Sunday

22nd Apr 2018

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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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.

News in Brief

  1. Audit office: Brexit 'divorce' bill could be billions higher
  2. MEPs urge better protection for journalists
  3. Dieselgate: MEPs back greater role for EU in car approvals
  4. European parliament adopts new organic farming rules
  5. EU granted protection to half million people in 2017
  6. Report: Facebook to carve 1.5bn users out of EU privacy law
  7. Greek court ruling permits migrants to travel to mainland
  8. Commonwealth summit hopes for trade boost after Brexit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  2. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  3. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  4. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  5. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  6. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip
  7. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  10. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  11. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia

Latest News

  1. ECJ ruling set to end 10-year 'mouth tobacco' lobbying saga
  2. Whistleblowers, Syria and digital revolution This WEEK
  3. MEP friendship groups offer 'backdoor' for pariah regimes
  4. Macron and Merkel pledge euro reform
  5. Obscurity surrounds EU military fund's expert groups
  6. New EU party finance rules short circuit accountability
  7. Draghi to stay in secretive 'lobby' group
  8. Bulgaria offers lesson in tackling radical-right populists

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  2. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  3. Europea Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  4. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  5. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  6. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan
  7. World VisionSyria’s Children ‘At Risk of Never Fully Recovering', New Study Finds
  8. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMeets with US Congress Member to Denounce Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  9. Martens CentreEuropean Defence Union: Time to Aim High?
  10. UNESDAWatch UNESDA’s President Toast Its 60th Anniversary Year
  11. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Condemns MEP Ana Gomes’s Anti-Semitic Remark, Calls for Disciplinary Action
  12. EPSUEU Commissioners Deny 9.8 Million Workers Legal Minimum Standards on Information Rights