Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The entry of Spain and Portugal into the European Community (EC) was the culmination of a ten-year candidacy. Leaders in both countries sought EC membership to help speed economic development and continue the process of democratization. Older member states of the EC wanted to ensure that the two nations would participate in the new Europe. Both countries had to restructure economically and make difficult policy adjustments, but both Spain and Portugal benefited enormously from membership.

Summary of Event

On the morning of June 12, 1985, Portugal signed the Treaty of Accession to become a member of the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). That afternoon, Spain signed the same treaty. A day earlier, the European Community (EC) Council had adopted a decision allowing Spain and Portugal to become members of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) by acceding to the treaty establishing that community. Together, the EEC, Euratom, and the ECSC constituted the EC. The Treaty of Accession was ratified on December 31, 1985, by each of the ten existing member states—Belgium, Denmark, France, West Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom—and the new member states. Portugal and Spain became the eleventh and twelfth members of the EC on January 1, 1986. This event is sometimes referred to as the “third enlargement.” European Community Portugal;European Community membership Spain;European Community membership [kw]Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community (Jan. 1, 1986) [kw]Spain Enter the European Community, Portugal and (Jan. 1, 1986) [kw]European Community, Portugal and Spain Enter the (Jan. 1, 1986) European Community Portugal;European Community membership Spain;European Community membership [g]Europe;Jan. 1, 1986: Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community[05980] [g]Spain;Jan. 1, 1986: Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community[05980] [g]Portugal;Jan. 1, 1986: Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community[05980] [c]Government and politics;Jan. 1, 1986: Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community[05980] [c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Jan. 1, 1986: Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community[05980] [c]Trade and commerce;Jan. 1, 1986: Portugal and Spain Enter the European Community[05980] González, Felipe Eanes, António Ramalho Pérez de Cuéllar, Javier

EC institutions were expanded to accommodate the new members: Sixty Spanish and twenty-four Portuguese representatives were added to the European Parliament, the commission was increased from fourteen to seventeen seats (two Spanish and one Portuguese), the European Court of Justice was increased from eleven to thirteen judges, and the Council of Ministers was expanded to include eight Spanish and five Portuguese votes.

The accession of Portugal and Spain into the EC was made possible by a new generation of European leaders who were prepared to broaden and deepen the EC to keep it competitive in a globalizing world. It was also influenced by political leaders and business executives in Spain and Portugal who wanted to democratize their nations further and develop them economically.

For twenty years after World War II, the West enjoyed decisive democratic advances, political stability, and remarkable economic prosperity. These developments largely skirted the Iberian Peninsula, however. Portugal was ruled by the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar Salazar, António de Oliveira from 1932 to 1968, and his authoritarian policies remained intact until a military coup d’état in 1974. Salazar’s Portugal suppressed political opposition and wasted resources on suppression of independence movements in Portugal’s African colonies. However, in 1972, Portugal signed a free-trade agreement with the United Kingdom and the EC.

Dictator Francisco Franco Franco, Francisco ruled Spain from 1939 to his death in 1975. Not as steeped in fascist culture as Salazar, Franco did permit economic liberalization in Spain during the 1950’s that helped the country to industrialize and urbanize in the 1960’s. Spain applied for membership in the EEC in 1962, but the member states refused to admit Spain until its political system was democratized. Franco’s subsequent efforts at presenting a democratic image were rewarded with the Luxembourg Accord of 1970, in which the EEC granted Spain a reduction in its industrial and agricultural tariffs in exchange for a reduction on industrial goods imported into Spain from the community.

Turning away from past political repression, Portugal and Spain officially presented their candidacies for membership in the EC in 1977. Portugal hoped to join the EC on its own, as Greece had in the “second enlargement” in 1981. The British government supported Portugal’s membership, but France opposed it, fearing Portugal’s prowess as an exporter of clothing and textiles; at the time, Portugal was referred to as the “pajamas republic.” The French government was also concerned about Portugal’s history of worker emigration. Later, France objected to Spain’s membership because of concerns over Spanish agricultural exports, Spanish fishing rights in European waters, and the sale of Spanish wine in France.

