PM seeks to downplay Marcelo’s very public warning to government
President Marcelo with Minister for Territorial Cohesion Ana Abrunhosa on Saturday

PM seeks to downplay Marcelo’s very public warning to government

Suggests President has “moments of creativity”

PM António Costa has taken a break from addressing climate matters in Egypt today to comment on the unexpected dressing down delivered by President Marcelo to Minister for Territorial Cohesion Ana Abrunhosa on Saturday.

The incident has already been seized on by satirical programme “Isto é Gozar com Quem Trabalha”, as it was both surprising and slightly comical. 

In the middle of what promised to be a hum-drum official fixture in Trofa, the head of State used his moment on the podium to tell Ms Abrunhosa – one of the numerous PS ministers recently caught up in incompatibility concerns: “And since I have not had the opportunity to say it I say it to you today. When we accept political functions we know it is for good and for bad. We are not obliged to accept it. We know that they are difficult, they are arduous, that they are subject to increasing control and scrutiny – democracy is that – and there are good days and bad days, happy days and unhappy days. The ratio is two happy days for every 10 unhappy days (…) . This is a super happy day, but there are super unhappy days. And truly super unhappy for you will be the day when I discover that the execution rate of European funds is not what I think it should be. In that case I will not forgive you. I hope that day does not come, but I will be vigilant in case it does” – and here he gave a  wide, but at the same time unsettling smile.

Since then, Ana Abrunhosa has sought to push the whole incident under the carpet… saying there was no offence taken and everything is just as it should be. 

But the moment served to highlight just how poorly the government has been doing when it comes to executing the €16 billion EU ‘plan for recovery and resilience’ – the much-lauded ‘bazooka’ that prime minister Costa has been enthusing over for the best part of the last two years.

Newspapers today stress that only 6% of the funds have been allocated, while time on the money’s availability ticks relentlessly on.

A column in Correio da Manhã believes “the president was right” to bring this issue up. He may have done it in an odd way, but the impression of the country right now is that ‘no one really knows where the money from Europe is going’ when there is so much need for money in so many areas.

“When the weapons of war in Ukraine fall silent, even before it enters the European Union, what the Russians have destroyed will have to be rebuilt”, the paper warns. Thus the urgency over using this money while it is available could not be more clear.

Ms Abrunhosa’s explanation for the perceived delays this far has been that even the building of a house needs a great deal of forward planning and bureaucracy. These complicated times of rising inflation have not helped, she told reporters.

Quizzed on what he thought of the whole incident, António Costa has also attempted damage limitation – suggesting Marcelo is “creative”.

“I began my job with the previous president (Cavaco Silva), but I have a long experience with the current one. Each one has their own style, each one has their own way of acting, each one has their own way of interpreting the constitutional powers since our Constitution is quite clear, although adjustable to the personality of each one that exercises these functions (…) 

“All the Portuguese have appreciated the way the president has exercised his functions, which has moments of greater creativity. But I think that this is normal, nobody takes it badly. The minister, in fact, said that she had not taken it personally, she was there and perfectly understood the intervention in the framework of informality with which everything was taking place”.

With just a few words, President Marcelo has managed to create a lot of ripples.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com