The President of Portugal has decided that the European Union is more important than the democratic will of the people.
The Portuguese President, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, has risked a constitutional crisis by refusing to invite a majority coalition in the Assembly of the Republic to form a government.
Following the elections on 4 October, no single party achieved a majority of the 230 seats represented in the legislative assembly. The largest party was Portugal à Frente (Portugal Ahead, or PàF), the incumbent centre-right government led by Pedro Passos Coelho, whose seat tally fell from a majority-forming 132 down to 107. They won just 38.6% of the popular vote, compared to 50.4% in the last election in 2011.
The other four parties (who are opposed to the EU and the Euro) all increased both their share of the votes and their number of seats in the parliament. The second party, Partido Socialista (Socialist Party, or PS) increased their number of seats from 74 to 86, and vote share from 28% to 32.3%, under leader António Costa. Bloco de Esquerda (Left Bloc, or BE) went from 8 to 19 seats with a 5% increase of vote share to 10.2%. The communist Coligação Democrática Unitária (United Democratic Coalition, or CDU) now have 17 seats from an 8.3% vote share, while the green Pessoas-Animais-Natureza (People-Animals-Nature, or PAN) won their first seat in the national assembly since their formation in 2009, from a vote share of 1.4%.
The four parties of the left, with a majority of seats in the assembly, set about negotiating a potential coalition government to stop PàF from attempting to form a minority administration. Such an agreement was reached, which would have seen António Costa become the Prime Minister, and they expressed their intentions following consultations with the President.
In response, the President opted to invite Pedro Passos Coelho to form a minority government, becoming the first head of an EU member state to block a democratic majority of eurosceptic parties from taking power. In justification, he said:
In 40 years of democracy, no government in Portugal has ever depended on the support of anti-European forces, that is to say forces that campaigned to abrogate the Lisbon Treaty, the Fiscal Compact, the Growth and Stability Pact, as well as to dismantle monetary union and take Portugal out of the euro, in addition to wanting the dissolution of NATO.
This is the worst moment for a radical change to the foundations of our democracy.
After we carried out an onerous programme of financial assistance, entailing heavy sacrifices, it is my duty, within my constitutional powers, to do everything possible to prevent false signals being sent to financial institutions, investors and markets.
The decision the Portuguese President has made sends a clear signal that membership of the European Union and the Euro is more important than than the democratically-expressed wishes of the people. A majority of those who voted did not want PàF as their government, an agreement has been reached which would follow the wishes of the majority of voters, but this has been overruled in the interests of the EU.
Imagine, unlikely as it is, that David Cameron had entered into the 2015 general election promising to leave the European Union. Despite having won a parliamentary majority, a coalition minority made up of all the opposition parties defending Britain’s membership was instead invited by the Queen to form a government in the interests of the EU. There would be uproar.
The principles of freedom of trade and co-operation must be defended. But so must democracy. However, the European Union does not care for the latter, which threatens its very existence. The only democratic institution within this bloated and dysfunctional trading bloc, the European Parliament, is merely a façade: it must decide whether or not to accept the legislation it is presented with, but cannot introduce it’s own, and the self-interest of the majority of groups means legislation is rarely given sufficient scrutiny.
The EU is in desperate need of reform, but it simply will not happen; few wish to rock the boat nor halt the gravy train. It is in the interests of countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain to see reform, as much as it is in Britain’s, for economic as well as political reasons, but the EU is now so introverted that it cannot see the needs of individual member states. The approach seems to be that the EU is king, member states must follow, and from a democratic point of view that is simply unacceptable.
For Portugal, being a member of the EU means a democratic majority in parliament being refused the opportunity to form a government; the voice of the people being reduced to a mere opinion, rather than the firm instruction that it should be.
The European Union’s finest hour has passed, and, sooner or later, democracy will catch up with it.