Alberto Mingardi  

A snapshot of Portugal

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In the Wall Street Journal Joseph Sternberg has a thorough op-ed on Portugal, which is heading to a national election tomorrow.

No party comparable to the Spanish "Podemos" or the Greek "Syriza" has emerged in Portugal that may have a chance of achieving power, even though the country has been implementing tough austerity measures. And yet, as Sternberg writes, "Both of Portugal's major parties, the ruling center-right Social Democratic Party and the center-left Socialist Party, are committed to staying the course".

Interestingly, Portugal's transition to democracy after the Salazar regime dates back to 1974: the same year as Greece's after the military regime, and one year before Franco's death in Spain. So, the somewhat popular thesis that populism tends to stick in Spain or Greece because they are "new" democracies seems to be falsified by the Portoguese case.

If Portugal appears "the perfect example of a eurozone bailout plan gone right--enough reform to stimulate growth but not enough to trigger anti-Europe political movements," Sternberg points out that more reforms are needed. "The public debt still is 130% of GDP, the government still is running a deficit, and the current growth rate won't be sufficient to improve the debt ratio on its own. And this is before accounting for the fiscal drag of a largely unreformed public pension system in a country with a rapidly aging population and with millions of its young people fleeing to Britain, Germany and elsewhere in search of job opportunities."

Let's see if the next government will deliver.

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CATEGORIES: Eurozone crisis

COMMENTS (3 to date)
ThomasH writes:

How can real GDP in 2013 (last number I could find) being still less than 2008 be a "success?" How does lower output help reduce debt (assuming that is desirable)? That EU policies in Portgal have been less disastrous than in Greece can hardly be judged a success.

Before Portugal became a member of the EU Portuguese professionals would migrate to - well - Brazil in search of economic opportunities. EU policies in Portugal reversed the course on what had become a dead economy and a failed state. I don't see how anyone with real knowledge of the country can consider this to have been a political failure, and voters in Portugal have always recognized that. The contrast with Greece is interesting nonetheless, although not surprising for people that know the EU: there are important historical reasons behind the diverging perspectives of those two nations.

ThomasH writes:

If Portugal had joined the EU but avoided the Euro, it would have had the best of both worlds. Of course no one knew that private lenders would treat the disappearance of currency risk on debt as equivalent to the country risk. But there is just no reason for a country to have to reduce output in order to repay debt. The Eurozone lacks instruments to allow an adjustment in price levels without reducing aggregate demand as an exchange rate adjustment allows

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