Government sets out to ‘change rules’…
Portugal’s government has lost the first round in its determined battle to change the dates of the European elections. Now, it is setting out to try and change the rules that determine the dates…
What is the problem? The problem is that the dates, certainly for next year, fall between June 6-9, just before the national Bank Holiday, celebrating ‘Portugal Day’.
As Tiago Antunes, secretary of State for European affairs, has pointed out (repeatedly) this is “highly inconvenient”. The June 10 Bank Holiday is “not just any Bank Holiday, it is our National Day”, he says, thus the perceived likelihood of citizens being inclined to vote (in elections generally deemed ‘far away’) is much reduced.
That at least is the argument that the government used to try to sway ambassadors of EU member States this year. The attempt however has failed, thus the new focus on ‘changing the rules to avoid situations like this’.
As Antunes tells Lusa, over the past few weeks, Portugal tried “very hard with its European partners to find another date, on which everyone could agree”, with “diplomatic efforts at various levels and a very intense campaign, in conjunction with the Swedish presidency“.
“But, unfortunately, we had both the rules and the calendar against us. The calendar dictated that all the other states are comfortable with this date, and we were the only member state that raised problems, and there were even a significant number of member states that had this date as their preferred one,” he explained.
“In addition, the rules did not make it easy for us, since what is foreseen, by default, by omission, is this date, because it is the same as the first elections to the European Parliament in 1969, and to change it requires unanimity,” he stressed.
According to Antunes, despite Portugal’s efforts, “unfortunately it was not possible to find an alternative date that would have unanimity among the 27, and therefore the conclusion is that if there is no unanimity for an alternative date, the elections will take place on the default date of 6 to 9 June”.
The procedure for determining the dates normally applicable to elections to the European Parliament was established by the 1976 Act, which provides that it is for the Council, acting unanimously and after consulting the European Parliament, to fix the electoral period.
This period is based on the first ballot, held between June 7 and 10, 1979, and since then, the elections have been held during the corresponding period between a Thursday and a Sunday.
“Given this situation, this inevitability that we have tried our best to counteract and which has not proved possible, we are moving on to a second phase, which is to try to facilitate as much as possible the ways of voting in Portugal and, therefore, try to find ways that can facilitate, simplify and promote the exercise of the right to vote by national citizens in the European elections, which are very important,” Antunes said, suggesting one possibility could be early mobile voting on the Sunday before the European elections.
Portugal’s June 10 holiday marks the Day of Portugal, Camões and the Portuguese Communities. Three days later, Lisbon celebrates its city day, thus the government “fears a lower turnout” by citizens who traditionally vote in quite small numbers in the European elections.
Source material: LUSA