“Influential and Unsuspicious Assistance”

Chancellor Scholz visits founding anniversary of the Partido Socialista (PS) in Lisbon. Founded by the SPD-affiliated foundation in Bad Münstereifel, it had maintained excellent contacts to Bonn.

BAD MÜNSTEREIFEL/LISBON (Own report) – With his attendance at the 50th anniversary of the founding of Portugal’s Partido Socialista (PS), Chancellor Olaf Scholz has commemorated the party’s founding in Bad Münstereifel, in German exile. On April 19, 1973, the later Prime Minister, Mário Soares, and other members of the opposition to the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar founded the PS in an academic institution of the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation (“Haus Münstereifel”). With the help of the West German foundation, the new party sought also to position itself against the, at the time, very strong Partido Communista Português and to prevent it from coming to power. By aiding the PS, the foundation was also securing for itself and the SPD the best political contacts to Portugal. Similar processes are known to have taken place in relationship to Spain and Greece. Exiled members of the Greek opposition, who had been integrated in political networks in the Federal Republic of Germany – often by the SPD – later became ministers or president in Athens. The social democrats’ support for the PS was also intended to detract from the fact that Bonn was supporting the Salazar dictatorship with arms deliveries for its colonial wars in Africa.

Main Support for the Colonial War

Initially, Portugal’s Salazar dictatorship (“Estado Novo”) was treated benevolently by the young Federal Republic of Germany, and then strongly supported. The latter began in the late 1950s, when Bonn was in search of foreign supply bases for the Bundeswehr, that would be militarily available in case of war against the European socialist countries. The Salazar regime provided military bases in Setúbal and Alcochete not far from its capital and permitted the construction of an airfield in Beja in the country’s south. In exchange, Bonn provided Portugal large quantities of military hardware, which was used for its wars against anti-colonial forces in its African colonies. According to a study, the Federal Republic of Germany became Portugal’s “main support for its wars in Africa.” This led to a scandal, when, in June 1966, the freedom fighter Amílcar Cabral reported to the UN Decolonization Committee that the Portuguese were using West German planes to bomb regions of Guinea Bissau.[1] That scandal, and the slowly evolving awareness of the perspective that Portugal would sooner or later have to democratize itself, compelled Bonn to nclude “a form of support for democratic opposition” as a “component” of its foreign policy. “This opened a sphere of engagement ... particularly for the SPD,” according to the study.[2]

Party Founding in Bad Münstereifel

Already back in 1965 – 66 the SPD and its affiliated party foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), had made initial contacts to the Acçao Socialista Portuguesa (ASP), an organization founded in 1964 in Geneva exile.[3] Soon after contact was established, the FES, in particular, began supporting the ASP and organizations within its milieu. It also provided scholarships to the Portuguese from this milieu to come study in the Federal Republic of Germany. This played a significant role in 1973, when the ASP discussed its transformation from an association into a regular political party. The transformation idea was particularly supported by ASP members in exile, while ASP activists in Portugal largely rejected the idea, because of the harsh repression inside the country. Following a meeting in early 1973 in Lisbon, which ended in an agreement to maintain the status quo, exile ASP members initiated another attempt, and – with the support of the FES – organized an ASP congress, which was held from April 16 – 21 1973, under absolute secrecy in “Haus Münstereifel”, an FES academic institution in Bad Münstereifel. There – following the unsuccessful foundation of the party in Lisbon, in January – the Partido Socialista (PS) was launched under Mario Soares. April 19 stands as its official date of foundation.

Close and Productive Relations

The FES and its parent SPD pursued a two-fold objective with their significant contribution to the founding of the PS. On the one hand, the Partido Comunista Português (PCP), considered at the time to be “one of the best organized communist parties in Europe,[4] could be countered with a distinctly non-communist party. In Bonn, this was deemed desirable for keeping Portugal within the western alliance, by preventing the PCP from coming to power in Lisbon, following the Carnation Revolution on April 25, 1974, which overthrew Portugal’s dictatorship. The plan worked. The PS – which the FES had comprehensively helped with setting up its party infrastructure and with the training of its cadre, as well as providing it with enormous sums of money – emerged the strongest party in Portugal’s first free parliamentary elections on April 25, 1976, far ahead of the PCP. In addition, the intense cooperation had forged close ties between the PS and the FES and soon, also the SPD. This has led, as experts confirm, to a “close, trustworthy, and productive relationship” between the PS and the “German Social Democracy on a lasting basis.”[5] Ultimately the support provided by the FES and SPD to the PS had opened channels for influence that Bonn, and later Berlin could successfully use in the formulation of foreign policy.

“Prevent Left-Wing and Right-Wing Dictatorships”

The episode recalled by German Chancellor Scholz’ attendance at the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the PS is not an isolated case. In 1975, SPD Chair Willy Brandt traveled successively to Spain, Portugal and Greece, countries, where either a dictatorship had been successfully toppled (Portugal, Greece) or where it was about to fall (Spain). According to the weekly Der Spiegel, it had been “very doubtful” that “the democratic forces” in the three countries would “retain the upper hand.”[6] In search of influential and yet internationally unsuspicious assistance” the “German social democracy ... appeared as the trendsetting force toward more stability.” For Bonn, as for the West as a whole, the FES and SPD offered a guarantee that communist partiers would be reliably kept out of power. In June 1975, the Spokesperson for the SPD Group in the Bundestag was quoted to have said; “We want to bring together socially-oriented democracies that prevent left-wing and right-wing dictatorships.”[7]

“Resolve Quietly and Informally”

This succeeded. As in Portugal, the FES and SPD were in a position in also Spain and Greece to use their contacts to the opposition – often living in exile in Germany – against the national dictatorships, to form stable foreign policy networks for the aftermath of the dictatorships’ overthrow. “The resistance has created many personal friendships and ties between Germany and Greece,” retrospectively reported Sigrid Skarpelis-Sperk, a long-time SPD Bundestag parliamentarian and chair of the German-Greek Group of Parliamentarians.[8] Quite a few members of the opposition in exile “who had returned home from Germany in the aftermath of the dictatorship” worked “then in important positions in state, government and parliament.” “These networks and relationships were also helpful later. Whenever there was a problem, that had to be solved quietly and possibly informally – they knew what number to call.” Among those who, during the time of the military dictatorship in Greece, had lived in Germany and established political networks – often with the SPD – were Greek Prime Minister Konstantinos Simitis (1996 bis 2004), Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos (1996 bis 2001) and President of Greece Karolos Papoulias (2005 bis 2015).


[1], [2] Peter Birle, Antonio Muñoz Sánchez: Partnerschaft für die Demokratie. Die Arbeit der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Brasilien und Portugal. Bonn 2020.

[3] Nélson Pereira Pinto: Die Entstehung des portugiesischen Partido Socialista in Bad Münstereifel 1973. fes.de 19.04.2023.

[4], [5] Joachim Schlütter: Eine Partnerschaft für die Demokratie. Die Arbeit der Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in Portugal. fes.de 17.02.2021.

[6], [7] Export zum Mittelmeer. Der Spiegel 27/1975.

[8] Sigrid Skarpelis-Sperk: Griechenland und Deutschland. 40 Jahre persönliche und politische Erfahrungen. In: Wolfgang Schultheiß, Evangelos Chrysos: Meilensteine deutsch-griechischer Beziehungen. Athen 2010. S. 325-346.