Sócrates’s priorities

news: Sócrates’s priorities

Education boost

New Prime Minister José Sócrates intends to make some form of education compulsory up to the age of 18. The government wants all people under the age of 18, including those “already working”, to be brought back into some kind of education.

The need to boost scholastic achievement and training was a much-trumpeted policy in the Socialist Party’s manifesto. The government also aims to improve appraisal methods and introduce English into all levels of basic education. It proposes more rigorous tests for pupils as they move from one year to the next, and wants schools to introduce “support programmes” to help pupils who have fallen by the wayside academically. The new administration’s aim is to cut by half the number of pupils who leave school early.

Fiscal ‘transparency’

On the economy, Sócrates says he wants to introduce “more transparency and less bureaucracy” into fiscal affairs. The government says it will seek to contain the deficit within limits imposed by Brussels and escalate the fight against fraud and fiscal evasion, adopting rules prevailing in other European countries.

The government reaffirms the importance of fighting pensioner poverty through raising the minimum income ceiling. It will also repeal legislation that, it maintains, has led to an unjustified reduction in sickness benefit. It also recommends that payment should begin as soon as a medical consultation has confirmed the patient’s sickness.

New rules will also stipulate that the processing of unemployment benefit should begin immediately after a declaration of joblessness has been made and that first payments should be made within 30 days.

The government also made clear it wants to expedite the ratification of its programme by parliament. Several possible measures came to light before parliament debated the programme. There were rumours of a tax increase when the Minister of Finances, Campos e Cunha, and the Minister for Financial Affairs, Amaral Tomás, conceded the possibility of a potential short-term increase to balance the books.

Political reaction to the government’s programme was muted. The parliamentary leader of the CDS-PP, Nuno Melo, said the text was “vague” and failed to address the issue of a possible tax rise. The PSD preferred not to comment on the programme.

Financial stability

The new government has delivered a sombre assessment of the state of the Portuguese economy in its programme before parliament. But the language in the document was more temperate than the party had used in the election campaign.

It simply says that the situation facing the country is “very difficult” and maintains that the government’s task is to transform what it describes as “a Portugal of casualties into a Portugal of opportunities”. The government promises to stabilise public finances and reduce levels of public debt, which, it notes, had been an unfulfilled promise of the previous PSD-CDS coalition government.

Within the next six months, the new administration also promises to reduce secret banking, approve a programme for the reduction of public spending and simplify the regime of fiscal incentives. It also promises to revise the labour laws in accordance with its campaign pledge. In next year’s budget, the government says it will adopt measures to encourage saving, particularly among the middle classes, but has ruled out tax cuts.