “capitis diminutio”
It was the spirit of the time, as John Locke had expressed it. Residence in the territory and taxation were the grounds for political representation.

TOWARDS A NEW STATUTE OF RIGHTS FOR EXPATRIATES

A modern perspective of the rights of expatriates in their country of origin contrasting to the old XIX century concept of "Nation State" (a sovereign State within its own territory)) could not be accepted by the ruling power in Portugal until the 1974 revolution. In April 25, a military revolution put an end to half a century dictatorship and, soon after to the last European colonial empire. In the context of a new democracy, free election was called in 1976 and universal suffrage, for the first time, included emigrants, as they were seen as part of the Nation. The Constitution and the laws reflected the change from the conventional principle of "territoriality" to the principle of "nationality", a concept that refers to membership of a cultural community, based on a variety of links, historical, ethnic, linguistic and other. “Portugal is a culture, not just a territory” once said former Prime Minister Sá Carneiro.
Freedom of circulation, the immediate setting up of a Secretary of State for Emigration in 1974, and the acknowledgment of the rights of expatriates to ample protection from the State followed by the recognition of their rights to political representation were a "revolution inside the revolution" on what concerns this domain. However not all the changes were welcomed by different political parties and opinion leaders.
It is still relevant to look back in history because it explains the reasons for different approaches and ample discussion and contest relating the extension of the statute of expatriates and the question of dual nationality. As emigration goes back centuries and is still going on, we have to deal with a very heterogeneous universe of Portuguese communities, having very different roots with the Country, from ancient "Diaspora", keeping mainly affectionate cultural binds, to recent emigrants, seeing themselves as full citizens, demanding greater protection from the State, more equal treatment and political rights. However, this does mean that first or second generation Portuguese living abroad envisage political involvement in the same way. Experience of over three decades of a democratic elections open to their participation at national level demonstrates that they all keep social, cultural and, even, in many cases, economic ties with the country, but not all are willing to engage themselves in politics. In fact, only about 200.000 are registered to vote in the consulates.
Registration is obligatory in the country and optional abroad – a sign that the option of citizens living outside the frontiers in very disparate circumstances is up to them, completely free and to be fully respected by the State.
That is why numerous experts, and politicians as well, make a clear distinction between the "national community", a space in expansion of several millions who are prepared to live up to their cultural and social heritage, and the "national political community", a much smaller circle composed of those who are also ready to participate in political life - a rather stable universe, after an initial period of moderate growing in the 70's and 80´s. A significant change of such diverse attitude towards national politics is unlikely in the near future. Nevertheless, until 1997 external vote was only allowed in the election of the parliament, excluding the presidential election, and elections at regional and local level. Fear of an overwhelming bulk of millions of voters from outside was certainly one of the main bases for strong opposition to full political rights to Portuguese expatriates -and more so, after the approval of the law on dual citizenship in 1981. In recent years, dread of such an unfeasible “mass invasion” seems to be fading away - a current and noteworthy trend.
Why only now? In all probability because it took time for the antagonists to realise they their suspicions and reservations were unsubstantiated. Preconceived ideas of emigrants, seen as an extremely conservative body of voters and of dual citizens seen as “outsiders” who could and wanted to gain vast, unmerited, unduly influence in the country’s destiny proved to be wide of the mark.
Now you know for sure that expatriates are simply, like residents, a moderate electorate, voting centre right or centre left, benefiting the two main political parties – the socialists being the major party in Europe and the social-democrats outside Europe.
Dual nationals register and vote as other nationals, in the same diminutive percentages…But .prejudice against them unquestionably delayed consensus on the vote for the President of the Republic. The prospect of them voting in that particular election was strongly opposed by the left in the parliament until 2010, actually raising questions of faithfulness, and allegiance, a sign that patriotic or nationalist emotions more than the mere issue of "power" were at stake. In fact, the Portuguese constitutional system is not a presidential one


