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Europe
A Constitutional Crisis in Portugal?

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has written a bit of a barn-burner over at The Telegraph this weekend:

Portugal has entered dangerous political waters. For the first time since the creation of Europe’s monetary union, a member state has taken the explicit step of forbidding eurosceptic parties from taking office on the grounds of national interest.

Anibal Cavaco Silva, Portugal’s constitutional president, has refused to appoint a Left-wing coalition government even though it secured an absolute majority in the Portuguese parliament and won a mandate to smash the austerity regime bequeathed by the EU-IMF Troika.

He deemed it too risky to let the Left Bloc or the Communists come close to power, insisting that conservatives should soldier on as a minority in order to satisfy Brussels and appease foreign financial markets.

Some of Pritchard’s rhetoric is clearly overdone; an action by a democratically elected official may be controversial, and may be unwise—but this isn’t a coup. However, moves like this risk undermining support for EU longterm in Portugal—and elsewhere in the EU.

The core problem remains: on issue after issue after issue, the name of the EU is being invoked to justify policies that growing numbers of European citizens don’t just oppose, but actively hate. There are good arguments for forced acceptance of refugees to draconian austerity policies, but imposing them on unwilling people is a dangerous thing to do.

At the moment, the EU is in trouble from Lisbon to Latvia, and there are no signs yet that the powers that be have found a way forward. The EU with all its faults and flaws is one of the most important pillars of global stability in an increasingly shaky world; the steady erosion of Europe’s cohesion and esprit is a terrible thing to watch.

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  • Andrew Allison

    The Portuguese electorate has made a decision, namely elected a Eurosceptic majority. Refusing to seat it is manifestly anti-democratic (as are the supra-national decisions made by unelected EU officials to, for example, ignore the results of referenda).

  • Fat_Man

    TAI can stop ringing its hands about the growth of “fascist”, “know nothing”, and “right wing” parties in Europe. If the Euro elites wanted to have those parties grow, they could not be doing more than they alreday are doing to make the EU hatful to ordinary people. The EU has forefeited what ever claim it has to democratic legitimacy and has no ground to stand on when criticizing its opponents.

  • jeburke

    “There are good arguments for forced acceptance of refugees… ”

    No, there are not.

  • Mark1971

    http://www.the-american-interest.com/2015/10/06/the-victory-of-un-populism/

    They told us a few weeks ago that the center-right won the election. Am I missing something?

    • Andrew Allison

      That Portugal is not Poland perhaps? More seriously, Vas-Pinto was completely wrong.

  • gabrielsyme

    “an action by a democratically elected official may be controversial, and may be unwise—but this isn’t a coup.

    Ambrose Evans-Pritchard doesn’t call it a coup, but it certainly is an undemocratic seizure of power. While it may be technically possible under the Portuguese constitution for the President to nominate a Prime Minister who is opposed by the majority of the elected representatives, it’s hard to imagine this was the intention of the Portuguese constitution. Essentially, the Portuguese President is nullifying the election for a duration of nearly a year – that is extremely anti-democratic and certainly the basis for a constitutional crisis.

    • Andrew Allison

      Exactly. It will get really interesting when the minority government quickly succumbs to a confidence vote.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “The EU with all its faults and flaws is one of the most important pillars of global stability in an increasingly shaky world; the steady erosion of Europe’s cohesion and esprit is a terrible thing to watch.”

    There’s a big difference between the stability needed for the efficient function of the economy and trade, and the stagnation brought on by a bloated overpowering Government Monopoly that saps the life and growth out of a country. When people lose hope that they can leave their children with more than their ancestors left them, they stop having children. Socialist Welfare State Europe is dying.

  • http://winterings.net/ Alex K.

    My understanding from this piece is that the ruling coalition came up first with its 38% of the vote, and immediately after the election, it was not at all clear that the three leftist parties would form a single block. The president summoned the leader of the 38% block, as the leader of the largest faction in Parliament, and re-appointed him PM, expecting him to form a coalition government with the Socialists, the largest party of the left.

    There’s nothing blatantly wrong with it, but apparently the president then made a speech attacking the very possibility that the Socialists might coalesce with the other two leftist parties to form a cabinet. That smelled of a coup, indeed, but a constitutional coup nonetheless: I don’t think it’s that unusual for Europe. Think of Italian politics or imagine the establishment’s reaction to a potential coalition between the extreme right and the moderate right in any EU country.

    Speaking of Italy, Ambrose-Prichard had a sensible theory about the removal of Berlusconi as Italy’s PM in late 2011. It was essentially a coup but it was not against the constitution.

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