Portugal

   

Executive Accountability

#31
Key Findings
With notable gaps in this area, Portugal scores relatively poorly in international comparison (rank 31) with regard to executive accountability. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to 2014.

Parliamentarians have few official support resources, through formal oversight powers are generally strong. The audit office is a judiciary-branch body, as is the ombudsman.

The population’s surge of crisis-driven interest in policy and politics seems to be receding somewhat. Policy knowledge remains uneven, undermined by insufficiently clear government and opposition communication, a weak civil society and an often scandal-focused media. In-depth journalistic policy analysis remains rare.

Political-party decision-making styles range widely. Unions and employers’ associations can formulate relevant policies, but are largely reactive. Non-economic interest associations continue to have little impact despite signs of economic recovery.

Citizens’ Participatory Competence

#22

To what extent are citizens informed of government policymaking?

10
 9

Most citizens are well-informed of a broad range of government policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many citizens are well-informed of individual government policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few citizens are well-informed of government policies; most citizens have only a rudimental knowledge of policies.
 2
 1

Most citizens are not aware of government policies.
Policy Knowledge
5
As noted in previous reports, the bailout heightened citizens’ attention to and interest in policy matters, as did the occurrence of a legislative election in the previous period but one. In the period currently under review, the situation appears to be regressing as the bailout – and ensuing austerity measures – recede from the horizon. In a Eurobarometer survey carried out in May 2017, a total of 50% of respondents in Portugal had a “strong” or “medium” interest in politics, a roughly similar proportion to May 2016. This is the lowest total within the EU-28 with regard to “strong” and “medium” interest in politics, and well below the EU average of 63%. Moreover, the proportion of respondents attesting to no interest in politics was 36% in May 2017, a two-percentage-point increase as compared to May 2016.

This result further strengthens our assessment in previous reports that the Portuguese public’s policy knowledge is limited and unevenly distributed. The factors limiting citizens’ policy knowledge include the insufficient and incomplete explanation of policy by the government, the incomplete and insufficient explanation of policy alternatives by the opposition, a media system that tends to focus more on short-term issues and scandals than on in-depth policy analysis, presentation of policy in terms that tend to be exclusionary for most citizens; and a weak civil society that is unable to socialize and educate citizens on policy issues.

Citations:
Eurobarometer 83 (Annex), May 2015. Available online at:
http://ec.europa.eu/COMMFrontOffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/66899

Eurobarometer 85 (Annex), May 2016. Available online at:
http://ec.europa.eu/COMMFrontOffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/74267

Eurobarometer 87 (Annex), May 2017. Available online at: http://ec.europa.eu/commfrontoffice/publicopinion/index.cfm/ResultDoc/download/DocumentKy/79557

Legislative Actors’ Resources

#36

Do members of parliament have adequate personnel and structural resources to monitor government activity effectively?

10
 9

The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring all government activity effectively.
 8
 7
 6


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for monitoring a government’s major activities.
 5
 4
 3


The members of parliament as a group can draw on a set of resources suited for selectively monitoring some government activities.
 2
 1

The resources provided to the members of parliament are not suited for any effective monitoring of the government.
Parliamentary Resources
6
The Assembly of the Republic (AR) has a very robust committee structure composed of standing and ad hoc committees, as well as committees to assess implementation of the Plano do Governo and the Orçamento de Estado. Moreover, it can call members of the executive to explain issues and has some degree of autonomy in terms of its budget allocations. However, there remains a substantial lack of expert support staff. Members of the Assembly do not generally have their own staff, and in most but not all cases, have little ability to rely on expert support. As such, the Assembly’s capacity to monitor government activity is mainly contingent on legislators’ own expertise. Under the Costa government, which is a Socialist Party government supported by the parties to its political left, parliamentarians have shown a greater amount of interest in government monitoring, and the number of meetings involving these different political parties has increased substantially. However, this energy and interest does not imply that lawmakers in fact have adequate personnel and structural resources for the purposes of monitoring.

Citations:
Sergio Goncalves, “Portugal’s political stability if Europe’s rare pleasant surprise,” Reuters June 22, 2016.

