Looking happy, but bringing farmers scant joy: Maria do Céu Antunes

Agriculture minister upsets sector yet again

Agricultural confederation says it won’t give in to “political bullying”

With farmers and producers struggling to survive in the grip of the country’s worst drought in living memory, agriculture minister Maria de Ceu Antunes has disappointed once again.

Ms Antunes is well-known for saying the government is giving as much financial help as it can (and then not delivering), but this time she has gone a little further.

Faced with criticism by CAP (the Confederation of Portuguese Agriculture) that government measures to mitigate the effects of the drought had been  “non-existent”, she quipped that perhaps a better question might be “why during the electoral campaign did CAP advise its members not to vote for the Socialist Party”.

CAP has pronounced itself “perplexed”, and says “it will continue to give voice to farmers, insisting in the inexistence of response by the government.”

A statement stresses “we will not give one millimetre to this political bullying (…) these are declarations that seem very unhealthy in a State of democratic law, and need to be explained”.

The electoral campaign ended more than six months ago (and the government won an absolute majority). Could this really be why farmers are not receiving promised payments, though? “Is the minister not paying farmers, and delaying decisions in political retaliation to CAP”, questions the statement.

As for the call to its members not to vote PS, CAP stresses it should be put in context. The confederation appealed to farmers not to support any parties willing to go into coalition with PAN, which it views as ‘anti-agriculture/ anti-rural world’.

But after the PS swept back into power (requiring no coalitions to govern), CAP was magnanimous enough to convey its congratulations, albeit warning the victory implied “great political responsibility”.

“With this gratuitous, extemporaneous attack” the question now is “can Maria do Céu Antunes live up to this responsibility?”

Unfortunate back-biting seems to have pitted the minister’s time in office. She insisted again this week that the government “is doing everything it can to support the sector through extraordinary supports”, the latest of which runs to €100 million.

The problem with these declarations, says CAP, is that there is many a slip twixt lip and cup – with farmers invariably left waiting.

Opposition parties have since picked up on this latest wrangle, with the PSD’s Hugo Soares saying it “shows once again that there is a pattern of authoritarianism within this government of the Socialist Party”. It has confused absolute majority with absolute power, he said – a criticism that is being voiced more and more these days.

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