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Portugal’s State budget ‘cliffhanger’ resolved… by abstentions

Approval of Portugal’s State Budget for next year (OE2021) is assured later today in parliament due to minority party abstentions.

The ‘cliffhanger’ over whether Socialists’ spending plans would receive sufficient support to ‘pass’ has been rumbling away throughout the last weeks of the Covid crisis – pointing very much to the parlous state of the nation’s political stability.

But behind scenes negotiations have seen to it that enough ‘minority opponents’ have at last ‘fallen in line’ by bartering concessions for ‘abstentions’.

Votes against have been reduced to those of left-wingers Bloco de Esquerda – a former Socialist ‘ally’ which has stuck out for its ‘principles’ (that the government should be spending a great deal more on the health service and social support and a great deal less on supporting Novo Banco) – and the centre-right, in the form of PSD, CDS-PP and IL, as well as right-wing Chega.

PAN, the people animals nature party, has been the final ‘minority’ player in parliament to reveal its abstention intentions – assuring the government of hair’s breadth success.

With abstentions already announced by PCP Communists, PEV (the Greens) and a former PAN MP (now ‘non-ascribed’), the embattled government of António Costa required “at least two more abstentions” to get its budget approved.

PAN’s involve three. Thus, for the time being, ‘the panic is over’.

Announcing PAN’s 11th hour decision, party spokesperson Inês Sousa Real acknowledged that this is a “particularly complex and challenging moment” in Portugal’s history, and therefore requires dialogue (as opposed to full-blown political crisis).

PAN has not abstained from working to construct a more fair budget, stressed MS Sousa Real, as the document that will be voted on later today now sees 50 proposals put forwards by the party integrated within it.

“The budget is not the same as the one that entered parliament”, she said.

Among the many changes forced through by PAN has been agreement to:

● create a ‘transparency portal for the management of European funds’,
● reinforce staff within borders control agency SEF and labour authority ACT to combat human trafficking
● create a social network to accompany victims of sexual abuse/ intervene with ‘young aggressors’
● set up a professional training programme for the homeless
● extend 10 million to animal sterilisation programmes, and perhaps most unusual of all the agreement for ‘safe houses’ for victims of domestic violence to agree to take pets.

Other parties have extended their abstentions for other concessions, involving many more millions to be ploughed into the SNS health service; extra social help for people who have lost their jobs; ‘danger money’ for frontline workers (‘subsídio de risco’); a new carbon tax on flights and cruises out of Portugal; new reductions in tolled roads and 100% support for the lay-off regime.

The bottom-line is that galloping debt will continue to gallop, but for the time being at least, the Socialists are still in charge.

Nonetheless, it’s not looking ‘good’ politically. Yesterday, ‘out of the blue’, centre-right PSD voted in favour of a left-wing Bloco de Esquerda proposal to block any more money being ploughed into Novo Banco from the so-called Resolution Fund.

Minister of Finance João Leão’s reaction was that the PSD has behaved “irresponsibly and cowardly” (see separate story to come).

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