The State of Nation debate in parliament this afternoon has seen prime minister Costa promise many things.
Say reports, he has “painted a rosy country that is rising out of the pandemic” on a day when case numbers and deaths are higher than they have been for months (see text to come).
A little like his speech yesterday (click here), Mr Costa’s enthusiasm appeared to be rooted in another country entirely.
It hasn’t helped that he began his discourse with such emphatic news about vaccinating children that all news sources have interpreted the message as “Costa wants children over the age of 12 vaccinated by September 19”.
The soundbites hit social media like a match to parched straw.
The protest ‘for freedom’ scheduled this weekend in Lisbon just got a ton-load of further grist to its mill.
So, what else did the leader of government say? Taking the promises from the top, he:
- Promised continued investment in the health service, stressing there are €1.38 billion from the PRR (European funds for recovery and resilience) to reinforce health centres and mental and oral health programmes, create mobile units for low-density regions and open almost 5,000 continuous care beds, and 400 palliative care beds.
- Pledged €900 million to ensure “academic success” over the next two years. “This generation cannot be irredeemably marked by the Covid-19 pandemic”, he said.
- Guaranteed that “all remote working from home will be “recognised, valued and framed (for this read properly protected). Portugal is moving to an era of “decent work”.
- Pledged €40 billion to be spent “to help transform the economy… We have to come out of this crisis stronger!”
- Presented four strategic agendas: the first being ‘the demographic challenge (how to get Portuguese to start having babies…) and the combat of inequality’. This includes housing policy (the PM promised a State housing programme for accessible rents, saying he already has agreements with 71 municipalities. With 100% grant funding and these agreements “we are confident we can rehouse 26,000 families by April 25, 2024”).
- The second agenda being to put “more than €15.5 billion into the digitalisation and innovation of Portuguese society. Some of the examples given were “tripling the resources for qualifications and competences of young people and adults” and an “historic reinforcement in support for higher education in young people”. “We are going to qualify, requalify and empower more than 1,145,000 workers in digital areas”, said the PM, adding; “these are very ambitious objectives that demand immediate action”.
- The third agenda is focused on climate change. “The last few years has seen the government triple resources at the country’s disposal, giving it means to power green growth and achieve climate targets in which Portugal has been a pioneer”. Sustainable mobility and energetic efficiency of buildings continue to be priorities, said Mr Costa – adding that candidacies have already opened for the energetic renovation of buildings to which more than 13,000 applications have been received.
- The fourth agenda is territorial cohesion, with a budget of €6.6 billion. Spending in this area will go on “the largest purchase of trains in the history of CP (Comboios de Portugal), and on renewing ports. It will also extend to covering the country in terms of fiber optics. Expresso used the term “megalomaniac” to describe the tone of Mr Costa’s plans, explaining that he believes the government hasn’t pulled its punches in terms of “strategic vision”. “We will not fail in our contemplation of the future”, he insisted. The government will “realise the vision in programmes, projects and actions”.
In conclusion, Expresso writes: “Costa recalled what he said in this same discourse last year, when the state of the nation was one of struggle… now the state of the nation is one of a nation rising out of this struggle”.
It was the kind of speech that should have had a geriatric string quartet playing in the background.
Mr Costa thanked the various sectors that have been dealing with the pandemic over the last 16 months: “the health professionals, teachers, assistants, pupils, families, old people’s home staff members, mayors, Social Security, the Armed Forces, businesses and workers”.
“With the pain of mourning those we lost along the way, and with the scars of sacrifices, let us rise again. United, stronger and determined to build a better country, more resilient and better prepared to face the challenges of the future…
“After such a demanding year and a half, it is time to look forwards and roll up our sleeves, It is time to act. We are all called to this. This is the moment to open a new window on hope and take advantage of unrepeatable opportunities (for this read the billions coming from Brussels) that the next few years will bring us”.
At this point the State of the Nation debate essentially opened. We will hear later today how parties reacted to Mr Costa’s speech, with all his promises. But for now the smouldering message coming through is that irrespective of clear reticence from specialists, Portugal’s PM seeks to push forwards with the mass-vaccination of the country’s youngest citizens.
If anything is likely to fire up a nation, it is that – much more than the promise of ‘billions’ for a digital future.