Portugal’s Socialists “just about the most popular mainstream center-left party in western Europe”

What was considered impossible less than 18 months ago has now become a phenomenon. According to international news agency Reuters, Portugal’s ruling Socialists “are now just about the most popular mainstream center-left party in western Europe”.

At a time when elsewhere, the European left is “largely struggling where it holds power, Portugal’s government alliance stands out as a remarkable exception”, says writer Axel Bugge.

“It is raising wages and gaining popularity and yet delivering the lowest budget deficit in living memory”.

Readers in Portugal may be aware of the ‘miracle’ quip by the head of the council of public finances (click here), but outsiders are more focused on numbers – and these for now are looking buoyant.

Says Bugge: “The unlikely alliance of centre-left Socialists and two far-left parties has overcome deep scepticism since it was formed in 2015, achieving stability and maintaining economic recovery at a time of political uncertainty across Europe”.

The article suggests that “most European governments of the left can only dream” of the kind of ratings Portugal’s PS currently enjoy: 10 points up from their share of the vote in the 2015 election, and “close to a level that would give them a majority in parliament were the country to vote again”.

Bugge adds that the rising popularity of the PS is taking gains not simply from the PSD/ CDS-PP which held on to power through the austerity years. Its left wing partners Bloco de Esquerda and PCP communists are also ‘losing ground’.
But there is a ‘grey area’. The article explains that while growth is up, unemployment down and the country on-track for admirable exit from the EU’s excessive deficit procedure, much of the traction has come from spending cuts in public investment – the effects of which “voters may not notice immediately”.

Cuts to this sector have been to the tune of 16.5%, to just 1.8% of GDP, “the lowest proportion since 1960”.

“Economists have also expressed concern about any further cuts to state spending on the likes of hospitals and schools” – though Costa has stressed that this year is the moment for a 20% increase on public works spending.

All in all, Reuters’ consensus is that the country that used to be Europe’s good pupil due to the fact that it toed Brussels’ hard austerity line, is now a protegé for the simple reason that it doesn’t any longer.

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