The accession negotiations lasted more than seven years. The agreements reached by the EC and Spain and Portugal are contained in the “Final Act” of the Treaty of Accession. The act has more than four hundred articles, twenty-five protocols, and thirty-six annexes, which indicates the complexity of integrating Spain and Portugal into the EC. The act established a transition period of seven to ten years, during which the Iberian nations could progressively adopt EC goals of free trade in manufactures, less restricted trade in agricultural commodities, free movement of capital and labor, a common value-added tax (VAT) system, and harmonized legislation. The period of transition was established not only to protect the less developed economies of Spain and Portugal but also to protect the existing member states from excessive immigration, inexpensive and state-subsidized imports (such as Spanish scrap and waste iron and steel), and unnecessary funding for structural adjustment. It was anticipated that it would cost one billion dollars annually to finance the memberships of Spain and Portugal through the transition period.


The entry of Spain and Portugal into the EC was noteworthy from many perspectives. Industrial export companies in the European core were the main reason all of the existing member states favored the geographic expansion into Iberia. The transnational corporations wanted access to an expanded, but secure, market that would grow in the future. The billion-dollar cost of helping Spain and Portugal restructure economically was less than 1 percent of the EC’s combined gross domestic product. The third enlargement also gave Europeans the satisfaction of completing a continental confederacy along Europe’s north and south axis. Although the added territory was relatively poor in standard measures of wealth, the land possessed a rich history, beautiful landscapes, and opportunities for leisure.

For Spain and Portugal, entry into the EC involved large sacrifices. However, benefits included higher rates of economic growth and a key role in international affairs. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) made the food produced by the two countries more expensive. The increased prices in wage goods forced a rise in labor unit costs, making the two countries less competitive in labor-intensive industries. In 1986, Portugal, far poorer and more backward economically than Spain, had to privatize state industries that had been nationalized in the 1974 revolution. Most of Portugal’s other industries were in low-demand sectors and, therefore, subject to low growth rates. Portugal had high rates of worker emigration. Also, Portugal had the added concern that it would be dominated by the larger and more economically advanced Spain. However, Spain suffered from high unemployment for many years.

Spain and Portugal tended to meet their EC obligations ahead of schedule. The two countries were among the first EC members to meet the standards for adopting the Euro currency; both states were substantially rewarded. Eventually, about 70 percent of the exports from Spain and Portugal went to the EC. Bilateral trade between the Iberian countries grew enormously from 1983 to 1993. Each year, Spanish tourists to Portugal outnumbered the Portuguese population. Finally, the international stature and pride of the two countries rose considerably. Spain began acting as an EC intermediary with Latin America and with the Maghreb countries of North Africa. Portugal became the EC’s mediator with Brazil and helped create a common EC policy toward sub-Saharan Africa. European Community Portugal;European Community membership Spain;European Community membership

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bliss, Christopher, and Jorge Braga de Macedo, eds. Unity with Diversity in the European Economy: The Community’s Southern Frontier. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. Proceedings of a conference titled “Economic Integration in the Enlarged European Community.” Includes chapters on the adjustments necessary for Spain to integrate fully into the EC and on the ambiguous policy response of Portugal.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rifkin, Jeremy. The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2004. Includes information on all aspects of the European Union and compares the new Europe with the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Roy, Joaquín, and Aimee Kanner. “Spain and Portugal: Betting on Europe.” In The European Union and the Member States: Cooperation, Coordination, and Compromise, edited by Eleanor E. Zeff and Ellen B. Pirro. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2001. Political history of how Spain and Portugal joined the EC, the adjustments they had to make, and their future prospects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Seers, Dudley, and Constantine Vaitsos, eds. The Second Enlargement of the EEC: The Integration of Unequal Partners. New York: Macmillan, 1982. Written when Greece, Spain, and Portugal were candidates for membership. Discusses pros and cons of each country’s membership.

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Categories: History