The motto of the Portuguese government of Pedro Passos Coelho appears to be, if at first you don’t succeed in imposing austerity—because the Constitutional Court struck down more than $1.3 billion in austerity measures—then try, try again—by cutting social security, health, education, and public enterprises.
“Today, we are still not out of the financial emergency which placed us in this painful crisis,” [Coelho] said.
“After this decision by the Constitutional Court, it’s not just the government’s life that will become more difficult, it is the life of the Portuguese that will become more difficult and make the success of our national economic recovery more problematic.”
As Alison Roberts explains,
The drive to cut spending on welfare comes as ever more people in Portugal are relying on it.
Unemployment is at a record high and the government does not see it peaking – at around 19% – until late this year.
It is not as though the areas now being targeted are not being squeezed already.
In health, for example – seen as one of Portugal’s success stories since its 1974 revolution – patients have long had to pay a small fee for check-ups and tests in the SNS, the national health service, unless they fall into one of several categories of exemption. The fees were raised sharply last year.
Meanwhile, as elsewhere in Europe, technological advances and an ageing population are pushing health spending up.
The recession has also seen many people who once had private insurance going public, adding to the burden. The health minister – one of the most respected in the government – had even said that no further cuts were possible.
Opposition parties accuse the prime minister of using the court ruling as an excuse to press ahead with an ideologically-driven plan to roll back the state.
Austerity has repeatedly provoked mass protests, so some of those who celebrated Friday’s court ruling may soon be demonstrating against the government’s proposed replacement measures.