A virulent wave of indignation has followed warnings sounded by Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schauble over Portugal’s change in political direction.
The “ayatollah of austerity” – as Schauble has been dubbed – was widely publicised over the weekend for having told journalists after last Friday’s meeting of EU finance ministers that Portugal should “continue on the well-succeeded road that it has been on up until now” as financial markets are “getting nervous”.
To do otherwise – in other words, to try and turn the tide on austerity as the new Socialist government says it intends – “would be very delicate and dangerous for Portugal”, he added.
The man who the Wall Street Journal has labelled “Germany’s second most influential person after chancellor Angela Merkel” went a step further, suggesting the “volatile Portuguese bond market is more alarming than plunging confidence in Deutsche Bank AG, Europe’s largest lender”, added Bloomberg.
His comments have been interpreted as out-and-out bullying.
“Leave Portugal in peace, Mr Schauble!” Chilean writer and activist Luís Sepúlveda wrote on his Facebook page, “recalling that Schauble is one of Europe’s oldest politicians and as such responsible for the recipe that has led to economic disaster”, explains Jornal de Notícias.
The “lover of austerity” should not be allowed to say “what the Portuguese eat and drink”, stressed Sepúlveda – while in parliament Left Bloc firebrand Catarina Martins said Schauble’s comments were simply “unacceptable”, and almost certainly designed to “take the heat off” concerns over the health of Deutsche Bank.
“Whenever Germany is in trouble, it points at peripheral countries,” she stormed.
The nation’s best-read tabloid Correio da Manhã suggests that Schauble’s comments actually helped damage Portugal’s current standing on international markets even further.
“With friends like this” in Europe, said CM’s “grand reporter” José Rodrigues, “who needs enemies?”
But more to the point, Rodrigues’ leader article posed the scenario: “Imagine a Portuguese minister getting up and publicly criticising the German government, or sending it memos…”
The situation simply underlines the “inequality” with regard to “forces within the so-called partners of the European club”, he added.
Elsewhere, however, there was less heat coming from ratings agency DBRS – the only one of the major group of financial consultancies that still rates Portugal’s debt above ‘rubbish’.
According to DBRS, it is still “comfortable” with Portugal’s rating pegged at “stable”, and this, says Reuters, will keep the country “connected to the cheap money-making machine of the European Central Bank”.
Meantime, Portugal’s finance minister Mário Centeno has stressed that the PS government is committed to sticking to the terms and conditions of its budget, and could even implement further measures, if they are found to be necessary.
The Eurogroup is due to consider this eventuality by April, Eurogroup president Jeroen Dijsselbloem has stressed.