The Legacy of Democracy in Portugal


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Today Portugal celebrates 50 years of democracy. Since its 1974 revolution, it has embraced freedom of the press, free elections, and the right to healthcare, to strike and to education. But as with every year’s April 25 celebrations, the country is discussing what still needs to be done. There is much to celebrate. Raquel Varela, social historian at NOVA University Lisbon, singles out the revolution’s legacy of workers’ rights, which had never previously existed in the country. She also points to the construction of the National Health Service and the education system which, in her opinion, created “qualitative advances” on a social level.

Challenges and Progress

Challenges and Progress

Portugal is undoubtedly better off today than it was 50 years ago, but the economy still suffers from low productivity, workers face precarious labor conditions, and public services are deteriorating. According to Eurostat data, productivity per worker in Portugal is 28 per cent lower than the Eurozone average, and the country has been at the bottom of productivity in the single currency area for at least 10 years.

Productivity and Economic Challenges

Productivity and Economic Challenges

The consequence of the retreat of democracy in the workplace has been the brutal advance of investors and the remuneration of profit, which means that people work 24 hours a day in industry, doctors have people who aren’t doctors telling them how long they should be with patients, teachers have no say in the curriculum, in other words, a complete degradation of public services that are essential to our lives.

European Union and Economic Reforms

University of Manchester economic historian Nuno Palma argues that funds provided by the European bloc fail to stimulate innovation the Portuguese economy would benefit from. Palma accuses the two major parties that have governed the country post-revolution, the PS and PSD, of failing to generate reforms that would allow Portugal to keep up with the rest of Europe.

Four years ago, Portugal was downgraded to a “flawed democracy”, and it has yet to recover the “full democracy” status it enjoyed in 2019. It is one of only three Western European countries classified as a “flawed democracy”, along with Belgium and Italy. The Democracy Index 2023, released by the Economist Intelligence Unit, places the country 31st in the world ranking, down three places on last year and the worst result since 2013. The fall is mainly due to the assessment given to the “functioning of government” criterion, where it only registers a score of 6.79, a substantial drop on last year’s 7.50.

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