Protests greet Portuguese prime minister’s appointment as head of EU Commission
EU leaders yesterday finally agreed to the appointment of a new president of the European Commission. The choice – Portuguese Prime Minister, DurÃ£o Barosso – appeared like a rabbit out of the magician’s hat because, according to the Financial Times, he was, “the last man standing in a knock-out contest”. The same paper described the selection process as “a farce”.
The consequences of appointing the Portuguese ex-Prime Minister will not be farcical for the European working class and poor. Barosso presided of a right wing government that introduced privatisations in the health service, education and social security. His government cut workers’ rights by ‘reforming’ the labour code, reducing unemployment benefits, and ending protection against indiscriminate redundancies.
Only two weeks ago, Barrosso’s coalition government of the centre right PSD and the conservative PP lost two million votes in the European elections. What impressed the commission and the European heads of state is that Barosso does not care what the electorate thinks of him. His willingness to implement policies which drive down living standards and comply with the EU’s stability pact won Barossa applause from capitalist governments. In eight months of office his anti-working class measures brought the budget deficit down from 4.4% of Gross Domestic Profit (GDP) to 2.2%.
Barosso is also liked because of his ‘strong Atlanticist views’ and support for the American-led occupation of Iraq. He played the host and tea-lady for Bush and Blair at their Azore’s war summit a few days before the beginning of invasion of Iraq, last year.
Feeling of crisis
The appointment of Barosso to the top EU bureaucrats’ position has lead to a feeling of crisis inside Portugal. A new Prime Minister will have to be found. Sections of the ruling class that supported the PSD-PP coalition favour Santana Lopes, the mayor of Lisbon. Santana Lopes is known as a right-wing populist with little or no national political experience.
The Communist Party, the social democratic PS, and the Left Bloc are calling for new elections to be held, as soon as possible. The Portuguese President, Jorge Sampaio, has the constitutional power to call new elections in these circumstances. But, although Sampaio is a member of the PS, he seems very hesitant to do so, as a victory of the centre left could lead to the reversal of some anti-working class policies and stop privatisations temporarily.
That the temperature of the class struggle is rising in Portugal was proven by the immediate reaction on the streets to the announcement of Barosso’s appointment. A few hours after the news became known, 2,500 people lobbied the Presidential Palace in Lisbon, demanding new elections and protesting against the possible promotion of Santana Lopes as the new Prime Minister. This demonstration was organised by SMS and by word by mouth. Today (29/06/04), there are reports of several local demonstrations in cities and towns across Portugal making the same demands.