How Portugal’s far-right shift will influence the European political landscape

By SEC Newgate EU

On 10 March, Portugal held elections to form a new government. These elections were called after Prime Minister António Costa stepped down last November amid a corruption scandal involving lithium and hydrogen projects.

Costa had been in power since 2015, having been re-elected in 2019 and 2022, completing 8 years as Prime Minister. In 2015, and for the first time in its history, Portugal was governed by a left-wing coalition that, in 2022, obtained an absolute majority with the Socialist Party (S&D group). In the eyes of some Member States, Portugal seemed less likely than most to follow the far-right trend sweeping across Europe. These last elections have just proven them wrong.

The Far-Right Rises in Portugal

The centre-right Democratic Alliance (EPP group), led by Luís Montenegro was the night’s winner, with 29.5% of the votes, gaining 79 of 230 seats in the Portuguese Parliament. They were closely followed by the Socialist Party (S&D group) led by Pedro Nuno Santos, who received 28.7% of the votes, 77 seats, and conceded a defeat.

However, the real winner of the night was the far-right party Chega (ID group). Led by André Ventura, the party more than doubled its share from previous elections, reaching 18.1% of votes and 48 seats, compared to 7.2%, and 12 seats from the 2022 elections. The party, created in 2015 and winning its first seat in 2019, has continued its steady rise. André Ventura has confirmed his party’s willingness to form a government coalition with the Democratic Alliance.

The far-left in Portugal suffered setbacks, with Bloco de Esquerda and CDU (Left group) receiving respectively 4.5% and 3.3% of the votes. Both parties took controversial stances on the Russian invasion, with Bloco de Esquerda advocating for Portugal to leave NATO and CDU supporting Russia. Interestingly, the new Socialist Party leader Pedro Nuno Santos is considered a far-left leader by the standards of his party, indicating increased polarisation on both sides of the aisle in Portuguese politics.

The Portuguese Elections through an EU lens

Portugal’s national Parliamentary elections were the last in the EU ahead of the European Parliament elections in June. As a result, politicians across Europe have a chance to study the positions and assertions of various political parties and how they fared with voters, especially Chega’s far-right discourse as they almost tripled their votes.

These election results align with broader trends in European politics, reflecting a shift to the extreme right. European election polls suggest that the EPP will dominate, leaving the S&D in second place. Far-right groups, Identity and Democracy (ID group), and European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR group) are expected to gain more seats, respectively winning 89 and 83 seats, compared to 59 and 68 during the previous mandate, contributing to a changing political landscape.

The reasons behind this shift in Portugal mirrors trends seen across Europe, driven by anti-immigration, anti-Roma, and anti-LGBTQIA+ narratives. Dissatisfaction with previous governments’ economic performance and discontent with current parties in power have also played a role.

The climate backlash being led by many right and far-right parties across Europe was absent from Chega’s agenda, likely due to the evident negative impacts of global warming in Portugal. This goes to show that far-right parties can run effective campaigns without seeking the anti-environmentalist vote, a strategy that many far-right countries currently rely on. Chega instead focused heavily and effectively on corruption issues and migration: issues that resonated deeply within the Portuguese electorate.

When it comes to external politics, Chega defends national sovereignty and is aligned with Marine Le Pen against potential European federalism, noting that it would leave the EU if a federal state was ever created. Chega has also called for a new European Treaty to better protect national sovereignty.

Looking Ahead

Following the elections, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa must now formally invite the Democratic Alliance leader to form a government. The President broke the convention of presidential neutrality by saying he would do everything possible to prevent Chega from reaching office.

Luís Montenegro reiterated his election promise that would not rely on Chega for support to govern, but leading a minority government may prove challenging. The Socialist Party leader, Pedro Nuno Santos, has iterated on various occasions the party’s unwillingness to enter a coalition with the Democratic Alliance, regardless of the circumstance, making a cordon sanitaire very unlikely.

As Portugal approaches the 50th anniversary of the 25th April Revolution which overthrew a far-right dictatorship, the emergence of a far-right party with potential major influence in government and parliament decisions marks a new chapter in the country’s political history. As the European Union also witnesses an unprecedented rise of factions beyond the traditional big political groups, we are very likely standing at the dawn of a new era.

Read more by clicking here: