Is the Troika About to Lose Control of South-Western Europe? by Don Quijones

From Don Quijones at

The Price of  “Austerity”

Passos Coelho, who was until Tuesday Prime Minister of Portugal, knew “what to do.” After signing along the dotted line for a €78 billion bailout he embraced the Troika’s austerity agenda with abandon. Public spending was slashed, taxes were hiked, wages were cut, and a whole gamut of public assets and services were privatized.

As they say in Brussels these days, no pain, no gain. After four years of excruciating belt-tightening, Portugal was apparently back on the mend, despite its public debt almost doubling since 2008. Its economy had been through the grinder but it had come out the other end in much leaner shape. The public deficit had shrunk from 11% in 2011 to 3% today.

Unemployment had also fallen, and kept falling month after month, to the point where it was getting monotonous. Until two months ago, that is, when it shot back up over 14%. Then came the bomb shell: the country’s Ministry of Statistics announced in a rare moment of candor that unemployment, in an “extended sense,” was actually around 22%. As Deutsche Welle reports, the Portuguese government had been doctoring the figures to keep the European institutions (i.e. the Troika) happy:

European politicians prefer lower unemployment figures rather than higher ones, and as a consequence, there are now unemployment figures in “narrower” and “extended” senses. Mostly, the headline figures reported are the lower, “narrower” ones.

Flimsy Façade

In other words, in the real world Portugal has almost identical depression-era levels of unemployment as Spain. Its government is just more skilled at masking the grimness of its economic reality.

However, hiding a decidedly grim reality with a flimsy façade of doctored numbers may work on international investors and rating agencies – at least for a while – but it doesn’t work on those who have to live in that grim reality. And at election time that can be a serious setback.

When Coelho’s governing coalition received only 38% of the vote in last month’s elections, the game was as good as up, especially when it became clear that three parties on the left — the so-called “triple left” — had won an absolute majority and seemed willing to form a coalition.

Even when the Portuguese President Cavaco Silva, a former member of Coehlo’s pro-Euro party, reappointed Coehlo as prime-minister in a desperate bid to prevent “anti-European,” “anti-Nato” forces from winning the keys to government, he merely forestalled the inevitable. Today the inevitable happened: the “triple left” roundly rejected Coelho’s policy proposals, forcing Portugal’s Troika-friendly government to resign.

To continue reading: Is the Troika About to Lose Control of South-Western Europe?

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