Portugal populist exception?

Portugal populist exception?
By Isabel Marques da Silva
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In the proposed State Budget for 2019, the Portuguese Government estimates a deficit of 0.2% of GDP, with the ambition of setting it at 0 % of GDP by 2020. Portugal is often praised as the good pupil of the eurozone in contrast to Italy, which plans to up spending, going against eurozone rules.


Portugal is often praised as the good pupil of the eurozone, particularly in contrast to Italy, which plans to up its spending, going against eurozone rules. Lisbon is going even further, setting an ambitious target of a budget deficit of 0% of GDP by 2020.

So far Portuguese "immunity" to populism has been strong, compared to trends in central and eastern European member states.

But mainstream political parties should be vigilant says João Tiago Gaspar, a political scientist at Fundação Francisco Manuel dos Santos.

"There is no party represented in Parliament that has such an agenda, but we are not exempt from this possibility, especially since we know that in Portugal people are very disconnected from politics. They support democracy as an ideal, but they do not rely on the parties or, necessarily, on the rulers. Those doses of mistrust may one day be channelled by someone who has sufficient media status to do so," he notes.

While pursuing tight financial discipline, the centre-left government has reversed many unpopular austerity measures implemented, in 2011-2014, by the EU troika, with the support from two far-left parties.

Besides the economic crisis, migration flows have been another significant challenge for the EU project.

Portugal is in sixth position in terms of the number of refugees it hosts from the EU relocation programme.

Some refugees also come on their own initiative, such as Palestinian Hindi Mesleh, who traded Brussels for Lisbon.

"I am really happy for staying here. Yes, salaries are not the same as in the rest of Europe, you need to give up on something to get something else. I mean, it's safe, the weather is great, people are so welcoming," Mesleh explains.

The fact that 2.3 million Portuguese are themselves migrants and that it has a very negative impact on the population may help explain Portugal's openness to migrants.

The Portuguese government defends European solidarity towards refugees.

"I am confident that we will be able to reverse these more xenophobic tendencies," says Rosa Monteiro, secretary of State for Citizenship and Equality. "If, on the one hand, we are witnessing the emergence of a certain wave of resistance, of not recognizing the basic values and human rights, the elements that underpin the European construction; the European project, on the other Portugal is not one of these countries"

The biggest political test for the EU project and values will come next year, when voters head to the polls in the European parliamentary elections.

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