DUAL NATIONALITY
1 -Dual nationality was really a main issue - as predictable, because its acceptance definitely puts an end to the last "dictate" of the Nation State concept.
Not only at national, but at European level, discussion on this matter is relevant to really produce clarification and assessment of orientations followed so far and proposals for changes with direct incidence on traditional concepts of States as regards nationality. International cooperation and agreement are of the utmost importance, because one Country cannot impose rules outside its frontiers and make generic provisions for holders of nationalities as the effects of dual nationality are concerned with all the juridical orders involved.
The so called "European citizenship", being a different reality, does certainly go in the sense of extending and sharing civil and political rights beyond national borders. "European citizens" are by definition nationals of EU member States. The statute of rights of European citizens is thus grounded on nationality, not on "territoriality", as citizens keep it wherever they live. It expresses an ideal of European fraternity in a framework of European unity in progress, that, as it seems to me, ought to facilitate the acceptance of multiple nationality, at least, inside the EU. The fact that member States may, for example, contest dual nationality to citizens who are also nationals of neighbouring countries lacks, in my opinion, coherence and true European spirit.
In all Europe we have to go beyond abstract traditional concepts of national rights to emphasize feelings and attitudes of expatriates about the potentialities of dual nationalities. People are capable of creating new bonds, new loyalties and exercising new rights, by remaining faithful to their original land and culture. The new statute of citizenship, inside the EU has to be seen as a different expression of the same capacity of “belonging”.
European citizenship has, regrettably, not made significant progress since its proclamation. If you look at the so called "Portuguese Brazilian citizenship" you see that it goes now far beyond the "European", giving emigrants of the other Country full political rights (vote at national, state and local elections and the capacity to be elected as member of parliament (congress) or to be appointed to the federal government, State or local government, or to become a Judge, up to the Supreme Court.
The Statute of Equality was firstly established by bilateral treaty in 1971 and not as a dual nationality agreement - Portuguese do not need to become Brazilian in order to be entitled to political rights, and the same applies to Brazilian in Portugal. The statute was extended to its current features, firstly, in the Brazilian Constitution as amended in 1988, by parliamentarians, unanimously, in a unilateral way, but demanding reciprocity. In Portugal consensus on such generous Statute of political rights was not as easy as in Brazil... In the Parliament I was, from the beginning, among the defenders of such meaningful and unique Statute of Political Rights made possible by the fraternity of the peoples, as recognized by the States. But we did not achieve the 2/3 majority in the 1989 and 1997 revisions and had to wait until 2001 to get almost unanimous support for the required amendment of the Constitution.(artº15 nº3).
From then on, the” Treaty”º, as reinforced and extended by both Constitutions is in force in both countries
Under artº 15 nº3 of the Constitution “citizens of Portuguese speaking States living in Portugal are entitled, according to the law, if reciprocity is assured, to rights not recognized to foreigners, excepting the positions of President of the Republic, President of the Parliament, Prime minister, President of the Supreme Courts, and service in the armed forces and diplomatic career.”
Unlike Brazil, Portugal opened the possibility of nationals of other Portuguese speaking countries benefiting of equal treatment and ample political rights, if reciprocity is given to Portuguese citizens. So far, it is not the case –it is up to each of the States to take steps to follow the example of Brazil and Portugal.
The Statute of Equality is not intended for all nationals, but for immigrants having the nationality of the other State. It differs from the European citizenship, because it does not allow full freedom of circulation between the two countries - you benefit, automatically when you get legal residence, by getting full civil rights. Full political rights are optional, after a 3 years period.
A most interesting feature of such outstanding Statute is that is based,(as the1971 Treaty, clearly put it from the beginning)on effective links, linguistic, cultural, historical, between the two peoples.
Let us hope that, in the near future, Europeans will be able go that far, for the same good reasons - their cultural and historical background

2 -In Portugal multiple nationalities were allowed in 1981.
The change was determined mainly by constitutional requirements - above all on what regards the effect on nationality of recognition of equality of rights between men and women - and also as regards naturalization, a request expressed by Portuguese living abroad with voice and influence in a new democratic "regime".
(Loss of nationality for women married to foreigners was determined mainly for preventing dual citizenship, for them and their children, allegedly to avoid problems and social disturbance...)
The Law nº373/81 recognises:

