Portugal’s last political intrigue

Article by Ruben Miguel Nascimento | Illustration by Guido Brualdi

This is a very complicated week for the Portuguese government. Everything happened because of a “failure of communication” between the Prime Minister António Costa and the Finance Minister Mario Centeno (and simultaneously president of the Eurogroup).

But starting from the beginning, the first point was a statement by the Prime Minister, on May 7, to a leader of an opposition party in the Assembly of the Republic regarding a State loan to a private bank that has been under intervention for some years. In that statement, António Costa said that the loan (850 million euros) would have happened after finishing the ongoing audit of the bank. But in the previous day (May 6) Mario Centeno had authorized the loan.

The situation started to develop here. How did the Prime Minister say something contrary? Or was that done just the day before? The first logical answer could be that he lied. However, one of the first things that happened after the situation became public was aking for an apology because he doesn’t know about the authorization. And how is it possible? The Finance Minister loaned money without telling anything?

According to Centeno, it is impossible that no one didn’t know about this because the loan was already budgeted. However, it was himself who admitted that the Prime Minister could not have been aware of the current situation since the loan had been made the day before. 

Of course these two versions generated a lot of controversies. Opinions were: “the prime minister should know about that” or “Centeno cannot make a decision about that because the situation with COVID-19 was changed”. 

The situation further developed until it ended in a meeting between both ministers, where no one understood yet very well their position. Apparently, among some who believed that Centeno wanted to resign, others who believed that Costa wanted to resign, it was certain for many people that Centeno would not continue after this controversy… yet he did.

Much had been said about this, a few days after the “bomb”, it’s more clear that it just was a communication problem. And I don´t have much more to say about that because for me it is still not clear whose fault it is. But I would analyze this situation in a few points.

The first is the way Mario Centeno happened to be a “bad loved” one. We cannot forget that he was always one of the most popular of Costa’s government and is a well known fact that the success that the government had in recent years was thanks to him. Second, it is the way how, among the institutions, from the Socialist Party (their party) to the President of the Republic, just a few sided with Centeno in this crisis. Third and more interesting aspect was the idea, in the end, that Centeno didn’t leave.

If we go back in time to the last Portuguese legislative elections, the expectations with the Socialist party’s re-election were big. And in that time many were spoken about Centeno durability in this legislature. Some took it for granted that in a year or two he would leave for a European political career, and that the party would have to think about an alternative for him. For that, this situation was enlightening because Centeno not only it is not on time but there is no viable alternative planned.

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