Pedro Nuno Santos. Image: Miguel A. Lopes/ Lusa
Pedro Nuno Santos. Image: Miguel A. Lopes/ Lusa

Former minister returns to parliament after six-month break

Pedro Nuno Santos resigned in turbulence of TAP golden handshake debacle

Pedro Nuno Santos, long seen as ‘pretender’ to the prime minister’s role as leader of the Socialist Party, has today returned to parliament to take up his seat as a regular MP, six months after resigning from government over his handling of a shambolic compensation deal – amounting to half a million euros – paid by State owned airline TAP to departing director, Alexandra Reis.

The former minister of infrastructures and housing replaces Rosa Venâncio in parliament, after six months in which she asked for the suspension of her term as Socialist MP.

Santos has already made it known that, on his return to parliament, he does not wish to interfere in areas of government that were under his control in the past, and that he returns with no reason to complain about any ‘lack of solidarity’ shown to him by the PM

PS parliamentary leader, Eurico Brilhante Dias, in a recent interview on TSF radio, has played down the presence of Santos on the PS benches, going so far as to say that the party “is always stronger when it welcomes a qualified party member, with experience in government.”

During his time as minister, Pedro Nuno Santos was directly involved in two of the cases that most shook the internal stability of Costa’s government, even as it commanded a majority in parliament, writes Lusa.

“The first was at the end of June last year when he published draft legislation on the location of the future new Lisbon airport without the prime minister’s prior knowledge and in direct contradiction to Costa’s guarantee that the State’s choice would be made through a process of consensus with the main party in opposition, the Social Democrats (PSD).

“On December 28, Santos resigned after it became known that his secretary of State, Hugo Mendes, had known about the process by which TAP paid a board member, Alexandra Reis, €500,000 in compensation to leave”, even though, up until that point, this knowledge had been denied.

Weeks later, “supposedly after consulting his WhatsApp messages”, Santos acknowledged that he had in fact been informed about the compensation deal to Ms Reis, who went on to be offered a top job in government…

Giving some further background on the presumed future leader of the Socialist Party, Lusa explains that Pedro Nuno Santos “led the PS youth wing when José Sócrates was party leader” (Sócrates still embroiled in the long running criminal investigation that saw him jailed in 2014). He has also been a member of parliament since 2005. He was initially a supporter of former PS leader António José Seguro “and then (an) opponent”, going on to become “Costa’s right-hand man as secretary of State for parliamentary affairs during the first government in which the PS had a confidence-and-supply agreement – dubbed the ‘geringonça’ (contraption) with smaller left-wing parties – and then, five years ago, at the 2018 party congress, (he) positioned himself as a potential candidate to succeed Costa.

“On a political level, at various times (Pedro Nuno Santos) has sought to draw lines of ideological demarcation in relation to Costa, of which only a few stand out.

“In the middle of the campaign for the 2019 elections to the European Parliament, he criticised agreements signed by the Party of European Socialists (PES) with the European People’s Party (EPP) and centrist forces; after Portugal’s 2019 legislative elections, he lamented the absence of a written agreement with the Left Bloc (BE) for the formation of the PS’s second minority government; and even after the final political crisis, with the rejection of the State Budget for 2022, he continued to defend the ‘geringonça’ as a solution for government.

“In PS sessions in which he makes speeches, he often issues a warning for the more centrist militants: “The PS has two letters: P for Party, S for Socialist; it has no other letters.”

In the PS some of Pedro Nuno Santos “more neo-Marxist speeches also stand out”, Lusa continues, “such as those in which he pits female shoe manufacturer employees against bosses – despite in other circumstances having praised the contribution of the footwear sector to the nation’s exports, just as he ended his term as minister backing the partial reprivatisation of TAP”.

Commenting on Mr Santos and his possible political ambitions, political analyst and State advisor Luís Marques Mendes said last month that he can certainly see him as a future leader of PS Socialists, but he has “serious doubts that he will ever make prime minister”.

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