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What the Portuguese want… is not always on offer

A cafe in Oporto

A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to be present at a debate between the campaign directors of EPP and ALDE (and a MEP candidate from the Greens), where the EPP’s campaign director, Dara Murphy, laid off his party’s key European political topics for the elections: economic growth and stability; migration; climate change; and security.

Looking into the latest polls (March 2019) from the Eurobarometer, the Portuguese interests don’t vary much from the ones presented above: besides economic growth, youth unemployment and social protection remain the hot issues Portuguese citizens wish to see discussed in the campaign trail, even several years after the economic recession. As a young Portuguese emigrant, this doesn’t surprise me – although improving over the last 5 years, Portugal still has 17.6% of youth unemployment.

Leading to the elections at the end of this month, Portuguese broadcasters are organising the usual televised debates between the lead candidates and some have taken place, so far in two main outsets: amongst the parties which currently hold seats at the EP, or amongst the ‘wannabes’ – recently-formed and old parties.

What I’ve found particularly strange at these debates is how interested the main parties’ candidates are in discussing anything but the European priorities and policies. After quickly (very briefly) presenting what their party defends on a particular topic, most candidates prefer to turn to ‘how unaccomplished were my adversaries in tackling this issue’. Of course, nothing new in this political approach – but I for once would like to hear more on actual policy-making. Or, on another level, I would simply like to hear from them why I should vote.

The small parties debate was more policy-focused. Seven Lead-candidates discussed topics ranging from vote abstention to the migration crisis.

Although having 1 Portuguese ALDE MEP, Portugal did not have any clearly liberal-oriented parties in 2014. It thus comes as no surprise that in the last couple of years, two political parties were created to fill this empty liberal-right space – Aliança (‘Alliance’) and Iniciativa Liberal (‘Liberal Initiative’). From the looks of this debate, I do not believe it will be this year that ALDE will get more Portuguese MEPs, as the two candidates seem to share the same opinion in almost all issues and will thus fight for – and divide – the same audience.

Reading the identified Portuguese needs and putting them in perspective with the televised debates brings me to a couple of conclusions.

I do understand why ‘distrust in the political system’ is the second highest reason for Portuguese not to vote at the EU elections. Hearing the main political candidates attacking each other instead of discussing and tackling policies, makes me wonder how much do they take the public interest into account when working at the EP.

Also, as a Portuguese young professional, I do not feel my type of electorate sees itself in any of the main political candidates. In fact, I consider most young people will overlook these elections, as the main topics on their mind – youth unemployment, climate change, mobility, etc. were not discussed so far and will thus very likely, not be in the list of priorities of these future representatives.

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