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European Union

Upstart Portuguese party wants more Europe

A moderate left party in Portugal is campaigning for seats in the upcoming European elections. Top candidate Rui Tavares has an ambitious goal: to reconcile the Portuguese with the European project.

Rui Tavares sits at a small podium as he faces the audience in the crowded library in Lisbon. He tells them about "Ulysses". But the thin man with the round glasses is no literary critic, and he's not here to talk about Homer or James Joyce. He's talking about the future of Europe.

"Ulysses" is the name the 41-year-old has given to an ambitious economic policy project with which aims to redefine the roles of southern European countries like Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain in the EU.

"Above all, we want to achieve one thing. We no longer want the countries in the south of Europe to be called PIGS."

Four pillars for Europe

Rui Tavares, founder of Portugal's LIVRE party (photo: T.Wagner)

LIVRE founder Rui Tavares has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009

Tavares says solving the sovereign debt crisis must no longer be a national task. Instead, the crisis has to be solved by Europe as a whole. He wants the EU to set up its own,independent financial institution similar to the International Monetary Fund and controlled by the European Parliament. The problems in the south of Europe could be solved with an economic stimulus package, like the Marshall plan set up after World War Two, Tavares says.

He's not short of bigideas for Europe. Tavares has been an independent member of the European Parliament since 2009. Almost three years ago, he decided to join the group of the Greens/EFA.. Tavares is again contesting a seat in the upcoming European elections in late May, with the party he has founded in Portugal.

"The LIVRE party is based on four pillars: freedom, being leftist in the classic sense - that means equality and social justice - environmental protection and Europe," the party founder explains.

"These days, most newly founded political parties - whether in Germany or in England - are anti-Europe and populist. And so many people ask us how we can have such a strong identification with Europe at a time when so many people are disillusioned with Europe."

Protest in Portugal June 2013 (photo: FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images)

Portugal has seen regular mass protests against the government's austerity measures

For a different Europe

The strategy is indeed risky - also in Portugal, where according to the latest eurobarometer, two out of three people have a pessimistic view of the future of the European Union.

For three years, Portugal has had to implement tough reforms and austerity measures agreed on by troika of the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB) in return for a 78-billion euro ($108 billion) rescue package.

"We don't identify with this version of the EU headed by our fellow countryman [EU President José Manuel] Barroso. It hasn't found any answers to the economic, ecological and social crisis," Rui Tavares says. "But we do believe that Europeans have a joint future which will be based on democratic principles, basic rights and shared wealth."

Direct democracy

The party's six top candidates on the podium at the Lisbon library are discussing a number of issues: the "Ulysses" project, the planned free trade agreement between the EU and the US as well as corruption and power abuse on the European level.

The candidates were elected online by the party's supporters, one of whom, Ofelia Janeiro, finds herself drawn to the quintessentially democratic principles. She's sitting on steps at the library, where she follows the debate on the podium.

"It's entirely new for us. This kind of direct democracy has not existed in Portugal thus far. We can participate, and even determine, what goes into the party program."

Portugal bank (photo: Jens Kalaene dpa
pixel)

Portugal recently returned to bond markets

The party, and its founder Rui Tavare, have meanwhile made names for themselves within Lisbon's left wing intellectual milieu. Tavares regularly writes opinion pieces for the liberal newspaper "Publico".

But party researcher Pedro Magalhaes doesn't believe that LIVRE will get enough votes in Portugal for a seat in the European Parliament.

"The party is not visible enough. And it doesn't receive any state subsidies which it would need for a forceful election campaign."

To the party founders, therefore, European elections are merely a first step. Rui Tavares ultimately wants his party to bring together the quarrelling left-wing groups in Portugal - to open the doors for a center-left coalition at the next Portuguese parliamentary elections in the summer of 2015.

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