Democracy inevitably involves different opinions and often heated debate, but the nature of political diversity is much less toxic in Portugal than in many other European states, particularly the United Kingdom, Portugal’s “oldest ally”.
Portugal is one of the EU’s smaller and also one of its most loyal member states. Polls show that a significant majority of the population are happy to be within the EU, despite the harsh austerity and bailout obligations imposed on them by Brussels during the financial crisis.
Following decades of dictatorship, both mainstream political parties have been strong advocates of European unity since joining the EU in 1986.
The delegation of 21 officials heading for Strasbourg and Brussels to serve between now and 2024 will comprise nine Socialists, six from the centre-right PSD, two each from the BE Left Bloc and the Communist party PCP/PEV (CDU alliance), and one each from the conservative CDS-PP and, for the first time, the People-Animals-Nature party PAN.
When the leader of the Socialists, António Costa, became prime minister with a minority government in November 2015, he was dependent on the backing of the Left Bloc and the anti-EU Communists. Few pundits expected this loose alliance to last long. Yet the clear Socialist victory in the latest EU election was the first time a sitting government in Portugal won an EU election in 20 years.
The popularity of the Socialists has been spurred on by recent improvements in social services, education and transport facilities, and a great reduction in unemployment and poverty rates.
Their main rivals since the revolution, the centre-right Social Democrats, came second in the May EU vote but with a reduced percentage and the loss of two seats in the EU assembly.
The new Portuguese delegates will now separate into groupings with their closest political partners from the other 27 states for the start of the new session in Strasbourg on July 2.
The huge surge predicted from the far-right did not happen. In Portugal, the far-right barely exists at all, but the populist movement across the continent, especially in France – never mind the UK – is still looming and poses a threat to EU stability.
Conversely, there were surprising gains from Liberal and Green parties in the latest EU election, most significantly in France and Germany.
The upshot of all this is that the new 751-member European Parliament, of which Portugal is a small but staunch member, will be more diverse.
Let’s hope that it will be able to act in a much more positive manner in the absence of the UK, which is hell-bent on leaving the EU at the end of October.
In addition to many convoluted issues involving economics and immigration, the 2019-2023 EU parliament as a whole is expected to focus on reform, with greater emphasis on curbing such dire ongoing problems as global warming, social inequality and corruption.
Portugal’s mix of delegates can be expected to enthusiastically support such action, teaming up with the two mainstream EU groups who lost many seats in the election and no longer hold controlling power due to the surge in support for various independent and Green parties, as well as less dramatic showing by the far-right populists.
Although the overall outcome of the election is expected to make EU parliamentary dialogue more complex, there is nevertheless optimism that the new configuration will promote positive reforms, including more action on social inequality, climate change and environmental issues.
Between now and the next EU parliamentary election in 2024, the people of Portugal and the many citizens from other European countries who live here can look forward to a degree of unity and confidence unlikely to exist in Italy and France, and certainly in the United Kingdom.
By LEN PORT
Len Port is a journalist and author based in the Algarve. Follow Len’s reflections on current affairs in Portugal on his blog: algarvenewswatch.blogspot.pt