Not amused, not sulking: but is the PM getting through to people? Image: Lusa
Not amused, not sulking: but is the PM getting through to people? Image: Lusa

‘Leaks’ from Council of State “an offence to the entity and its members”

PS Socialists appear to be smarting under new wave of criticism 

Portugal’s majority government is under attack from all sides as it sets out to return ‘to action’ following the summer recess – and it doesn’t appear to be taking the onslaught in its stride.

Reacting to criticism that he had been ‘sulking’ at the recent Council of State convened by President Marcelo, prime minister António Costa referred to people having “told lies” about what happened at the meeting, and in so doing “do a terrible disservice” to the country.

Lusa admits that the PM would neither confirm or deny whether in fact he had remained silent throughout the meeting: “I am not going to say yes, I am not going to say no”, Mr Costa told journalists, explaining the reason being “we should respect institutions”.

And today, Mr Costa’s former minister, now parliamentary speaker, Augusto Santos Silva kept on with the theme, describing the ‘leaks’ not only as offences against the Council of State and its members, but “a serious offence”.

“It’s a question of honour for members of bodies as important as the Council of State to know how to respect the rules”, he told reporters

“And I know those rules and I respect them, so I have nothing to say about what goes on in the Council of State”, he concluded.

In between these inteventions, president Marcelo himself stated that the PM’s decision “not to respond in the Council of State to the opinions of the counsellors expressed at the (previous) meeting was not due to any quarrel” between the two men, writes Lusa.

That comment itself can be read on a number of levels. But it is not just political infighting that is marking the week’s slow return to politics: the government’s own policy announcements are not being received in the way they might have hoped.

For example, yesterday, Mr Costa announced “less IRS payable by young people and the refunding of university fees during the first years of employment.”

There was also the offer of free passes to youth hostels on completion of obligatory education and four train tickets for school-leavers “to learn of the diversity of our country”.

But for student bodies, this was all smoke and mirrors. To coin the expression of the Coimbra Academic Association, “a patchwork quilt of disconnected proposals” which fell short of the robust, connected measures that today’s students require.

João Caseiro, president of the association told Lusa that today’s problems are in actually paying university fees, paying for room and board, paying for books and other materials. The government’s measures “do not respond to young people’s needs”, he said – with opposition parties in the background amplifying the message, suggesting the government is back doing what it ‘does best’ – presenting policies that never see the light of day.

Presenting its own bluepruint to address the country’s housing crisis (Habitação Agora), Iniciativa Liberal dubbed the government’s pitch at young people  “a scheme with the sole objective of showing the inexistence of solutions for a life-project for the country”.

At the other end of the political scale, PCP communists said Costa’s measures don’t approach the root of young people’s problems in Portugal: precarious employment; low wages and lack of access to education and housing.

All in all, this ‘slow return to the fray’ is already proving distinctly messy.

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