Portugal and Greece criticize E.U. policies

Apr 11, 2016, 3:09 PM EDT
Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras.
(Source: scrolleditorial/flickr)

The prime ministers of Greece and Portugal issued a joint statement on Monday demanding the E.U. end austerity policies and act with more solidarity in dealing with the refugee crisis.

Alexis Tsipras of Greece and Antonio Costa of Portugal argued that the eurozone crisis was the result of an asymmetrical process of European integration, as well as the absence of effective tools to tackle it. They claimed the E.U.’s solution --  austerity -- was ineffective and had only fueled recession, unemployment, and poverty. Rather, "It is now more important than ever to promote an alternative agenda of solidarity, social cohesion, and democracy," Tsipras said upon welcoming Costa. Costa added that his government would present the E.U. with a new mix of policy measures at the end of the month.

The two governments also called for "a new European social contract" and policies to address the shared problems of nationalism, xenophobia, and extremism across the continent, and condemned the unilateral border closings of some E.U. states in response to the migrant crisis. Tsipras said that the use of teargas and plastic bullets by Macedonian police during clashes with refugees at the Idomeni makeshift camp was a disgrace to European civilization.

Portugal and Greece have much in common. Both received bail-outs from the E.U. following the crash of 2008, and suffered severe contractions of GDP and social unrest in the aftermath.  However, Portugal is now on much sounder footing than Greece. Lisbon exited its €78 billion ($89 billion) bailout program in May 2014, while Athens is struggling to close a crucial review of its third bailout in five years. And by geographic luck Portugal is not facing waves of migrants. Greece, on the other hand, has been overwhelmed by the crisis and could not cope on its own; as part of the E.U.-Turkey migration deal other E.U. states have sent additional manpower and resources to help Greece process asylum claims.

Greece is the real weak link here. But Athens must be relieved to count on political support from other E.U. nations, even if they are not the most influential.

Portugal’s support goes beyond rhetoric and a joint photo session; in February, Costa offered to take in several thousand refugees from Greece in a gesture of “solidarity.” He wrote to Tsipras that Portugal is able to house 2,800 asylum seekers initially but may be able to find room for another 2,500 to 3,000 beyond that. Costa acknowledged that the numbers involved will not make a material difference to Greece’s challenges as the main gateway to the E.U. for refugees, but said it is important to show Lisbon’s support to Greece. According to AFP, Portugal has agreed to take in up to 10,000 refugees, more than double its quota of 4,500 under an E.U. scheme that has failed to make much progress in the bloc.

But will an alliance of two poor members make much of a difference in the entire E.U.?