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Prominent Portuguese call for debt compromise

Published on 09/04/2011

Nearly 50 prominent Portuguese, including former presidents and politicians, artists and company bosses called Saturday for compromise to overcome the country's debt crisis and restore credibility.

A statement published by the weekly Expresso deplored “the difficulty for politicians to talk to each other and the hardening of the public debate,” which “threatens the achievement of lasting solutions to national problems.”

The call by the 47 signatories echoed that of the heads of the European Union and International Monetary Fund, which offered Portugal Friday an 80-billion-euro ($115 billion) bailout, but set tough conditions.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Eurogroup countries, said it would require “strict conditionality negotiated with the Portuguese authorities, duly involving the main political parties.”

EU Finance Commissioner Ollie Rehn told Portugal’s politicians to show “responsibility” and agree economic reforms, after Finance Minister Teixeira dos Santos said: “It’s not for the government to negotiate with the opposition.

“It’s not the government’s job to promote this negotiation” to the Portuguese people.”

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates resigned on March 23 after failing to persuade parliament to approve austerity measures which he said would have avoided calling for outside help.

Now running a caretaker administration, he formally asked for financial aid Friday, just ahead of a scheduled meeting of European finance ministers in Hungary.

The joint EU-IMF loans, following bailout rescues of Greece and Ireland last year, will be conditional on more public spending cuts, tax rises and far-reaching privatisations.

They will have to be negotiated with Portuguese politicians facing an angry, fearful electorate in polls around June 5.

Under the terms, a “cross-party agreement” is to be “adopted by mid-May and implemented swiftly after the formation of a new government.”

Late Friday Socrates vowed to fight for the victory of his Socialist Party and blamed the centre-right opposition for the current crisis.

Saturday’s petition, signed by figures including former presidents Ramalho Eanes, Mario Soares and Jorge Sampaio, former ministers of both right and left, veteran film director Manoel de Olivieira and writer Antonio Lobo Antunes, called for calm.

They said there must be two fundamental compromises between the presidency and the main political parties to ensure the government that emerges from the June election can implement the necessary policies.

These should ensure Portugal’s credibility abroad and the proper functioning of the economy, as well as support the process of budgetary consolidation and adjustment, the petition added.

“The assertion of these compromises as a result of a joint effort by the principal political leaders will assuredly help to achieve a stable government, which is essential for the Portuguese to understand the current sacrifices and look to the future with hope.”