The equality of rights of both father and mother in transmitting Portuguese nationality to their children as regards the nationality of children born in and out of wedlock:
The equality of rights of men and women who wish to acquire Portuguese nationality through marriage to a Portuguese citizen:
Abolition of any form of deprivation of Portuguese nationality “ex legge”, by effect of law or by political act as regards dual nationals, by naturalization or by marriage with a foreigner;
The need of a personal declaration before the Portuguese authorities in order to renounce the nationality, in case of naturalization abroad (to prevent the effects of renunciation as imposed by other States);
Reduction of the possibility of opposition by the State to the voluntary acquisition of Portuguese Nationality.
At that time the "Council of Europe Convention of 6 May 1963 on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality" was still in force (stipulating that a person automatically loses his home nationality when he acquires the nationality of the country of residence).
Portugal was not among the 14 States that had ratified the 1963 Convention and the Portuguese representatives in the Council of Europe, both at governmental and parliamentary level, took a very active role in the debates in order to revise the convention.
In the 1983 in the Conference of Ministers responsible for migration questions, held by the Council of Europe in Rome, as head of the Portuguese delegation I had the opportunity to make clear that, for us, the aim of dual citizenship was not mainly to keep ties with the country of origin (because they are never lost, at least by firs generations) but to comply to migrants wishes and to promote their full integration in the host country, through naturalisation. As we saw it, it was in the interests of citizens and it was not against the interests of both States. They all gained by such an acceptance, because well integrated migrants may in fact bridge and consolidate closer friendship links between peoples and States on the way to improve their own status and their sense of belonging.
After the new Law on nationality came into force Portuguese emigrants in countries already accepting dual nationality at that time, asked for naturalisation right away. Canada was one of the best examples of mass naturalisation - a very successful process encouraged by Canada as well as by Portugal.
The 1997 European Convention on Nationality does not go so far as we wished, but it now takes a neutral stance, no longer avoiding multiple nationalities.
It is a significant change, and under the new Convention progress is taking place.
Under the 1981 Portuguese Law on Nationality (nº 37/81), based fundamentally in the "jus sanguinis", the descent of a Portuguese man or of a Portuguese women - under the same conditions - was entitled to Portuguese nationality. It may pass from generation to generation, with no limits, as long as the chain is not interrupted in one generation.
One main problem was not solved by Law nº 37/81: the case of all those who had been automatically ("ex legge") deprived of the nationality by naturalisation in another country or, for Portuguese women, by marriage with a foreigner. Retroactivity was out of the question. Reacquisition was facilitated by simple "declaration", but is fact the bureaucratic process was not that simple.
Indignation and protests followed in the Portuguese communities around the world and discussions went in and out the parliament for two decades, until, in 2001, the law nº 37/81 was amended to give them full satisfaction, - reacquisition of the nationality on demand and with full retroactivity ( Law nº1/2004)
A more recent revision (Law nº2/2006) did not alter its fundamental basis on “jus sanguinis”, but combined it with “jus solis”, as is appropriate and fair in a emigration-immigration country




THE VOTING RIGHTSI
in 1974 the new democratic regime wanted to include Portuguese emigrants in the electoral system, but the legislator did so in a very limited way, .I dare say in a tentative or “experimental” approach - just in the elections for the parliament and with a diminutive representation.
I believe it was the fact that the number of electorate from abroad never increased much and the awareness that the vote benefited both left and right parties (being fundamentally a pragmatic and moderate vote, similar to the vote in the country, a bit more to the left in Europe and more to the right outside Europe) that made it possible to get wider and wider support for a political "statute of expatriates", including the right to vote not only for the Parliament, but for the President of the Republic, for the European Parliament, as well as in national referendums
A mechanism of specific representation for the emigrants was set up in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in 1981– the Council of the Portuguese Communities (CCP), an advisory body that went through several major changes, but is still active and lively.
Disappointingly, expatriates are still excluded in local and regional elections. In this particular aspect Portugal does not comply with recommendation of the Council of Europe. The Constitution grants the right to vote in local elections only to residents.(artº239,nº2) On the other hand, the political statutes of the Regions - Madeira and the Azores – don’t yet rule the vote from abroad.

