Industry bosses align with Marcelo, challenging government’s approach to Brussels billions

As the dust settles on self-congratulatory ‘State of the Nation’ speech given by prime minister António Costa (click here), it is becoming clear that President Marcelo has a very different agenda to that of the government, and will be watching over the distribution of Brussels’ billions for post pandemic reconstruction like a hawk.

The day of the State of the Nation debate, Marcelo met with business leaders in Lisbon, admitting to being “very concerned by the weak growth of the country” which he sees as “at risk of falling to the back end of Europe”.

While the PS government’s PRR (plan for recovery and resilience) was being paraded for its bountiful excellence by the prime minister in parliament, Marcelo “confirmed in his speech to business leaders” less than 4kms away that he “laments its failings when it came to recognising private enterprise”.

Writes Expresso: “The political strategy of the prime minister was crystal clear” in both his speech and the predictably lukewarm debate that followed: “the announcing of  millions, overwhelmingly for the public sector”.

But Marcelo believes that the private sector “should have a central role” in the plan. 

The private sector will be “decisive” and “unique in the structural recovery of the economy”, he told business leaders at the Centro de Congressos – and CIP, the country’s Confederation of Industries, agreed with him wholeheartedly.

“Portugal cannot fall to the back end of Europe”, said the confederation afterwards, borrowing the President’s expression. “More robust support is needed for the Portuguese economy. It is fundamental that measures announced reach businesses, and critical that these measures are maintained for a sufficient period of time”.

This way a line in the sand seems to have been drawn. The PS executive is still a minority government. Whereas in the past, President Marcelo has done his best to support it in the name of political stability, his tactics for this second mandate are seen as likely to be different.

He is already making choices on government decisions that he doesn’t agree with – the most recent being his rubber-stamping of a law forcing the government to negotiate with teachers over hiring regulations. The government has threatened to send the law to the Constitutional Court. Marcelo has acknowledged that this is a sign that ‘institutions are working’. But it is clear he means to use his powers now to influence, not simply to ensure ‘political calm’.

CIP, buoyed by the president’s support, is thus gunning for a much larger slice of the bazooka ‘cake’.

In a statement following its conference entitled “Boosting effects of European funds on the national economy” it stressed “the importance of creating more stimulus for private investment”, particularly breaking in mind the weight of micro, small and medium sized businesses in Portugal.

“Strong signs” need to be given so that the business fabric of this country becomes more productive, more competitive and larger.

Echoing the president, business leaders insist “resources will be needed to improve run-down social systems, guarantee conditions to combat poverty, correct inequalities and improve social justice”.

The PRR has to be executed as quickly as possible – particularly as there is so much money to spend by a certain time (Portugal is faced with “executing on average (projects involving) over €6 billion per year, explains Expresso, when in the past it has never managed more than (projects involving) €3 billion). Says CIP, this cannot be done without “the active participation of companies”.