Suing Brussels: Portugal’s PM accepts it is a possibility in the event of economic sanctions

In another “silly summer story”, Portugal’s media is already speculating on what will happen if Brussels decides to impose economic sanctions on Portugal due to its failure to meet 2015’s deficit target, by 0.2%.

Talking to SIC on Friday, prime minister António Costa even went so far as to suggest Portugal would sue the European Commission if it gave the go-ahead to financial penalties.

“We have to adopt all necessary measures to defend the national interest,” he told reporters, while national tabloid Correio da Manhã is now calculating the kind of punishment Portugal could face if EU leaders decide budgetary treaties should be sacrosanct.

“Europe wants to cut more than a billion euros,” runs CM’s headline on page 6 today, outlining 16 structural funds that could be ‘frozen’ depending on the decision, now due in September.

Meantime, Spain – also in line for sanctions – has said it too is doing everything in its power to avoid them.

Economy minister Luis de Guindos has told El País newspaper that the country is enlisting support from France, Italy and Germany, all of them effectively saying “Hands Off Spain”.

But back to Portugal and the kind of support the country’s ‘people’s paper’ thinks will be threatened.

CM claims we could be facing an outright fine of €370 million, and then €762 million will be lopped off projects under the much-acclaimed Portugal 2020 programme and destined for “all the regions in the country”.

In all, Portugal is set to lose €1.13 billion, says the paper.

Elsewhere, Diário de Notícias explains that nothing is set in stone. PM Costa believes in dialogue and will be keeping all channels open throughout the coming weeks as there is “no justification or even legal basis” for sanctions to be retroactively imposed when the government is “in a year when the European Commission recognises” that it will succeed in meeting deficit targets.

“We will make this debate, as we have with the Commission, with the Council and the European Parliament, and we will serenely wait for them to make decisions”, he told the paper, stressing still the underlying mission to “defend the national interest”.

After all the sacrifices made by Portuguese people, Costa said he feels the country should be given “a word of encouragement” rather than sanctions, so that confidence can be stimulated, not undermined.

But ‘here is the rub’. With Costa vociferously backed by left-wing parties that swept him from election defeat to post-vote success, opposing parties are delighting in the fact that Brussels is not in any mood to offer “words of encouragement”.

Talking in Madeira on Sunday, PSD leader Pedro Passos Coelho upped the ante by saying the governments of Europe have “doubts” on the current government of this country and will impose economic penalties because of this, more than anything else.

As media reports concluded: “Passos says the blame lies with the government.”

In his home region of Celorico de Basto, former PSD leader and current President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa once again entered the fray, likening the imposition of sanctions to a father going into a bedroom, seeing all his children calm and going up to one of them and giving him a thick ear.

“The son says: ‘why did you do that?’ And the father replies: ‘I don’t know, but it looked like you were about to get up to mischief’.”

As President Marcelo stressed, the 0.2% slide in targets was down to Passos Coelho’s government.

“There is no logic” to the sanctions argument, he added, though the current government does look like it might not get through the year quite as squeaky clean as it is hoping.

With other parliamentary figures calling the episode further indication of Brussels’ “fanaticism”, we are set for another few weeks of scaremongering before the final decision by EU leaders will become clear.

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