PARLIAMENT (ASSEMBLEIA DA REPÚBLICA)

In 1974 many democratic European countries conferred political rights to expatriates, but Portugal became one of the first States to provide them with specific representation in two constituencies, one in Europe, the other “Outside Europe”.(artº12, nº4 of the Electoral Law)
The division seemed adequate, as emigration was seen as having different characteristics in Europe and overseas –the latter more traditional, more integrated, and more affluent. European migrations were supposed to be temporary, or more apt to return in the long run. Up to a point, that was correct but differences tended to lessen as time went by – and in fact emigration in Europe became more and more integrated better off as entire families settled in the host country and many decided to stay for good.
Proposals have been made to extend representation by setting up a new constituency for Portuguese speaking countries, but they never had a chance of getting the necessary support in Parliament. The representation remains unchanged. Two constituencies,
each of them composed by two MP's (artº13, nº3). They are just four of the 230 members of the Assembly, regardless of the number of voters abroad, which constitutes the only exception to the rule of proportional representation as imposed by the Constitution in all national, regional or local elections.
The legislator obviously intended to prevent the effects of a potential increase in the number of electors from abroad and therefore of the number of their envoys.
Specific representation is seen as a privilege, .but it was at the same time, a very clever way to discriminate expatriates
Another exception to the general rules is the adoption of postal vote, often criticised as being more vulnerable to fraud, more complex and dependent on the not always very good functioning of foreign postal departments all over the world. Fraud was never proved and could hardly have influenced the process, because global results abroad changed basically in the same direction as did the vote inside the territory, helping elect or overthrown governments in more or less the same manner.
The vote in person has none of such disadvantages and it could considered more meaningful, but as, usually, voting is only possible in consulates, the distance of the residence from the poling stations is often a major obstacle.
This question is still in the heart of the most controversial debates, in and out of the parliament. For the presidential election the legislation imposes the vote in person and when you compare results you conclude that abstention is much higher…
In the last parliamentarian elections, in June 2011voters amounted to33.059, from a universe of 195.109 (16, 94. %). In the presidential election in 2006 voters had been 18.840 (10.7%) and in 2011 only 12.682 (5,5 % - the lowest percentage ever).
In 2010, the President of the Republic refused promulgation to an amendment of the electoral law for the Assembly, aiming to adopt the vote in person to the parliamentary election, on the grounds that it would, in fact, limit civic participation from abroad. The majority in the “Assembly” could have tried to sustain the position, but decided to acknowledge the president's arguments - at least for the time being.
To put an end to disparities in a system that lacks uniformity and consistency, to promote participation and curb abstention, the best alternative certainly is to offer citizens the option between voting in consulates and voting by mail, as legally recognized in other countries.
The Electoral Law nº14/79, (recently amended by Law nº 3/2010) stipulates in artº1, nº2 that” the Portuguese having dual nationality keep their capacity as electors”, but in artº 6, nº2 it specifies that dual nationals are barred to run as candidates in a constituency including external vote from the territory of a country, whose nationality they also have.
That means, for example, that a Portuguese –Canadian may be a candidate in Europe or in any of the territorial districts, but not in the constituency where he has the right to vote (” outside Europe)
It is a restriction that may prevent adverse reactions from countries, like Canada (as remarked by a Canadian participant in the debate on the issue in the Budapest Conference), but that seems illogical and unsupported in the Portuguese constitutional system, because artª152ºof the Constitution stipulates that Members of parliament” represent the whole country, and not just their constituency”.

PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC (PR)

The PR is elected in a single national constituency, all citizens having an equal vote, so it would not be possible to give expatriates a suffrage "less influential", as is the case in the parliamentary election.
Under the 1976 Constitution (artº 124) only residents in the territory were entitled to vote. It meant expatriates could stand as candidates in an election in which they were deprived of the vote.
The Constitution was revised in 1982 and 1989 by the imposed 2/3 majority, a majority based in two main parties, PS (socialists) and PSD (social democrats), but initiatives to include expatriates were defeated by the PS and other left parties in the Chamber. In 1997, an agreement between Socialists and Social Democrats finally introduced the vote for expatriates.
PSD focused on the external vote and imposed it as a pre condition to the global agreement. PS answered by proposing restrictions. A compromise was reached: to grant the vote, to those having kept "special links" with the country- links to be defined, according to artº 121, in the electoral law (also by 2/3 majority).
No proposal was approved by such majority until recently, so, in the meantime, "ad-hoc" agreements were met before each presidential elections, giving the vote to all citizens registered in the consulates, a low number easily accepted by opponents of the vote, to whom obviously the "quantity" of electors seemed to matter more than the "quality" of their links with the country, as required in art 121.
On the other side, Parliamentarians argued that the electoral universe abroad should be the same for all elections, the main argument being that the only proper and sensible way to prove special links with the county had to be the optional act of registration in the consulates. No, because the Constitution established a difference, retorted those who tried to appoint new and reasonable criteria to reduce the circle of electors of the PR, according to their interpretation of artº 121. For years the controversy went on, several different proposals, contradicting each other, were made and defeated. In 2005 an effort was made to come to a sort of agreement and exclude some categories of expatriates – but it was not really an accord good enough to last.... Exclusion was determined by dual citizenship and also by the period of absence from the country. The quality of elector was lost after 15 year of residence in Europe and 10 years outside Europe, in both cases a visit of one month to the country interrupting the countdown. Such obviously unsuitable and unrealistic criteria were rejected in 2010 and the vote extended at last to all registered electors - dual nationals or not.
They vote in person.


EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT

In 1986, after the accession of Portugal to the EEC in June 1985, , a first essay made by the minority PSD Government to give the right to vote to the Portuguese living outside the EEC territory, did not succeed. The PR opposed the legislation and forwarded it to the Constitutional Court. A majority of the judges accepted a tight-fisted interpretation of the Constitution, basically arguing that it only permitted the expatriates suffrage with an "unequal vote", a less "influential" vote, as allowed in the specific constituencies, for the parliamentary election.
Artº 121, as amended in 1997, obviously gave an "equal vote" to emigrants in a national wide context, and the old argument of the majority of the constitutional Court (never well founded in the opinion of a wise minority…), is no longer legitimate. Consequently, in 2004, a second proposal by PSD was approved in the Chamber, with support from right to left (the communist party being the exception).
Expatriates vote in person.


NATIONAL REFERENDUMS

The Constitution provides participation in referendums limited to matters "specifically" concerning expatriates (art 115, nº 12).
When it comes to interpretation of such restriction dissent prevails – the right half of the Chamber in favour, the left against.
No regulation of past referendums have included emigrants so far

THE COUNCIL OF THE PORTUGUESE COMMUNITES (CCP)

