Prime minister António Costa is adamant: the State will be wrestling back majority control of national airline TAP, irrespective of whether it reaches an agreement with current ‘bosses’, the Gateway Consortium.
Talking to journalists in Brussels today, the Socialist leader said the government’s plan to retake control of TAP “will not be subject to the will private interests who decided to sign a contract with the Portuguese State in situations at the very least precarious, as they knew they were signing (a deal) with a government that was going to be dismissed the next day”.
“If it is not by agreement” that the State recovers 51% control of the company “it will be without agreement”, he said, stressing he was “certain it would be done with agreement”.
Not so certain yesterday was Gateway’s supposed majority (61%) shareholder, Portuguese transport mogul Humberto Barraqueiro – although he “admitted”, reports Correio da Manhã, that the government has the money to reverse the deal.
Barraqueiro’s partner, Brazilian airline boss David Neeleman is quoted as saying yesterday that this situation is “the most difficult” that he has come up against in his career.
When the incoming government declared its intention to revert the privatisation deal pushed through during the last days of the outgoing PSD/CDS-PP government, TAP’s CEO Fernando Pinto explained it would be “extremely difficult”, as the airline had already spent €180 million of Gateway’s funds.
Today, President of the Republic Cavaco Silva – himself on an accelerating countdown to the end of his presidency – said he hoped TAP didn’t follow in the steps of other State airlines that have collapsed in bankruptcy even after hefty State bailouts.
Listing “other countries in Europe” where this has happened, namely “Cyprus, Poland, Alitalia and other companies”, Cavaco said TAP was “very important” for Portugal, “principally for the tourists” that come here, and as such “it has to be profitable”.
As the nation’s media has been reporting for well over a year, the financial situation at TAP had been getting steadily worse, posting losses this year at €109.6 million – €45 million more than last year – before the centre-right government signed the Gateway deal.