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Europe has to keep close watch on xenophobic parties, says Portugal’s Indian-origin PM

Europe has to keep a close watch on the rise of xenophobic parties as it counters the rise of populist forces by tackling the root causes of the trend, says Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

world Updated: Jan 06, 2017 07:10 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, the first Indian-origin premier of a European nation.
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, the first Indian-origin premier of a European nation.(HT Photo)

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, the first Indian-origin premier of a Western nation, believes Europe has to keep a close watch on xenophobic parties and counter the rise of populist forces by tackling the root causes of the phenomenon.

Costa, who traces his roots to Goa and will be the chief guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Bengaluru on Sunday, said the “very good” political ties between India and Portugal are yet to be matched by the economic relations, which he described as “almost incipient”.

India could consider Portugal as a “platform to address markets in Europe, Latin America or in Africa”, Costa said in an interview with Hindustan Times ahead of his arrival in New Delhi for a six-day visit beginning Saturday.

Asked about agreements that are expected to be signed during the visit, Costa said the two sides had negotiated bilateral instruments in priority areas such as defence, renewable energies, startups, IT, governance reform, the film industry and tourism. He did not give further details.

Read | ‘Proud of my roots in Goa’: Portugal PM Antonio Costa’s Q&A with HT

Costa, 55, the son of well-known writer Orlando da Costa, became premier in November last year after Pedro Passos Coelho’s government collapsed. The socialist former Lisbon mayor’s rise coincided with the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and populist forces in several European countries after Britain’s vote to exit the European Union.

He explained this by saying: “Portugal is a country open to the world, with a cosmopolitan and welcoming society. It is not a coincidence that I am the first Person of Indian Origin to lead a European country.”

“At the European level, we should carefully monitor the rising of populist and xenophobic parties in some European countries, while remaining confident that this phenomenon is not irreversible and should be fought against by democratic parties, both left-wing and right-wing, by addressing its root causes.”

Portugal has “no extremist right-wing party strong enough politically and the “racist and xenophobic discourse” never scored high in elections, he said. “On the contrary: our government stood ready to host more refugees than those who had been determined to Portugal according to our EU quota...This is why Portugal is today the fourth European country in terms of refugees welcomed in the framework of the relocation programme.”

Costa said concerns about Portugal’s economic health are “unfounded” as growth in the third quarter of 2016 almost tripled and “Portugal was the Euro-area fastest growing economy”.

Amid concerns among thousands of Portuguese citizens of Goan-origin about their future in the UK following the Brexit vote, Costa said they “have no reasons to fear any kind of discrimination”

Read | Brexit to hit Goans using Portuguese route to UK

“Regarding Brexit, the principle agreed among EU member states is ‘no negotiation without notification’. Hence negotiations will certainly not start before April 2017 and…will not take place bilaterally. Anyway Portuguese citizens living in the UK (currently, more than 200,000) will all be given the same treatment regardless of their origin,” he said.

Costa said strengthening economic ties would be a focus of his visit that will also take him to Ahmedabad for the Vibrant Gujarat meet and Goa. “In fact, in spite of very good political relationship the economic relations between the two countries are almost incipient. It is this that we intend to change…,” he said.

India can take advantage of Portugal’s experience in renewable energies, infrastructure, and environmental industries related to water, sewage and garbage collection, he said. Opportunities will appear if ties between business communities are boosted, said Costa who will meet business leaders in Bengaluru, Goa and Ahmedabad.

Costa also took pride in his ancestry, saying he was “deeply honoured” to attend the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas as a person of Indian origin and that his speech at the meet “will surely be framed by my roots in Goa”.

“I am planning to use the opportunity of travelling to Goa to visit my relatives who still live in Margão, where my father had his house. And I am also very moved by the fact that I will witness the presentation, in Delhi and Goa, of the English translations of two of my father’s books,” he said.