#EU2019 – Loss of EU funds overshadows Portugal’s campaign for EU elections

Socialist Party (PS) head of list to the European elections Pedro Marques (C) with Prime Minister Antonio Costa (C-R) during a campaign for the European elections in Lisbon on 24 May 2019. [EPA-EFE/MIGUEL A. LOPES]

The anticipated loss of European funds in the European Union’s new long-term budget has been the main theme in the Portuguese EU election campaign, which are seen as a warming up for the national elections in October. EURACTIV’s media partner Lusa reports.

Socialist Prime Minister António Costa asked the Portuguese for a “vote of confidence” in the elections on 26 May. He has also made sure to be seen everywhere alongside the Socialist Party (PS) leading candidate, Pedro Marques.

Paulo Rangel, who heads the list of the right-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD, EPP), the main opponent of PS, denies that idea but has still brought national themes to the debate, such as firefighting resources

Fires killed more than 100 people in 2017, which led to a motion of censure that fell short against the left-wing majority in the Parliament: PS, Left Bloc (BE), Communist Party (PCP) and the Greens (PEV).

The socialists’ candidate Marques, in turn, accuses the social democrats of supporting a lead candidate for the new Commission president who wanted to apply sanctions against Portugal, referring to the EPP’s candidate, German Manfred Weber.

“That right-wing that supported sanctions must be sanctioned at the ballot boxes,” Marques told a rally also attended by Frans Timmermans, the socialists’ lead candidate for president of the European Commission.

These are reminiscences of the austerity imposed under the Financial Assistance Programme signed by PS, PSD and CDS-PP (People’s party, right-wing), which ended five years ago, in the middle of the campaign for the 2014 European elections.

Marques has established himself as the “budgetary discipline” candidate, but right-wing Paulo Rangel and Nuno Melo do not miss a chance to point out that it was a socialist government – at the time led by José Sócrates – that had asked for the intervention of the “troika”(European Commission, International Monetary Fund and European Central Bank).

The socialists’ main selling point is that it had become possible to “turn the page on austerity” (as Prime Minister Costa likes to say) while maintaining sound public finances. This goes hand in hand with the presence of the Portuguese finance minister and Eurogroup president, Mário Centeno in the campaign actions.

Centeno’s popularity – borne out by opinion polls – irritates both right-wing (PSD and CDS-PP) and left-wing (BE, PCP and PEV, currently supporting the government) parties which demand more public investment.

The status of public services, mainly the problems in the National Health Service, is being used as a political weapon against the government, from right to left-wing parties.

Even though PS and PSD have reached an agreement on European funds with the purpose of reinforcing Portugal’s bargaining power in Brussels, social democrat Paulo Rangel insists on blaming Marques and the socialist government for losing 7% of the European funds in the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework, the EU’s budget.

Similarly, João Ferreira, the leading candidate from CDU (a coalition between the Greens and the communists), demands:

“We want to know what these parties intend to do when their MEPs have to deal with cuts for Portugal. We are committed to denying any proposal that includes cuts for Portugal. It would be good if other political forces clarified their positions, not after the elections but right now”, he said.

Paulo Rangel challenges his socialist counterpart Pedro Marques to clarify if he is running for the European Parliament or for a job in the Commission.

It has been reported by the press that Marques is eyeing the Cohesion portfolio. This scenario not welcomed by the social democrats who advocate the continuity of Carlos Moedas as European Commissioner for science and research.

The prime minister’s name has also been doing the rounds in Brussels, as a potential successor of Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. Costa denied this: “It is rather flattering but I am not a candidate for anything except for my current functions in Portugal”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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