The Brief: Portugal, country of miracles

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Portugal was very much in the headlines today. Last week Pope Francis was in the Portuguese town of Fatima to honour two children whose visions of the Virgin Mary 100 years ago marked one of the most important events of the Catholic Church.

And today the European Commission recommended ending the disciplinary process against Portugal for its excessive budget deficit, which looks like another miracle. This is the kind of good news the EU badly needs.

Portugal posted a budget deficit of 2.0% of gross domestic product last year, down from 4.4% in 2015, and the lowest in more than four decades. The decision by the EU executive comes six years after Portugal sought a bailout in 2011 during the eurozone debt crisis.

The country is run by a minority Socialist Party administration, rather than a coalition, with the party filling all ministerial posts. It relies on support from the communists and Left Bloc for its parliamentary majority, breaking a taboo that had kept the far-left out of power since the 1974 Carnation Revolution.

The unlikely alliance of centre-left Socialists and two far-left parties has overcome deep scepticism since it was formed in 2015, achieving stability and maintaining economic recovery at a time of political uncertainty across Europe. Against all odds, the cabinet is stable and has proved to be able to raise wages and keep the deficit down.

Even President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative, acknowledges the cabinet is running the country well.

Prime Minister António Costa is the leader of the Portuguese Socialist Party, a political force inspired by Keynesian economics. He is the only dark-skinned leader of an EU country (in its top jobs, the EU is not diverse). His paternal grandfather was a Goan Catholic. Goa is a former Portuguese province, now India’s richest state.

Before taking the job of Prime Minister, Costa was very popular as mayor of Lisbon from 2007 to 2015.

The Portuguese are warming to their government as it has been able to unwind some of the austerity policies imposed under the bailout. Polls put support for Costa’s Socialists at 42%, up 10 points from their share of the vote in the 2015 election and close to a level that would give them a majority in parliament were the country to vote again.

Most centre-left European governments can only dream of such ratings. If the leftist prime minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras, who was sworn in only three months before Costa, could manage to follow in his footsteps, this would surely put to bed a number of political stereotypes, once and for all.

THE ROUNDUP

Donald Trump told Arab leaders in Riyadh yesterday that they need to “drive out” terrorists. He came armed with plenty of praise and seems to have heeded advice about toning down the harsh language he used about Muslims during his presidential campaign.

Newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron met in Paris yesterday with Italian Prime Minister Paulo Gentiloni. Macron flattered Gentiloni by saying he will work for a “real eurozone” to end “financial tensions” that have dogged Italy.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was elected head of his AKP party yesterday, giving him even more power to control it.

Ahead of the 8 June UK election, here is a guide to how the Tories, Labour party and Lib Dems differ on development policies. Lib Dems were hoping to score points with anti-Brexit voters, but are now dealing with backlash over leader Tim Farron’s anti-abortion stance.

EU cybersecurity agency ENISA is hoping to gain more power – and a bigger budget – when the European Commission gives it a makeover in September. ENISA wants to help EU countries respond to major hacking incidents.

Sources told EURACTIV that EU energy ministers are pulling the brakes on the Commission’s goal to prioritise energy efficiency in its Energy Union plans.

Federica Mogherini promised newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani that she will continue to back the West’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Countries that are most vulnerable to climate change have sounded alarm bells – they still haven’t seen the money that was promised to them when the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015.

Swiss voters backed a plan to invest billions in renewable energy and ban nuclear plants.

Protestors were back on the street in Budapest over the weekend to oppose Hungary’s crackdown on foreign NGOs and universities.

Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told EURACTIV’s partner Gazeta Wyborcza that Poland should be a leader in Europe but it needs to learn to cooperate.

LOOK OUT FOR…

Ted Malloch will speak tomorrow afternoon in Brussels. He hopes to become the next US ambassador to the EU, but his EU bashing has made him a controversial choice.

Views are the author’s.

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