Are parliamentary committees able to ask for government documents?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may ask for most or all government documents; they are normally delivered in full and within an appropriate time frame.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are slightly limited; some important documents are not delivered or are delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to ask for government documents are considerably limited; most important documents are not delivered or delivered incomplete or arrive too late to enable the committee to react appropriately.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not ask for government documents.
Obtaining Documents
7
The government is obliged to respond within 30 days to requests for information from the Assembly of the Republic. While there is no data on how it responds specifically to requests from parliamentary committees, delivery of information to requests from members of parliament can be untimely or incomplete. During the second session of the thirteenth legislature, held during the current period under review (15 September 2016 to 19 July 2017), parliamentarians issued 4,782 questions, of which 80% (3,819) were answered. This marks a considerable improvement vis-à-vis the previous review period when 55% of questions were answered.

However, there was a deterioration regarding requests to the central government, with only 47% of these requests being answered during the period under review. This is a decrease of five percentage points compared to the previous review period.

As noted in previous reports, this response rate does not appear to reflect a deliberate attempt to conceal information from the Assembly. In general, it is likely that committee requests are answered more promptly and fully than those made by individual legislators.

Citations:
Divisão de Informação Legislativa e Parlamentar, Assembleia da República,“Atividade Legislativa – XII Legislatura, 1ª Sessão Legislativa,” available online at: http://www.parlamento.pt/actividadeparlamentar/documents/estatisticas_actividade_parlamentar_xiileg/actividadelegislativa_xii_1_(14092012).pdf

Divisão de Informação Legislativa e Parlamentar, Assembleia da República,“Atividade Legislativa – XII Legislatura, 1ª Sessão Legislativa,” available online at: http://www.parlamento.pt/actividadeparlamentar/documents/estatisticas_actividade_parlamentar_xiileg/actividadelegislativa_xii_1_(14092012).pdf

Divisão de Informação Legislativa e Parlamentar, Assembleia da República,“Atividade Legislativa – XII Legislatura, 2ª Sessão Legislativa,” available online at: http://www.parlamento.pt/actividadeparlamentar/documents/estatisticas_actividade_parlamentar_xiileg/actividadelegislativa_xii_2.pdf

Divisão de Informação Legislativa e Parlamentar, Assembleia da República,“Atividade Legislativa – XII Legislatura, 3ª Sessão Legislativa,” available online at: https://www.parlamento.pt/ActividadeParlamentar/Documents/Estatisticas_Actividade_Parlamentar_XIILeg/ActividadeLegislativa_XII_3.pdf

Divisão de Informação Legislativa e Parlamentar, Assembleia da República,“Atividade Legislativa – XII Legislatura, 4ª Sessão Legislativa,” available online at: https://www.parlamento.pt/ActividadeParlamentar/Documents/Estatisticas_Actividade_Parlamentar_XIILeg/ActividadeLegislativa_XII_4.pdf

Divisão de Informação Legislativa e Parlamentar, Assembleia da República,“Atividade Legislativa – XIII Legislatura, 2ª Sessão Legislativa,” available online at: https://www.parlamento.pt/ActividadeParlamentar/Documents/Estatisticas_Actividade_Parlamentar_XIIILeg/ActividadeLegislativa_XIII_2.pdf

Are parliamentary committees able to summon ministers for hearings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon ministers. Ministers regularly follow invitations and are obliged to answer questions.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are slightly limited; ministers occasionally refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon ministers are considerably limited; ministers frequently refuse to follow invitations or to answer questions.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon ministers.
Summoning Ministers
9
Ministers must be heard at least four times per legislative session in their corresponding committee. Additionally, committees can request ministers to be present for additional hearings. A committee request requires interparty consensus. However, each parliamentary group may also unilaterally request ministerial hearings. These vary from one to five per session, depending on the size of the parliamentary group. Ministers accede to requests for their attendance at hearings.

Are parliamentary committees able to summon experts for committee meetings?

10
 9

Parliamentary committees may summon experts.
 8
 7
 6


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The rights of parliamentary committees to summon experts are considerably limited.
 2
 1

Parliamentary committees may not summon experts.
Summoning Experts
9
Parliamentary committees are generally free to request the attendance of experts at committee meetings.

