The disagreement between the left opens a political crisis in Portugal | International

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The Prime Minister of Portugal, António Costa, arrives at the European Council in Brussels on the 22nd.OLIVIER HOSLET / POOL (EFE)

It was less difficult for the Portuguese socialists to join forces from the left to overthrow the Government of Pedro Passos Coelho in 2015 than to agree now with the same groups on the General State Budgets for 2022. At least that is evident from the negotiations three days before the first vote of the budgets, scheduled for this Wednesday the 27th. The contacts maintained this Saturday between the Prime Minister, António Costa, and the leaders of the Bloco de Esquerda (BE), Catarina Martins, and the Communist Party of Portugal (PCP), Jerónimo de Sousa, do not seem to have lightened a path surrounded by brambles for the socialist government. After the meeting this Sunday of the national table of the Bloco, Martins announced that they will vote against the budget project “if nothing changes”, although he specified that they will continue negotiating. The Bloco would thus repeat the negative position that it already maintained with respect to the 2021 accounts.

The PCP’s decision, which also brought its central committee together this Sunday, will be announced this Monday at a press conference offered by De Sousa. In 2021 it was the PCP and the minority and environmentalists of Los Verdes y Personas, Animales, Naturaleza (PAN) who allowed with their abstention to carry out the government’s budget project. In 2020 the Socialists saved the process thanks to the abstention of the PCP and the BE. The Socialist Party (PS) has only 108 deputies in a 230-seat Chamber, but the support of the Bloco (18 deputies) or the PCP (12) would be enough to give the budget the green light.

What is most paradoxical about the current political moment in Portugal is that hardly anyone wants a crisis that leads to early elections in a year in which the country will be showered with funds from the European Union’s Recovery and Resilience Plan. The President of the Republic of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, does not want it, who could summon them if the approval of the budgets fails but who makes continuous calls in favor of stability: “I continue to wait for the possibility that the General Budgets are approved . I have the same desire and the same expectation. I have only one scenario in my head and I am not going to speculate on others ”. If approved, he said this weekend, it would save “a lot of costs, a lot of problems and some worries.”

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Neither do the Socialist Party, which fears that its loss of mayors in the last municipal elections is the first warning of a change in the cycle in Portugal, nor its main rival, the conservative Social Democratic Party (PSD), a theoretical beneficiary of the socialist crisis, but that right now lives under pressure from the process of electing its next leader. Nor are the parties of the left calmly facing an electoral advance. The municipal elections meant a setback for the PCP, an organization with a historic local establishment, and the irrelevance of the Bloco in the municipalities, which barely managed to get councilors. To this would be added the unknown of how much their voters would penalize them at the polls if they are held responsible for the electoral advance.

The Portuguese Government this week redoubled its efforts to satisfy the left with the approval of measures in health, employment, pensions and culture, but it does not seem that they have served to convince its former partners of the call lowonça, as the alliance between the three formations that led to the departure of the Passos Coelho Government in 2015 was baptized. On Thursday, while the prime minister was participating in the European Council in Brussels, a Council of Ministers that lasted ten hours approved the new Statute of the National Health Service, which regulates the exclusivity of professionals so that they do not practice in parallel in the private sector (in the first phase it is limited to doctors with service responsibilities), and various measures in labor matters such as the improvement of compensation for dismissal in some contract modalities (from 18 to 24 days per year) or an increase in the remuneration for overtime that exceeds 120 overtime hours per year. In addition, the Professional Statute for the culture sector was given the green light, also claimed by the left-wing opposition, and a week ago another measure was approved aimed at satisfying the PAN: the prohibition of minors under 16 years of age from attending bullfights. Bulls.

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Costa not only did not achieve the desired effect, but also irritated the employers to the extent that they have slammed the door in the Permanent Commission of Social Agreement, where they sit with the Government and the unions. Four business organizations announced that they were suspending their participation in the commission after the Government approved those reforms, which were not foreseen in the commission with the social agents. António Costa was forced to apologize to the businessmen for the “failure” in the procedure followed.

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Other far-reaching measures announced in recent days by the prime minister have been the announcement of the increase in the minimum wage by 40 euros by 2022 (it would stand at 705 euros), the improvement of pensions and the free childcare facilities, three demands of the communists. The limit of socialist transfers is set to maintain “the right accounts”(The correct accounts). That is, aligning the budget with the figures demanded by the fiscal orthodoxy of Brussels. The forecast for 2022 is for the economy to grow 5.5%, a deficit of 3.2% and a public debt of 123% of GDP. In view of the foreseeable failure in Wednesday’s vote, Costa has announced his willingness to continue governing, although the decision to call elections depends on the President of the Republic.

And crisis to the right

One of the few things that can reassure António Costa these weeks is that his main adversary, the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center-right), is more aware of his internal leadership crisis than of socialist weakness. A call for early elections at this time would catch the conservative formation with a changed foot, taking into account that until next December 4 it will not be known who will be the next president of the party. Those elections are attended by the current president and former mayor of Porto, Rui Rio, and the MEP Carlos Rangel. Former Rio allies have already openly shown their support for Rangel, so an inelegant race to garner support is expected in the coming weeks. “In the short space of three weeks, an incomprehensible autophagic tendency has caused internal divisions that good sense would advise avoiding in such a favorable period for our party,” Rio himself acknowledged this week, when he announced his candidacy.

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Despite the fact that the municipal elections held at the end of September gave unexpected joys to the PSD, which snatched the mayoralties of Funchal, Coimbra and Lisbon from the Socialist Party, its current leader has not made the victory profitable. Instead of reinforcing him, local elections appear to have further eroded Rui Rio, unable to turn the unexpected triumph of former European Commissioner Carlos Moedas in Lisbon after 14 years of socialist governments into a victory of his own. Rio is questioned about his lukewarm opposition to the Socialists and barely applauded the strategic success of betting on joining forces with other parties on the right to offer a compact electoral bloc. The decision was key to his triumphs in Coimbra, Funchal and Lisbon, where Moedas also brought in numerous independents.

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