Costa e Silva: Portugal’s surprising choice for new economic masterplan

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa speaks to journalists during the press conference held at the end of the Council of Ministers meeting at the Palacio da Ajuda in Lisbon, Portugal, 29 May 2020. The government decided to postpone the move to the third phase of coronavirus deconfinement in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area and created special rules, especially for activities involving 'large crowds of people,' reports state. The Portuguese government started the first phase in easing restrictions implemented to stem the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 disease on 04 May 2020. [EPA-EFE/MANUEL DE ALMEIDA]

The controversial appointment of the largely unknown Costa e Silva as the man who should draft Portugal’s economic plan for the next decade has become a key talking point in the country.

The president of Partex, an oil and gas company, was named by the Prime Minister António Costa as an adviser to the government on 3 June and tasked with preparing the plan that should help bring the economy in line with the EU’s green and digital goals.

Finance Minister Mário Centeno, for one, says he has “never spoken to him”, indicating how surprising the choice was.

The 68-year-old manager will be responsible for the initial work of what will be the “Economic and Social Recovery Plan 2020-2030”. The document will be delivered until the end of the month and Costa e Silva will work on it pro bono.

His choice has raised eyebrows largely because of some doubts about the position he would occupy. The Portuguese newspaper Expresso classified him as a sort of a side-minister (para-ministro in Portuguese).

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s president, said that the prime minister had informed him of this appointment and that e Silva would not be a new member of the government.

Mário Centeno, the minister of finance and president of the Eurogroup, has distanced himself from the appointment. “I have not spoken to him, never in my life”, Centeno told Portuguese radio Antena 1.

He said the recovery plan is a tool for bridging investment gaps caused by the loss of revenue during this crisis. “Let us not have the desire, with this recovery plan, to create a new economy, a new world or a new man; that does not exist,” Centeno pointed out.

Reactions from the right to the left

Costa e Silva’s choice was not consensual either. All parties in the parliament had some doubts about the super adviser, saying that they only accept to negotiate with government officials, which e Silva is not.

Rui Rio from the Social Democratic Party even said it was none of his business who the government calls on to prepare the long-term plan, as long as the direct relationship during the negotiations is not with that person.

Catarina Martins from the Left Bloc underlined that “the Prime Minister is advised by those who he thinks that can do the job”, but also stressed the party will only negotiate with members of the government. The spokesperson of the Portuguese Communist Party, Jerónimo de Sousa, also agreed with this approach.

Costa e Silva told broadcaster RTP on 31 May:  “I believe the parties are correct. I have a lot of respect for them. My mission is not to negotiate, it is to make the plan. It is the government who will negotiate.”

Some Portuguese analysts argued that the choice of the president of Partex could be an attempt by the prime minister to pave the way for a change in his government. If at first the idea had been to have Costa e Silva as the one responsible for negotiating the plan, it was soon taken off the table after the strong reaction from political parties.

The Portuguese recovery plan

In a long interview with the Portuguese news agency Lusa, Costa e Silva said that the economic recovery plan will have “about nine or ten strategic pillars”.

The plan will also focus on energy transition, climate change, decarbonisation and in the development of a balanced economy.

Costa e Silva also stressed that the plan will have two visions, one for the short term – aiming to recover the economy and protect jobs – and a medium and long term.

In relation to the latter, the manager pointed to the need for more efficient use of resources, innovation, digitalization and a transformation of the economy.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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