Are the task areas and structures of parliamentary committees suited to monitor ministries effectively?

10
 9

The match between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are well-suited to the effective monitoring of ministries.
 8
 7
 6


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are largely suited to the monitoring ministries.
 5
 4
 3


The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are partially suited to the monitoring of ministries.
 2
 1

The match/mismatch between the task areas of parliamentary committees and ministries as well as other relevant committee structures are not at all suited to the monitoring of ministries.
Task Area Congruence
9
The Assembly of the Republic has 12 permanent committees, each with a policy focus. Each committee can create sub-committees to work on a specific area or project. Creating a sub-committee requires the prior authorization of the president following consultation with the Conference of Presidents of the Parliamentary Commission. Further, each commission can also create working groups for even more specialized tasks.

In addition, and of greater importance for monitoring government ministries, the assembly can create ad hoc commissions of inquiry. Their specific purpose is to monitor whether the government or a ministry is complying with the constitution and laws, and the policies of the government. These ad hoc commissions of inquiry have investigative power and judicial authority.

To what extent is the audit office accountable to the parliament?

10
 9

The audit office is accountable to the parliament exclusively.
 8
 7
 6


The audit office is accountable primarily to the parliament.
 5
 4
 3


The audit office is not accountable to the parliament, but has to report regularly to the parliament.
 2
 1

The audit office is governed by the executive.
Audit Office
4
The Tribunal de Contas or Supreme Audit Office (SAO) is totally independent of the Assembly of the Republic and the executive. It is part of the judicial system, on an equal level with the rest of the judicial system. However, while not accountable to the Assembly, it must report to it regularly.

Does the parliament have an ombuds office?

10
 9

The parliament has an effective ombuds office.
 8
 7
 6


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is slightly limited.
 5
 4
 3


The parliament has an ombuds office, but its advocacy role is considerably limited.
 2
 1

The parliament does not have an ombuds office.
Ombuds Office
2
Portugal does not have a parliamentary ombudsman. However, there is a judicial ombudsman (Provedor de Justiça), which is situated in the judicial system. It serves as the advocate for citizens’ interests.

Media

#36

To what extent do media provide substantive in-depth information on decision-making by the government?

10
 9

A clear majority of mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions.
 8
 7
 6


About one-half of the mass media brands focus on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. The rest produces a mix of infotainment and quality information content.
 5
 4
 3


A clear minority of mass media brands focuses on high-quality information content analyzing government decisions. Several mass media brands produce superficial infotainment content only.
 2
 1

All mass media brands are dominated by superficial infotainment content.
Media Reporting
6
There continues to be a lack of systematic in-depth policy analysis. Policy analysis is usually delegated to expert commentators, with little or no journalistic work performed on policy issues.

In an earlier SGI report, we noted the large amount of commentary time allotted to former politicians, particularly on television, a pattern that generates potential conflict-of-interest questions and does not seem to have contributed to improving the quality of policy analysis. Perhaps the most salient example of the confluence between politicians and television was provided by Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a former leader of the PSD and Portugal’s most popular TV commentator, who was elected president of Portugal in January 2016.

Citations:
Corinne Deloy, “Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa wins the presidential election in Portugal in the first round,” Foundation Robert Schuman 24 January 2016.

Parties and Interest Associations

#32

How inclusive and open are the major parties in their internal decision-making processes?

10
 9

The party allows all party members and supporters to participate in its decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are open.
 8
 7
 6


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, all party members have the opportunity to participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are rather open.
 5
 4
 3


The party restricts decision-making to party members. In most cases, a number of elected delegates participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are largely controlled by the party leadership.
 2
 1

