In Portugal, the EP elections will precede the National Assembly elections, that will take place in the beginning of October and from which a new government will be formed.
Traditionally, the EP elections are the least participated (attaining, in 2014, a record of 66% voters’ abstention) and are mostly addressed from an internal perspective, i.e., the electorate tends to show its content/discontent regarding Portuguese politics, rather than responding to the European programmes proposed. Therefore, it is expected that voters will tend to focus on the campaign more on the perspective of the impacts that EU policies and treaties have in Portugal, rather than on discussion about the European Union project itself.
The current Portuguese political situation
The Portuguese government that came out from the 2015 National Assembly elections, known as “Geringonça” (“Contraption”), is a peculiar political centre-left situation: a minoritary government ruled by the Socialist Party with the support of the two left parties with parliamentary representation: Bloco de Esquerda and CDU (the coalition of the Communist Portuguese Party and the Greens). In 2015, Geringonça was the pragmatic political barrier to prevent the coalition between the two major right wing parties (PSD and CDS), which governed the country during the Troika years, from being government. Whilst in office, the Socialist party has played a role similar to that of a circus contortionist: in one hand trying to comply with the EU policies and restraints and, on the other hand, meeting the demands of Bloco and CDU of Troika’s imposed cuts’ reversal, salaries and pension increase, more public investment, etc.
As result of losing power, Pedro Passos Coelho, the former Portuguese prime-minister and a fervent supporter of the neoliberal European austerity, resigned from the leadership of the party and was succeeded by Rui Rio, who supports a more centre-right view of the party. This leadership has led the party into a profound crisis with some members resigning and forming two new political parties, that will run for the EP elections: Aliança, lead by Pedro Santana Lopes, a former leader and short-term prime-minister of PSD, and Chega – still awaiting for the Constitutional Court’s approval - lead by André Ventura, a city council in a town near Lisbon (Loures). Both of these new parties adopt a populist narrative, with Aliança being an openly neoliberal party and Chega adopting a pretty close to the far-right populist narrative.
The forthcoming EP elections in Portugal – candidates, programmes and polls
So far, all the major Portuguese political parties, except the Socialist Party, have already presented their leading candidates for the European Parliamentary elections.
All of them keep the same leading candidates as in 2014: PSD, member of the European Peoples’ Party group, presents Paulo Rangel (vice-chair of the EPP); CDS, also member of EPP, presents Nuno Melo; CDU, member of GUE/NGL with 3 MEPs has again as leading candidate João Ferreira and Marisa Matias (from GUE/NGL) is the leading candidate of Bloco de Esquerda. Although not formally disclosed, the chances are that the leading candidate of the Socialist Party, member of the S&D, will be Pedro Marques, currently Minister of Planning in the Portuguese government.
In 2014, PSD and CDS presented themselves to the EP elections in coalition and PSD elected 7 MEPs whereas CDS elected 1 MEP. The polls point to the possibility of PSD having a disastrous result (around 20%), with 5 to 7 MEPs and CDS having 8.4% (close to the score of 2009), and the election of 2 or 3 MEPs. The increase of the European parliamentary representation of CDS is the major goal of this party, that has an anti-federalist view of the EU, in opposition to PSD.
Regarding the coalition of the Communists (CDU), nothing really new is expected to take place: according to the polls, CDU will attain the same European parliamentary representation of 3 MEPs and, although defining the candidacy as not being “anti-europeist”, the coalition campaign’s discourse encompasses harsh criticisms regarding the EU and its institutions, which converted the troika policies into doctrine. The Communists and Greens defend an alternative to the EU based on sovereignty and equality between states, oriented towards social and economic development and for the promotion of peace and solidarity. In terms of program the priorities are debt renegotiation and exit the Euro zone. From the 2014-2019 EP term João Ferreira draws three main conclusions: 1) the economical Portuguese improvement attained these past years was only possible progressive because they opposed the EU; 2) EU’s policies, orientations and impositions, especially those associated with the Euro, prevent the country from solving its structural problems; 3) the need for a profound change at the level of the Portuguese policies, with clear confrontation with EU’s policies and impositions.
According to the polls Bloco de Esquerda’s goal of enlarging its EP representation is feasible. Bloco runs for the 2019 EP election as part of the Now the People’s movement, together with France Insoumise and Podemos, assuming a very harsh criticism of the EU treaties – especially the Budgetary Treaty -, to the lack of democracy of the European institutions and the claim for national sovereignty (defined as broader spaces for national policies decision). From Bloco’s perspective, the improvements on the social and economic Portuguese situation over the past four years are a clear demonstration that the austerity strategy of the EU is wrong, and yet is a lesson that the EU is not willing to take. Therefore, Bloco assumes a narrative of clear confrontation with the EU institutions and treaties.
Given the traditional high percentage of non-voters in the EP elections in Portugal, it should be stressed that, at this moment, it is very difficult to have a clear perspective of the outcome of these elections in Portugal. Although the traditional centre-left electorate is expected to be kept, the recently formed or about to be formed populist parties may play an important role in the design of the right wing electorate, gathering support from previous PSD voters but also by reaching out former non-voters. The possibility of having, for the first time, a relevant far-right electoral score cannot be discarded but surely the campaign will bring some light on this particular issue.
By Tatiana Moutinho, President of Cultra and facilitator of the "Strategies for the European South" project of transform!