Wednesday

28th Jun 2017

Focus

EU-disillusioned Portuguese see little point in voting

  • Jose Manuel Barroso - the Portuguese former PM has been too long out of domestic politics to get tied up in the troika blame game (Photo: Lisbon Council)

Abstention looks set to be the most certain winner in Portugal's European Parliament election, with a majority of voters unlikely to bother voting on Sunday (25 May).

The indifference comes after three years of austerity, imposed by international creditors in return for Portugal's bailout package.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The result is that although the troika of lenders – the European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank – has just left the country, most Portuguese have little reason to cheer.

The risk of poverty is rising while wages and pensions are not, the quality of education and health services is deteriorating and the social welfare system has been severely knocked. Unemployment is still above 15 percent and skilled young people are leaving the country in numbers not seen since the 1960s.

But despite Portuguese voters seeing at first hand how much impact the EU has had on their lives since 2009, turnout is set to be even lower than the 40 percent of five years ago, political analysts agree.

National politics set the EP election agenda

As in previous EP elections, the campaign agenda has been set by internal politics. This time the debate has been about what the government call the "clean exit", the strategy that it says will avoid an additional external loan.

"The most relevant aspect of this campaign is, in fact, not new. As before this one has focused on national affairs, blaming this or that, and individualising responsibility for the crisis," says Paulo Sande, researcher at the Institute of Political Studies in the Portuguese Catholic University.

Candidates have done the usual electioneering. They have toured the country, dined with supporters, dished up carefully planned media sound bites, and chosen the best angle for the shot of the day.

But little time has been left for discussing the EU's present and future.

"No time has been spent on the situation in Ukraine, the banking union, federalisation, solidarity," says Sande.

Meanwhile, the fact that the European Commission was headed by a Portugese, Jose Manuel Barroso, during these last years, has not had much of an impact among voters. A former prime minister, Barroso came to the commission in 2004, so he is long out of the national political scene.

However, a "small well-informed elite" retains some "hard feelings" towards Barroso in particular for not "softening the external intervention", notes Sande.

Although the Portuguese blame national politicians for the current situation, they have also been questioning the advantages of being part of the EU – although not to the extent of actually leaving it.

The country's location on the periphery of Europe and almost half a century of isolationist politics under a dictatorship, that ended only with the Carnation Revolution of 1974, are still strong in the collective memory.

This also explains why Portugal bucks the trend when it comes to far-right parties. There is a nationalist party running for elections, but, so far, it is almost electorally irrelevant.

"There are no signs of an outright anti-EU militancy," says Leonete Botelho, chief editor of political affairs in the daily newspaper Público.

Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the EU is decreasing.

The last Eurobarometer showed the Portuguese as the most unsatisfied with democracy in the EU, with levels of dissatisfaction rising up to 85 percent.

Only one third still believes belonging to the EU is a good thing.

Latest polls

According to the latest PollWatch, the centre-right coalition in government (PSD, the liberal Social Democrats, and CDS-PP, the conservative Christian Democrats) will lose two MEPs.

The centre-left Socialists, who are the main opposition party, are likely to win two seats, having not been able to capitalise more significantly on popular discontent.

These EU parliamentary elections will be remembered for the unprecedented number of 16 political parties or movements that are running for election.

Some of these contest the status quo itself but are not real political players.

"They are niche players who try to benefit from an electoral system that grants them public funds, airtime and media coverage. During the campaign, they have access to a national stage to disseminate their ideas and, in most cases, individual projects," says Botelho.

"Most of them are using these elections as a trial balloon for the next national parliamentary elections," she adds.

Meanwhile voters are expected to vote, as usual, for either one or other of the two main parties.

Traditionally a bipartisan country, "it's almost impossible for a small or new party to impose itself", says Sande.

The polls show that the staunch alliance between Communists and Greens will probably keep its two seats, but this will be an exception on the left political spectrum.

Bloco de Esquerda, a younger left-wing party that caused surprise in 2009 when it got three seats in the European Parliament, is expected to elect only one this time.

Botelho believes "there is still some margin for surprise", reminding us that one of the smallest parties (MPT) is close to electing one MEP, according to a poll, and that the reach of the recently created Livre is unknown.

Even though these questions will not influence the main results, the destiny of some votes is still unclear. Citizen organisations such as the White Revolution Movement, for example, are calling for electors to abstain, vote blank or vote null, in order to show "rejection of the current electoral system".

Portuguese people frequently use the excuse of nice weather for not turning up to vote. This time, just days after the troika's departure, they are more likely to simply say they are tired of empty promises.

EUobserved

When two worlds collide

Two worlds collided at the end of last week. The shrill, uncompromising one of British politics and the technocratic, dry, world of the European Commission.

EUobserved

Schadenfreude and fire-walking in the EP

There was outright glee in the EP on Thursday. It was time to dust off everyone’s favourite German word for pleasure in the misfortune of others.

Cameron mends ties with Juncker

British PM Cameron has reached out to Juncker, after having failed to prevent his nomination as European Commission chief.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEGet the Latest News from the 2017 Estonian EU Council Presidency @EU2017EE
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Talks Should Insist on Ending Reprisals Against Critical Voices
  3. European Free AllianceEFA Is Looking for a New Intern
  4. Malta EU 2017Conservation of Atlantic Tunas: International Measures Become EU Law
  5. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan Statin Therapy Interfere With a Physically Active Lifestyle?
  6. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  7. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  8. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  9. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  10. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  11. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  12. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  3. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  4. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move
  5. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  6. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  8. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  9. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  10. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  11. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days