Monday

21st Aug 2017

Opinion

The small price of democracy

The Portuguese constitutional court recently rejected government spending cuts for the sixth time.

In June 2012, the court stated that since a plan to limit extra holiday and Christmas pay was targeted only at public sector workers basic principles of equality were infringed.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  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 Ratton Palace in Lisbon is the seat of Portugal's Constitutional Court (Photo: Portuguese Constitutional Court)

Four more judgements were delivered in 2013.

Among these, the court defended the Portuguese people, in many cases jobless people, by banning measures which would cause excessive harm, such as a tax on unemployment benefits.

This year, budget cuts, scaling back the number of public sector workers, taxation of unemployment and sickness benefits, as well as cuts in pensions paid to widows and widowers, saw the court step in once more.

These judgements place the constitutional court of an EU member state firmly behind workers and citizens and should give us all pause for thought.

In addition, the court clearly states that laws and legal principles which lay the foundations for legal certainty, and therefore for our very democracies and the respect of our fundamental rights, are not at the free disposal of the political class – even in times of emergency.

The constitutional court’s ruling is comforting. Fundamental rights, especially those on solidarity and citizenship, enshrined in countless national, European and international constitutions, basic laws, charters, conventions and covenants actually do have a meaning and a purpose.

The signals sent out to the entire EU indicate that these laws and principles may actually stand against free market principles and the “beyond-the-law-and-legitimacy-logic” of the economic adjustment programmes.

At the very least, they show that the world of economics and finance does not always necessarily have to prevail over social justice.

Here, the constitutional court seems more in touch with the needs of people than some of the politicians and governments elected.

Reacting to last year’s overruling on pension reforms, German chancellor Merkel and Jose Manuel Barroso, European commission president, said they were confident that “alternative measures” would be found. The immediate reaction of EU leaders to the court’s latest ruling consisted mainly of appeasing the financial markets.

Portugal's prime minster, meanwhile, said he is “deeply concerned” about the judgement and declared, according to the Financial Times, that he would “not allow decisions that ‘appear incomprehensible’ to reverse the important fiscal adjustment that Portugal had made over the past three years”.

This is an alarming approach.

A very legal debate

One may argue in economic terms that the tiny glimpse of recovery has proven the austerity apostle right or, that given the current economic indicators, austerity-driven policies alone will lead to even gloomier scenarios. But this debate is not purely economic; we have a very legal debate on our hands.

Legal certainty forms a strong part of the foundations of our democracies, our well-being and wealth and, in the end, any economic or fiscal activity we pursue.

If the law, its interpretation and its application is subject to the whim of European economic and fiscal policies, our societies risk no longer being communities based on the rule of law. The absence of legal certainty and, more fundamentally, the absence of democracy, would be the consequence.

Perhaps, it is time for the certain political actors to take a new perspective on these judgements.

The Portuguese court does not say that budgetary consolidation should not be pursued. It does not say that memoranda of understanding – or any agreements between creditors and debtors – could not justify certain necessary reforms. And it does not say that cuts and reform in the public administrations may not be needed.

The court simply states that if a constitution enshrines some basic rights and principles in black and white, then these rights and principles must be respected. This respect, just like democracy and the legal order, has its price – yet compared to the benefits, it is a very small one.

The writer is Secretary general of the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, CESI

EU needs lasting solution to refugee crisis

If we continue with the failed approach of the last two years then this could become a systemic crisis that threatens the EU itself, writes Gianni Pittella.

Young Poles can halt Kaczynski’s illiberal march

Debates are ongoing on whether president Duda vetoing two out of three bills on judicial reform should be seen as the opposition's success. But the protests brought about another, much less disputed success.

Column / Brexit Briefing

The return of the chlorinated chicken

Britain has only just started on the path towards a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, but you can already see the same all-too-familiar disagreements.

Stop blaming Trump for Poland’s democratic crisis

If you were to judge events purely on the US media's headlines, you would be forgiven for wondering if the Polish government had anything to do with its recent controversial judicial reforms.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Jewish CongressEuropean Governments Must Take Stronger Action Against Terrorism
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  3. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  4. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  5. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  6. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  7. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  8. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  9. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  11. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  12. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference