Félix da Costa not going sideways - a rare sight.jpg

Government is sworn in

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

The new PSD-CDS-PP coalition government, which officially took power on Tuesday under the premiership of Pedro Passos Coelho, is made up of some of the youngest and most inexperienced political figures in Portugal’s democratic history.

Its list of inexperienced technocrats is already drawing a parallel with the 1985 PSD government headed by Aníbal Cavaco Silva, now the President of the Republic.

The names of the future PSD-CDS-PP coalition government were kept shrouded in total secrecy until Thursday last week when the new Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho presented the list to the President.

It was thought that either economist Eduardo Catroga or Vítor Bento would take on the post of Minister for Finance, but Eduardo Catroga believed the post should go to a younger man, while Vítor Bento is known to have suffered poor health in recent years.

The post, therefore, went to Vítor Gaspar, aged 50, who has enjoyed wide economic policy experience in both Portugal and Europe.

Vítor Bento said over the weekend that the new minister of finance was an excellent choice, not just because of his “discretion”, but also because he was a “brilliant” and “very determined person”.

“I am certain that he will do an excellent job and is the perfect choice for the challenging times that lie ahead,” he said.

But criticisms that he is too young and inexperienced echo those made in 1985 when the government of Cavaco Silva was accused of having members who were young and inexperienced.

Other ministerial posts are being filled by equally young and inexperienced faces. Employment is taken by Álvaro Santos Pereira, aged 39, while Pedro Mota Soares, who takes over a minister for Social Security, is even younger at 37.

The ministerial portfolio for Foreign Affairs went, not surprisingly, to Paulo Portas, who under the last PSD-CDS coalition government led by José Manuel Durão Barroso and then Pedro Santana Lopes seven years ago held the post of Defence Minister. This time the Defence post goes to Aguiar Branco.

The Ministry for the Economy went to Álvaro Santos Pereira, the Justice portfolio to Paula Teixeira Cruz and the Health portfolio to Paulo Macedo.

The new Government held its first meeting this week with representatives of the ‘Troika’ (International Monetary Fund/European Central Bank/European Union) to explain how the strict ‘memorandum of understanding’, which Portugal signed a month ago in exchange for a €78 billion bailout package, will be applied.

Vítor Gaspar, the new Minister for Finance, and Pedro Passos Coelho’s Number 2 in the government, was joined by economist Carlos Moedas, the new Deputy Secretary of State to the Prime Minister, whose task it will be to form a bridge between São Bento and the ‘Troika’ of inter-national institutions.

The new ministerial line-up was praised by President Cavaco Silva who stated that it “deserved the respect of all” and in a nod to less government intervention argued that the State should share the responsibility for solving the economic and social crisis with charitable institutions.

“Only the Portuguese and its charitable and welfare institutions can relieve the effects of this social calamity,” he added.

The new Government has a strict deadline to apply a raft of structural reforms which require immediate action before the end of the summer. By the end of July (in less than 40 days), the executive will have to advance with plans to re-privatise troubled bank BPN – an issue that has been dragging on for two years.

The government will also have to present a formula to reduce the amount of national insurance contributions (Taxa Social Única) that Portuguese companies have to pay towards the state pensions and social security benefits of their employees and which must come into force by 2012.

The State will also have to eliminate its ‘Golden Shares’ in formerly state-owned utility companies and advance with the privatisation of the public news TV and radio channels RTP.