“…adjusted to current times and war in Ukraine”
This Friday afternoon has seen a flurry of newsbites as the 23rd Constitutional Government of Portugal has presented the programme it means to follow until the next legislative elections (in October 2026).
The fact that this important moment fell on April Fool’s Day has not helped separate the wood from the chaff – and boy is there is chaff.
As political commentator José Gomes Ferreira pointed out on SIC television yesterday, the government’s programme is more of a ‘wish list’ than any kind of ‘strategic plan’ that will put Portugal back among the 10-15 leading economies of Europe.
Right now, this country is slipping relentlessly down the line of developing economies, having been overtaken only recently by Poland and Hungary, he explained. It is all very well for the government to say what it wants, but citizens need to understand how these ambitions are going to be achieved.
To this end, the government’s reported ‘second-in-command’, minister Mariana Vieira da Silva presented the Socialist’s programme this afternoon which, according to Público, “ignored the advice of former planning minister Nelson de Souza that much of the budgets and timelines for the PRR (Plan for Recovery and Resilience) need to be revised”.
According to Ms Vieira da Silva, the programme HAS been “adjusted to the current times, and war in Ukraine, and continues to include measures to combat the pandemic and its effects and pursue a trajectory of growth and development”.
A moment-by-moment run down of the presentation covered:
- “regionalisation” – a pledge for a referendum on this subject in 2024.
- the programme’s four key objectives: executing measures of support for families and incentives for businesses proposed in the State Budget for 2022; creating a task force aimed at ‘recovering the country, from the economy of families to the economy of companies. The objective is to grow above the European average; presenting an agenda for young generations and families with children, the fundamental pillars of which are guarantees to accessible housing and decent work; reinforcing the efficiency of response to problems emerging in the country – including a response to temporary lodging, namely of refugees that are arriving from Ukraine, and in relation to the lack of GPs.
- the programme’s own four pillars: responding to the climatic emergency; assuring digital transition; countering the demographic winter and combating inequalities.
- Support for families (see below)
- Support for businesses (see below)
- The pledge to “try and safeguard the objective of seeing the minimum wage increase to €900 a month”
- Even the pledge to open debate on a four-day working week.
It was just as José Gomes Ferreira described last night on SIC, a wish-list of good intentions.
The country is no closer to understanding how the government is going to get there.
Support for families:
This will come in the form of :
- An extraordinary increase in pensions up to €1,097 per month with retroactive effect from January 1
- Tripling of scholarships for students attending Master’s courses, regardless of their economic situation
- Transition over the course of three years to free day care for babies and pre-school age children (this year will see the 1st year ‘free’, next year the 1st and 2nd year, 2024 the 1st, 2nd and 3rd years).
- Creation of a ‘Child Guarantee’ to enable around 120,000 children to be ‘rescued from extreme poverty’
- Significant tax reductions for the middle class
- Deployment of a 3rd and 6th level of IRS (income tax)
- 170,000 families exempted from paying IRS at all
- Tax reductions for young people, even those who are self employed – and exemptions of 30% in 1st and 2nd years, 20% in 3rd and 4th, and 10% in 5th year.
Support for businesses
This will include:
- A definitive end of the ‘Special Payment on Account’ to improve liquidity of micro, small and medium-sized businesses
- Strong incentive for companies to modernise through the possibility of 25% tax deduction on investment expenses
- Fostering entrepreneurship, attracting and retaining talent in this country by changing taxation of income from intellectual property (making the regime more competitive throughout the EU), and creating “very attractive tax regimes for remuneration in the form of social participation plans in start-ups.
What happens next?
Now that the country has been presented with the programme, debate will follow in parliament. Ms Vieira da Silva explained that only after this debate can the State Budget (for this year) be delivered – and that itself will then require being debated upon; voted upon and rubber-stamped by the President.
None of this will be happening in a bubble. The war in Ukraine; the fuel crisis (even the pandemic) continue. Ms Vieira da Silva openly admitted that “the evolution of the situation and the war could imply new measures of support” to “mitigate the effects of the economic crisis”.
Thus the weekly Council of Ministers could well find itself approving new measures “weekly”.
In the unenviable position of outlining ‘objectives’ and ‘ambitions’ that could be tossed and turned from pillar-to-post by events in the wider world, Ms Vieira da Silva re-emphasised that the government will remain committed, despite the fact that it may have to alter its timetables.
She stressed: “There is an expectation that the situation we are experiencing currently will not prevent us, by the end of the legislature, from being able to resume the path of growth and modernisation that we have been following. That is the evaluation we have made at this time. It is evident that we do not know how this situation will evolve; how long it will last; what impact it will have – but the promises we have assumed are those presented today. We won’t be giving up on any of the measures”.
As to the “emerging problems in the country”, these seem to be in multiple sectors: health, education, social services.
Ms Vieira da Silva said that in health, the plan was to:
- Increase the number of family doctors, improve their working conditions and the attractiveness of the job (writer’s note: this is an objective/ solution that has been announced for the best part of the last 20 years by every government, and never achieved).
- Move from health centres to new Units of Family Health, guaranteeing coverage of 80% of the population within the next four years
- Create incentives to retain specialist doctors in underprivileged areas (again: an objective as old as nursery rhymes)
- Improve health management, making it more attractive and better paid (ditto)
- Create new units of integrated and continuous care (ditto).
When it comes to issues in education and the social sector, the plan is to:
- Make the teaching career more attractive, namely through new models of recruitment and contracting
- Allow contracting to schools, school groups and educational areas as quickly as possible
- Improve care for the elderly.
This programme must have been as difficult for Mariana Vieira da Silva to present as it is to translate and write about.
There is nothing ‘new’ in this government’s programme – and the bottom line of today’s presentation was that the current moment of global uncertainty could see everything brought to a screeching halt at a moment’s notice.
Another grand objective of the day is to increase the weight of renewable energies in the production of electricity by 80% by 2026.
No one has mentioned getting pigs to fly so far (in the service of Amazon, perhaps), but for this long-awaited programme to have been presented on a day when practical jokes are expected, it has managed a kind of ludicrous crash-landing just in time for everyone to turn off the lights and disappear for the weekend.