The CCP is a mechanism of special representation of emigrants that was set up in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, by Law -decree nº 373/80. It was the second in Europe, after the "Senior Council of the French Abroad".
The Council of the Portuguese Communities was also, historically, the first experience of institutional consultation and dialogue between the Portuguese government and its emigration and Diaspora. This Council was an advisory body of the government, constituted by representatives elected by the emigrant associations, thus it was based on the force and on the vital role that associations have in the construction and preservation of Portuguese communities abroad. It also included delegates appointed by trade unions and employer’s associations and experts appointed by the government. It was chaired by the Secretary of State for Emigration, on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Portuguese descent and even foreigners, if they were leaders of the Portuguese associations, were entitled to be full members of the Council. Recommendations were voted only by elected members.
As an entirely new experience, the CCP had to walk its own way, facing ruptures and breaks in its functioning, as well as radical changes in its configuration, during the following decades.
It played an important role, from 81 to 87, namely defending dual citizenship and voting rights, social protection and the school system abroad. In other more controversial political matters conflicts divided members, often reflecting party interests, and giving the wrong kind of visibility to the institution. From 88 on, the Government simply ceased to consult the CCP. The Council as a key partner in outlining emigration policies ceased to exist for a long time, as a set of very complex modifications were introduced by law in 1990, without effective results.
In 1996, the CCP was given a second life by Law nº48/96 in a completely different model. It was elected by universal suffrage, as other similar consultative bodies in Europe have been since 1984, when the French "Senior Council" changed to what was seen as a system more open to citizen's participation.
Law nº 48/96 opened participation to all those registered in consulates (several millions) and not only to nationals registered to vote - a very controversial subject, even inside the main political parties.. In fact, not many participants were gained in the context of such a wide universe, and abstention rose to a shocking 98or 99% -somehow weakening the democratic image of the institution.
Legislation was modified in relatively minor matters but, in my view, the CCP has not yet regained the "high profile" that, for the best and the worst, characterised its earlier life. But it still is seen as an important institution, where emigrants can contribute to shape policies and influence political decisions The Sub Committee on the Portuguese Communities promoted two successive parliamentarian hearings on special mechanisms for the representation of expatriates, in 2003 and 2004, the latter to debate the "upgrade" of the statute of the CCP, that counsellors and a few politicians would like to see written in the Constitution as a kind of a second chamber (the Portuguese constitutional system was traditionally formed by two chambers and the setting up of a Senate is a possibility but certainly not in the immediate future).
The law was altered, again, in 2007, and a new experiment is under way, the CCP being now composed by 63 elected members and 10 appointed by different kinds of associations or groups (associations from Madeira, Azores, from both Europe and outside Europe, informal organizations, etc).
The Council of Europe has also supported the strengthening of these mechanisms of representation, not as a substitute but as a reinforcement of representation of emigrants in the political and constitutional system of their counties. Their existence and their role were widely discussed in the "Conference on the links of European living abroad and their country of origin" organised by the Committee on Migrations, Refugees and Demography of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in June 1997, in the French Senate.
The report on the same theme presented and approved by the PACE in 2001 emphasises the importance of such mechanisms and recommends that governments "consider implementing new forms of representation at European level for Europeans living abroad, for example, by setting up a "Council of Europeans abroad" under the auspices of the Council of Europe".

Conclusion

Full equality between Portuguese living in the country and abroad has not yet been reached, but as the "expatriate’s statute" expands it becomes less and less a utopia. Emigrants belong to the nation and their rights, as international institutions, like the Council of Europe, as well as the Portuguese Constitution recognise, are a matter of fundamental inalienable human rights. At European level, it is at the utmost relevance "harmonising arrangements for the institutional and political representation of expatriates, for example, by creating a real expatriate status through appropriate legal instruments", as recommended in the above mentioned report.
We note that there are still host countries, even in Europe, opposing dual nationality. On what concerns suffrage, one of the main problems are obstacles to vote outside consulates.
Portugal has its only borders with Spain and no conflict with the neighbours. There are much more Portuguese in Spain than Spaniards in Portugal, but they all tend to integrate easily in the other country. Policies on dual citizenship, suffrage, social and cultural matters are not very diverse, but Spain sets a very good example to Portugal, being ahead in the recognition of voting rights at all levels, including Autonomies and local elections, and in social protection as well.
Progress, made in Portugal since 1974 was feasible, in legislation and in practice, in part due to our own domestic dynamics –the fact that the new inclusive system, counting on the participation of emigrants, dual nationals or not, worked out satisfactorily, proving that mistrust was not justified, and leading to a decrease of opposition to their political rights – but also to a substantial extent owing to the country participation in European institutions.
European cooperation and interaction is the key to d to further and broad-spectrum development in laws and procedures, both at national and international level, and also on what concerns specific representation on European bodies. As recommended by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe we could do with “new forms of representation at European level for Europeans living, abroad, for example, by setting up a Council of Europeans abroad, under the auspices of the council of Europe”

Maria Manuela Aguiar

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