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Editorial: Distorting the Truth and Creating a Coup

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, center, and Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas, right, wave during an election campaign march in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Portugal goes to the polls to elect a new government on Sunday. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, center, and Deputy Prime Minister Paulo Portas, right, wave during an election campaign march in Lisbon, Portugal, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Portugal goes to the polls to elect a new government on Sunday. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

When it comes to the EU we are right to view its institutions and mechanisms with a critical eye; anything of a governing nature should be subject to scrutiny if it is to remain fair, open and efficient.

However the EU is a behemoth of governance, whose everyday workings pass the most of us by. We are not in a position to truly evaluate its worth, as we lack the knowledge and insight necessary. So we look to journalists to bridge the gap between us and EU actors. We use their analysis to shape our judgements and understandings surrounding this institute and its performance.

But can we trust those journalists to inform us correctly, without unduly colouring our perceptions or manipulating the true image?

Rumblings of an effective coup in Portugal have been heard over the last few days, with the Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard boldly announcing that the EU had crossed “Rubicon as Portugal’s anti-euro Left banned from power”. The article claimed “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”.

The recent legislative elections in Portugal witnessed the ruling right-wing coalition, led by the PSD, fail to retain its overall majority, securing 107 seats out of 230. The leftist parties – the Socialist Party, the Left Block and the Communist Party – managed, between them, to win 122.

Reading the piece in the Telegraph you would believe that the President of Portugal had refused to appoint a Left-Wing Coalition government in order to appease Brussels and financial markets. Evans, a noted cynic of all things EU, says the President has flown in the face of democracy and the people’s wishes with this move.

But this is, at best, an overly simplistic interpretation of matters, or, at worst, wilful misconstruing of facts; and it has allowed both left and right wing commentators and politicians, such as Owen Jones and Eurosceptic Dan Hannon, to bolster their agendas among the public.

The Portuguese elections took place on the 4th of October, and in the two and a half weeks that passed no government was formed. The leftist parties had no election pact regarding coalition formation and, while negotiations have taken place, there has traditionally been tension between these three groups.

So it came that PSD President Anibal Cavaco Silva invited Passos Coelho to continue as Prime Minister, as is his constitutional right. The President, perhaps reasonably, justified this move on the basis of precedent. The invitation to form a government has always been issued to the party which had won the most seats, even if they did not hold a majority – such as the current case with the PSD. It is also worth noting that in 2009 President Silva extended this invitation to José Sócrates, leader of the PS, despite his party not holding a majority.

Furthermore, and contra to the coup narrative, the invitation to form a coalition sets nothing in stone. Coelho has 10 days to form a Programme for Government to be presented to the members of parliament. Should an absolute majority of members reject the proposal it is then likely that PS leader António Costa will attempt to form a government.

What does this mean for the perceived influence of the EU and financial markets? The above would suggest that, regardless of his own political leanings and ideologies, the President acted in accordance with the structures of his own country rather than those of the EU or other external forces. What is currently happening in Portugal, whether the decision by the President is the right one or not, is borne out of internal factors.

The EU is a complex mechanism, ever expanding its remit and power. It needs to be observed intently and met with criticism where due. But skewed reporting, such as this, does no favours for its citizens and merely serves as a football for political kick-about.

  • Una Power, Editor

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