A number of party leaders participate in decisions on the most important personnel and issues. Lists of candidates and agendas of issues are fully controlled and drafted by the party leadership.
Intra-party Democracy
5
A total of seven parties, running in five lists, won seats in the parliamentary elections held on 4 October 2015. These included the Social Democratic Party (Partido Social Democrata, PSD) and Democratic and Social Center/Popular Party (CDS-Partido Popular, CDS-PP), which ran together as the Portugal Ahead (Portugal à Frente, PAF) alliance. This won 38.5% of the vote and 107 seats, of which 89 were allocated to the PSD and 18 to the CDS-PP. The Socialist Party (Partido Socialista, PS) received 32.4% of the vote, and 86 seats. The Left Bloc (Bloco de Esquerda, BE) won 10.2% and 19 seats. The Unitarian Democratic Coalition (Coligação Democrática Unitária, CDU), which included the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the Ecologist Party (Partido Ecologista “Os Verdes,” PEV) took 8.3% of the vote and 17 seats, which resulted in 15 for the PCP and two for the PEV. Finally, the People-Animals-Nature party (Pessoas-Animais-Natureza, PAN) won 1.4% and one seat.

Of these seven parties, only three gained more than 10% of the vote in the 4 October 2015 legislative elections: the PSD, the PS and the BE.

Both the PS and PSD hold direct elections of their party leadership by party members and have congresses whose delegates are also elected by party members. However, regarding policy issues and candidates other than the party leader, the rank-and-file members have little say. Instead, decisions are largely made by the party leadership, which – depending on the internal balance of power – may have to negotiate with the leaders of opposing internal factions.

In January 2015, the PS approved new statutes that would allow primary elections to choose political candidates and would let registered party sympathizers (not just members) to vote to choose the party leader. While current party leader António Costa gained the party leadership because of a primary election, this technique was not used to select candidates for the 2015 legislative elections, nor was it used for the 2016 party leadership election in May 2016, where Costa ran unopposed. The latter election reverted to the direct election model previously noted.

The BE elects delegates that convene at the party’s national convention to elect an 80-member national committee called “Mesa Nacional,” which is elected proportionally. The Mesa Nacional then votes for the party’s 21-member Political Commission. In its tenth convention, held in June 2016, the party changed its statutes slightly, albeit the change does not significantly alter the degree of internal democracy. Due to this change, it is now up to the Political Commission to elect a seven-member Secretariat. Until the ninth party convention held in November 2014, the BE had two national coordinators within the permanent commission. After this convention, the party returned to the model of a single coordinator, in this case Catarina Martins (the only female party leader among Portugal’s main parties), who retained her position in the tenth convention. Within the BE, internal factions tend to be more ideological than in other parties (as the run-up to both the ninth and tenth conventions illustrated). To some extent, this reflects the different parties that came together to form the BE in the late 1990s. It would also appear that party members have more interest and participation in policy choices, though there the number of active party members is small, meaning that the rank-and-file is relatively close to the party leadership. For instance, just 2,653 party members voted to elect the 617 delegates to the ninth convention, producing a ratio of rank-and-file members to delegates of approximately 4:1.

While only these three parties met the 10% criteria in recent legislative elections, two other parties are potentially relevant within Portugal’s political landscape: the Portuguese Communist Party (Partido Comunista Português, PCP) and the CDS-PP. These are also marked by a high degree of centralization in their national-level internal decision-making. The former abides by the rules of democratic centralism. The latter is characterized by a small rank-and-file base.

To what extent are economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Business)
5
A few employers’ associations and trade unions are capable of formulating relevant policies. However, their proposals are largely reactive to government measures rather than being proactive in setting policy debate. While employers and trade unions have both expressed dissatisfaction at some austerity measures – or sought faster alleviation of others – these tend to be reactions to specific government measures rather than ex ante and general policy proposals.

To what extent are non-economic interest associations capable of formulating relevant policies?

10
 9

Most interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 8
 7
 6


Many interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 5
 4
 3


Few interest associations are highly capable of formulating relevant policies.
 2
 1

Most interest associations are not capable of formulating relevant policies.
Association Competence (Others)
5
Despite the alleviation of austerity and initial signs of economic recovery, non-economic interest associations continue to have little impact. The focus in recent years on economic issues means that proposals by established groups engaged with other issues attract less visibility than before Portugal’s bailout (e.g., proposals by the environmental group Quercus). Interaction with associations appeared to be largely instrumental and related to political or group objectives rather than policy-based.
Back to Top