On the very day that the most unorthodox parliamentary majority that Portugal has ever seen voted to approve a budget that Brussels admits doesn’t stack up, the country’s construction bosses went public with warnings that as many as 8,500 firms could go bust this year, wiping out the livelihoods of another 35,000 workers. This is on top of crippling losses in the sector since the start of the world’s economic crisis.
“We hoped 2015 would be the end of serious crisis, and that 2016 would be a year of stabilisation,” the president of AICCOPN – the largest association in the industry – told journalists.
“But what in fact happened was that we ‘lost’ half a year (with election upheavals that resulted in a change of political direction) and now we have to look at the sector in a different way: at risk of losing 35,000 jobs and more than double the number of firms that closed last year”.
Reis Campos’ message was backed by the sector’s union boss Albano Ribeiro who maintains that the bottom line points to Portugal’s pressing need to renegotiate the debt that troika lenders have already admitted is unsustainable.
With this proverbial elephant in the nation’s front room suddenly back on the horizon (finance minister Mário Centeno agreed on Tuesday that the government “is open for the debate” but only once it becomes a European issue), Ribeiro explained the sector’s woes cannot simply be blamed on a dodgy budget – no matter what Opposition MPs and European politicians like to say. But it certainly has not helped.
The main concern is that in creating a formula that “puts money back into people’s pockets” the government has had to make “savings” elsewhere. Thus the new State Budget for 2016 “does not see significant investment”, writes Público.
Infrastructures deemed key by the last administration – like the container terminal planned for Barreiro to coordinate the ports of Lisbon and Setúbal – have been dropped, while large projects like the Marão tunnel and Salamonde and Venda Nova dams are coming to an end.
In less than five months, the 7,000-plus men currently employed will “need to be absorbed”, Ribeiro told his audience. “I have heard the prime minister talking about the need to create employment. The priority has to be this sector.”
And in the way only union bosses can, Ribeiro predicted a scenario of urban decay and disaster if investment did not come quickly.
“It is a question of public safety,” he stressed, adding that Porto alone has as many as 60,000 buildings “needing intervention”.
What happened to “Plano Juncker”?
Taking a different view, Ribeiro’s companion on the podium opted for a few salient questions. What, for instance, has happened to the so-called “Plano Juncker” which promised billions for strategic investments in infrastructures and transports?
“There were 53 works in the pipeline in 2010, involving more than €6 billion. But, so far, only 16 have gone forwards, which signifies a little more than €700 million,” he said – adding that Juncker’s much-lorded programme was launched to create 1.3 million jobs and plough €314 billion into Europe’s battered economies.
“Portugal presented projects that came to €31 billion. In other words, just 10%.” The press conference which took place in Porto on Tuesday received scant attention in the nation’s press as the media is focused much more on the vitriol playing out in parliament as MPs wait to see if Portugal’s incoming President, the sharp-as-mustard political eagle Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, will rubber-stamp the PS budget – or whether he sends it back for being the “frog that could never become a prince” that leader writers affirm it to be.
Passos tried to get Brussels to block the budget
One of the nastiest episodes in the debate about Portugal’s State Budget came when prime minister António Costa accused his predecessor Pedro Passos Coelho of trying to get Brussels to veto proposals before they even got to parliament.
Instead of “defending” his native country, Costa told parliament the leader of the PSD set out to defend Brussels’ veto of Portugal’s budget.
But the truth of the matter appears to be that all the political bluster is smoke and mirrors masking a PS ‘end game’: the moment where new elections will become a necessity, and when the real reason for this “children’s playground” of a budget (the latest criticism from the CDS) is put to the test.
How will the man in the street vote after a government with its back to the wall has just given hard-pressed families huge tax benefits (“Each child deducts €600 from IRS” proclaimed the nation’s best-read tabloid on Wednesday), righted the “wrongs” committed against pensioners and public sector workers and reaffirmed its commitment to a free health service and improved State education, when the only alternative wants to bring austerity back?
“Moral of this story?” asks political commentator João Pereira Coutinho, writing in CM. “The left will swallow the frog (the budget) without kissing it. There will never be a prince. But who cares anyway? The frog has simply served to start a new electoral campaign.”
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
Real estate shines as 2015 named “historic year”
Despite the news that Portugal could lose as many as 35,000 construction jobs, the country’s real estate sector appears to be thriving and celebrated a “historic year” in 2015.
So says law firm PLMJ, which reported on the unprecedented “€2 billion” invested in Portugal’s real estate last year, “mostly by international investors”.
And specialists believe 2016 could “match or even surpass” last year’s results.
There is “some apprehension”, however, due to the “uncertainty of how the current economic situation will evolve, especially the possible need for extraordinary measures to balance public finances, which has the potential to negatively affect investor’s confidence.”
However, in its report, PLMJ says it believes that “Portuguese and foreign investors have regained their confidence in the Portuguese market as demonstrated by the interest shown at the main international real estate and tourism fairs”.
It also highlighted the “hefty investments made by funds and other institutional investors, in particular those coming from the United States, Spain, Germany and Brazil.”
US investment group Blackwell, for example, took over several retail parks in Portugal, including in Portimão, Sintra, Viana do Castelo, Santarém and Aveiro.
PLMJ also outlined some real estate trends that it believes will continue into 2016, such as a focus on “urban rehabilitation, tourism and local accommodation and Portugal’s ‘Golden Visa’ scheme”. M.B.