Portugal: Brussels Ready to Tighten the Screw

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 This article originally appeared in French in l’Humanité on the July 3, 2013. Translation by David Lundy. 

The European Commission has lost two of the foremost proponents of austerity in Portugal, where the right-wing government is teetering. Worried about the “financial markets”, Commission President José Manuel Barroso is calling on the country to “clarify the situation as soon as possible” and demanding that Portugal continue its neoliberal crusade.

Barroso is concerned. That’s because Minister of Finance Vitor Gaspar announced his resignation. The craftsman of the vast austerity measures required by the troika just threw in the towel. “Vitor Gaspar had to face the fact that his position was hopeless and also unacceptable for the Portuguese people who for months have resisted the dictates of the European Commission and a policy of servitude from the government of Pedro Passos Coelho” explains François Cocq of the Left Party (Bloco Esquerda).

“This delicate situation requires a great sense of responsibility on the part of all political parties and all their leaders. The situation must be clarified as soon as possible,” Barroso insisted. “The first reaction of the financial markets demonstrates the risk that the financial credibility of Portugal, having just found its feet, is compromised by current political instability. […] We trust Portuguese democracy to find a solution that ensures that efforts up to this point have not been in vain.” His appeal was heeded as Pedro Passos Coelho has appointed Maria Luis Albuquerque, former Secretary of the Treasury responsible for the privatization wave hitting Portugal, to take the place of Vitor Gaspar.

The Portuguese government is fragile, not only has the Finance Minister resigned; the Minister of Foreign Affairs has also walked out, citing disagreements with the Prime Minister. According to the Portuguese press, two other ministers, Agriculture and Social Security will soon resign.

The Prime Minister’s position is also being questioned on the streets because he is rightly held responsible for the economic and social catastrophes that have resulted from ultra-liberal reforms and austerity packages, which have been stalled on two occasions by the Constitutional Court.