Presenting his new government’s programme on Saturday in Lisbon, prime minister António Costa acknowledged the next four years aren’t going to be easy. But he stressed his party is ready “for the good times and the bad”.
No one appears to be taking bets on which will come first.
Indeed, the fractured nature of Portugal’s new parliament has already brought ructions bubbling to the surface.
Former president of Turismo de Portugal, João Cotrim de Figueiredo, from political party Iniciativa Liberal is one of the ‘lone’ MPs of parties never before elected into any kind of power.
He is calling on the traditional opposition of PSD/CDS to reject the government’s ‘ambitious programme’ which started being debated as the Resident went to press.
As a single MP, Cotrim de Figueiredo isn’t capable of mounting the challenge himself. This can only come from ‘a parliamentary group’.
Needless to say, on Tuesday, after Cotrim de Figueiredo made his appeal, none of the major parties appeared likely in any way, shape or form to reject the government’s programme.
In essence, the blueprint for the Socialists’ next four years in power is a copy of their last election manifesto, “with a few tweaks to please left-wing allies”, explains Expresso.
Trumpeting the collection of ambitions on Saturday, no national media source referred to Brussels’ recent ‘alert’ over the draft budget – submitted by Socialists at the 11th hour just over a week ago – which failed fairly spectacularly to address any of the structural changes that the European Commission keeps demanding.
In other words, the programme – as positive as it may sound – is hostage to a very important ‘next step’.
But first to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of it: priorities are described as tackling climate change and the country’s dwindling demographics, combating inequality and powering digital transition.
Initial soundbites coming on Saturday centered on plans to raise the national minimum wage to €750 by 2023. Employers are described as ‘open to negotiations as long as the economy can support it’. Unions, too, are keen – particularly as they were threatening blistering street demos when the country went to the polls earlier this month unless wage policies were reviewed as a matter of urgency.
Other plans include a review of the golden visa scheme in a bid to attract new jobs.
Explains Reuters: “The aim is to channel the money from the scheme towards low density regions and activities leading to job creation and regeneration of urban areas and cultural heritage.”
It all sounds very good on paper (as election manifestos often do) but, in practice, a source who has spent the past five years channelling Chinese investment into the scheme doubts it will result in many takers.
“People aren’t interested in investing in anything beyond houses,” the source told Reuters. “It’s too risky, they don’t see potential for growth in sectors beyond tourism. They are doing this for the visa for them and their children, not for the investment.”
Other pledges included the government’s commitment to promoting further economic expansion, achieving balanced public accounts and greater social justice.
Swearing the new Executive in, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa demonstrated his knack for reading between the lines.
He stressed there are goals from the last government that haven’t yet been achieved – particularly the campaign against corruption and ‘the durability of growth’.
The new government – the largest in over 40 years, with 20 ministers and 50 secretaries of state – will have to work with “humility, impartiality and perseverance”, said President Marcelo, if it is to make up some of the “sense of distance between those who govern and those who are the raison d’être of this government”.
Costa “acknowledged” the difficulties ahead, saying: “It’s not enough to grow… it’s not enough to reduce the deficit. It’s also needed to cut the public debt below 100% of GDP.”
And this is where the PM described his new-look workforce as one that was prepared “for the good times and the bad”.
Little was mentioned on Saturday of the truly parlous state of the country’s health service, and how nothing the Socialists have done this far seems to have resolved any of the quite desperate problems.
As the PS programme started being debated in parliament on Wednesday – and smaller parties were expected to concentrate on what they feel are the ‘much too high levels of taxation’ – doctors in one of Lisbon’s busiest hospitals were appealing for help to the Doctors Association, stressing they cannot properly serve the public in their casualty department any longer.
Writing in Observador, columnist and lawyer José Manuel Oliveira Antunes described the PS programme as ‘clear political fraud’ and ‘a lie waiting to happen’.
“Against all the facts, like the country’s mediocre growth, the ineptitude of public administration to provide citizens with any kind of dignified service, the continued permanence of Portugal at the tail-end of Europe however many Eastern European countries enter the Union – against all these facts that have been known for decades, the State and Public Administration are, for this government, the motor of national development…”
It has to be said, however, that voters have brought this all about. They appear to have decided a €5 wage increase and/or another doctor at the local health centre are ‘safer and more prudent’ than a party prepared to “venture out with developmental ideas”, said Antunes.
The rather dismal opinion article ends with a colloquial reference to ‘business as usual’. Very little seems to have changed, though the existence of people like João Cotrim de Figueiredo in parliament may just begin to shake things up a bit.
By NATASHA DONN