Portugal is rightly known as the country of Brandos Costumes — in short, a quiet place where little or nothing happens. Up to Oct. 4, Election Day, it seemed that nothing would change. Yet it is also a country that knows how to surprise with its sudden revolutions, that you would have never expected and from one day to the next shakes up a seemingly immutable scenario.
To be honest, the relationship between change and permanence is not very clear from the figures chosen to form the government of Antonio Costa and, indeed, after the initial enthusiasm there are some concerns about its aptitude for innovation.
The second position in the hierarchy of the leadership, after the prime minister, is certainly the finance minister. As post-Maastricht tradition dictates, Mario Centeno is in fact a technocrat whose curriculum is clean of any kind of political activities, with the exception of his involvement last year in the elaboration of the Socialist Party’s economic program.
After earning a doctorate at Harvard, with a thesis on labor economics, Centeno joined the Banco de Portugal (BoP) and is a professor at the University Nova de Lisboa. The finance minister’s opinions about the labor market were inspired by ideas that have circulated in the world of European social democracy in recent years.
It is certainly complicated to balance the rigorous obligations of the post with the need to relaunch the welfare state and the economy. However, a less mainstream figure — Centeno is convinced of the need to overcome the dualism between “secure” and precarious, with a single contract that takes from some to give to others — perhaps would have been more reassuring.
Another crucial point is the relations between Lisbon and Brussels. Augusto Santos Silva — the new Minister of Foreign responsible for relations with the European Union — has had a long political career. As a member of parliament for the Socialist Party and as minister of education, parliament relations and defense. Santos Silva can be counted among the purists of the left.
As a supporter of the theories of balanced budget, in 2011 he was firmly opposed to the Troika’s request for help, and in the years of the Coelho government he has harshly criticized fundamentalist interpretations and applications of the Memorandum dictates.
Though there isn’t much good news, in a government that seems very moderate, there is some. There’s the first time appointment of a minister of Angolan origin. Francisca Van Dunem, who was born in Luanda, has a degree in law in Lisbon and naturalized Portuguese in the mid-1970s.
In a country where it is not always easy to be black and where domestic violence is a scourge, the selection of Van Dunem, former deputy attorney general, for the role of the minister of justice is certainly an important signal.
In short, what is preconceived by Costa is a government of many mediations, and therefore its path seems enigmatic in many respects. On the one hand, they have a program that, as written in the pages of this newspaper in recent days, is clearly progressive and decidedly leftist, and the parliamentary majority is innovative. On the other hand are the people who will have to implement this program.
Of course, Europe is in the middle of it, with its treaties and regulations.
Perhaps moderate figures have more legitimacy to implement measures to break the status quo. The answers will come soon, because after the inauguration, at 4 p.m. on Nov. 26, the new government will have to submit the 2016 budget law as quickly as possible. Then we’ll see what the inspiration behind the frentista alliance is really about.