terça-feira, 13 de outubro de 2015

Portuguese elections: isolated event or turning point for Europe?

My first collaboration with FEPS and the Queries Magazine, in the Millenial Progressive Dialogue Initiative. Full link here.

Next Sunday the Portuguese people will vote on what can be considered as one of the most disputed parliamentary elections of the last two decades. With abstention playing a major role, since figures have consistently increased from one election to the other, recent polls, as controversial as they have been, all seem to point to a large number of undecided voters.

This election could be just another unnoticed event in yet another austerity smashed Southern European country, with no real impact on the direction of EU policies. However, this election can be a decisive turnout point in the course of action of social democratic parties and policies. So, what is turning this regular and ordinary election into such an extraordinary event?

Austerity pack

Alongside with Greece, Portugal was one of the countries most hard-hit by the strong austerity measures imposed by the troika. Over the last four years, the Portuguese government has been extremely cooperative and willing to implement the measures that the IMF, the European Commission and the ECB have set as goals for the country. What is more, several statements by Portuguese government officials, including the Prime minister, have demonstrated a strange willingness to implement even harsher policies than those asked by the troika. However, an economic assessment of these measures after four years can show a country with a higher external and public debt, same deficit in 2014 as in 2011, and a repeated failure in achieving the set out goals of public expenditure and budget deficit. On a social level, Portugal has lost over 200.000 jobs, leading to roaring unemployment figures, particularly high among the young population, which in turn caused the Portuguese population to emigrate to levels higher than those estimated during the 1960’s, under the fascist regime and colonial war. Thus, the result of these elections will clearly indicate the acceptance or rejection of austerity measures, sending a strong message for Europe to hear.

What kind of state?

Never before as in these elections, two so very different visions of State have clashed. Over the last four years, the right-wing Government made several attempts to reduce the size of the State to its minimum: cuts on public expenditure, namely in education – which has cost the country a downfall in several of the OECD PISA indicators –, on the national healthcare system – increasing the waiting list for surgeries and everyday appointments in public hospitals or decreasing the number of nurses and doctors per patient, as well as the general time for recovery at the hospital –, and on social benefits – such as unemployment, pensions or sick leave. Adding to all of this, the average salary decreased, being now more than half of the European average, leaving Portugal with a lower average salary than Spain or Greece. In this election, the Socialist Party has clearly put emphasis on defining what kind of State we want for the future, hence setting another important discussion on a European level, and a decisive one for that matter. Will Brussels continue to promote a minimalistic State even it the majority of States oppose it? Is the minimum State model capable of promoting one of Europe’s biggest achievements after WWII, that is, the reduction of inequalities between the richer and the poorer?

The future of Europe & the future of social democracy

Which Europe do we want to build? More or less integration, which kind of powers shall the institutions have and on which level of transparency? What level of scope on a national level shall European decisions have and what kind of mechanisms can national states have during a crisis? Finally, what kind of cooperation and solidarity between States should there be? During this election, the Socialist Party has been insistently defending the utter need to reinforce the cooperation ties between States in order to increase the level of solidarity in the European Union. When facing the harshest economic crisis since the Great Depression, States cannot be let alone to face such a hardship. This is also what’s at stake next Sunday, in Portugal.

On Sunday, October 4th, when the first results come out, Portugal can be the gateway for a bigger change in Europe and hopefully a sign of hope for a more just and equal Europe. The spanish elections will follow soon, setting what can be a turning point in the direction of European policies towards Southern countries, with a fairer and more inclusive and cohesive Europe being in sight.

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