On the eve of what will be an explosive debate in parliament over the Constitutional Court’s recent veto of government plans to cut pensions, Prime minister Passos Coelho broadcast an upbeat Christmas message to the people, saying Portugal is at last “starting to beat the debt” that has had the country in the clutches of the troika.
In a speech where the word “austerity” was thankfully absent, Passos Coelho said: “We a beginning to take control of the external and public debt that has so overshadowed our collective lives”.
Nonetheless, 2014 “will be a year full of challenges to which each one of us will respond with the same responsibility and determination that has paved the way to this point”.
It is a path showing “positive signs” but which still doesn’t allow us to announce the end of the crisis, he warned – focusing his attention on the next five months before the end of Portugal’s program of financial assistance.
These five months will be “decisive for our recovery”, he stressed, adding enigmatically:“We will need all the instruments we can mobilise to conclude the program without upsets – and we will need to use them well, with intelligence and determination, because what we saw that at times seemed so far-away and difficult is now in our reach, as long as we don’t hesitate; as long as we all know what is at stake.”
Passos Coelho’s speech came on the last day available for President Cavaco Silva to challenge the constitutionality of the coalition government’s State Budget for 2014. It now looks certain that the budget will be given the go-ahead, to take effect from January 1. Not so certain is how the government will make up the 400 million euro gap left by the Constitutional Court’s veto on the cutting of state pensions.