The Progressive Post

🇵🇹 A Portuguese victory to spark a European debate


S&D Member of the European Parliament and former President of the Young European Socialists

In a difficult context, the Portuguese Socialist Party secured an important victory over the ruling coalition, and against the background of a significant decrease of the far-right. It rewards the strategy of the PS in opposition and reiterates the Portuguese commitment towards a progressive and democratic Europe. Will it also spark a wider debate in Europe?

The European elections in Portugal took place in a quite particular context, just a couple of months after the legislative elections of 10 March. This has had a seemingly contradictory effect: on the one hand, it created the space for a more in-depth debate on ‘European issues’, something that was not common in previous elections. However, at the same time, the fact that the national elections had seen the two major parties with almost the same number of votes and mandates, leading to a situation of political instability and a minority government, this campaign was still perceived as a continuation of the previous one. In the result, despite the victory of the Socialist Party, which in a difficult context has managed to elect eight MEPs, it does not alter the overall relation of power between the ruling coalition and the Socialists in opposition. Nor can we read too much into the (obviously) positive decrease of the far right, as their overall political weight did not change drastically. So, what are the positive takeaways?

The first positive one is the reduction of abstention, with 600.000 more voters, and the fact that for the largest part, the campaign did focus on European subjects. Topics such as migration, the new rules for economic governance, housing and social affairs and security and defence, especially in relation to Ukraine and the enlargement, were hot during the campaign and did offer an opportunity for intense debate between the two major parties and fiery debates with the parties to our left. The second positive note is that only three months after the general election that took the centre-right to power, the victory of the Socialist Party does offer two signs. First, the Portuguese people did not fall into the trap of the electoral ad-hoc measures announced by the government over the last weeks and did not condone its strategy of avoiding the parliament. Secondly, after the difficult result of last March, the Portuguese electorate might be reconciling with the Socialist Party and recognise its European progressive legacy. The final positive note relates to the bigger European picture. We have grown accustomed to the fact that Iberia stood as a beacon of progressive hope – and the Spanish Socialists did manage to secure its fort albeit facing a very inclined field. It is a good sign that after so many years, the two countries can still hold on to a significant progressive base of support. However, in Europe, including in Iberia, there are reasons for alarm for our political family.

Even if the results in France, Germany, Italy and Austria were expected, that does not make them any easier to swallow, nor do they diminish its impact on the future of the EU. For too long, there have been clear indicators from the electorate that our Social Democratic family does not offer a truly alternative political and socioeconomic model of society. If it is true that we remain the second largest group in the European Parliament, a more in-depth analysis shows us two overall problems: the geographical imbalance and age disparities of our representation and the cracks that are starting to emerge in our traditional strongholds, particularly in Iberia and the Nordic countries. Moreover, the combined force of ID and ECR falls five MEPs short of the S&D total; if we add the far-right parties that are still unaffiliated, then they would be the second largest force in the EP.

Overall, regardless of the positive Portuguese results, the wider European results compel us to a comprehensive reflection inside of our European family. Three main questions come to mind: first, what do we have to offer as Social Democrats that substantially differs from the current status quo?; second, what are the common European principles of Social Democracy that unite our parties and offer a vision to the European project and its citizens?; and third, how do we mainstream it and make it popular again? At a time when the four largest European countries are at a crossroads, and before we dive into the negotiations for the EU top positions, answering these three questions could be a good starting point to relaunch our political family into an ambitioned and much-needed predominance on the European political scene.

Photo credits: Shutterstock/Laiotz

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