Wednesday

18th Jan 2017

Merkel wants to 'bring hope' to Portugal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has confronted the ire of exasperated Portuguese, but maintained that "painful reforms" are the only way out of the crisis and that the government in Lisbon is doing all the right things.

On her second trip to a bailed out country over the span of a few weeks, Merkel wanted to show her empathy with the Portuguese people suffering under the austerity programme prescribed by international lenders.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Merkel is on a charm offensive in bailout countries (Photo: Bundesregierung/Bergmann)

"I know the effects of the adjustment are being felt very intensely here at the moment," Merkel said on Monday (12 November) during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Pedro Coelho.

"This is also a visit to find out more about the situation here and perhaps to give a little hope," she said, adding that she came along with investors and ministers wiling to help create more jobs.

Unemployment in Portugal stands at 16 percent and the economy is in its third year of recession.

Germany had shown "solidarity" as it was the largest contributor to the €78 billion bailout for Portugal and "will continue to do so," Merkel said. But she insisted that the public deficit (5% of GDP) and debt (108% of GDP) had to be cut back and structural reforms implemented to make the country more competitive and spare the next generations from an ever-bigger growing bill.

Of the protesters that portrayed her as a Nazi and chanted "Merkel raus" - similar to what happened during her visit to Greece last month - the German Chancellor said that in a democracy people have their right to express their opinion.

"I lived for 34 years in the former Democratic Republic of Germany and back then protests were not allowed. Protests belong to democracy. Perhaps we should visit each other more often in these times of crisis," Merkel said, in a veiled admission that her olive branch-reaching visits to bailed out countries should have happened earlier.

As for the wage cuts and other "competitiveness-boosting" measures adopted by the centre-right government in Lisbon, Merkel said they were "courageous" and they would eventually come to bear fruit.

"But it takes a while. Germany too went through a painful adjustment, we had 5 million unemployed and the rate went even higher after labour market reforms were introduced," she said.

For his part, the Portuguese Prime Minister said all the things Merkel wanted to hear - competitiveness is the key, people should understand that the austerity pill is needed to correct "mistakes of the past" and the German Chancellor is not to blame for the current hardships.

Even Greece, a fellow bailed out country, should strive not to disappoint lenders, he added. "Our partners in the eurozone are trying hard to keep Greece in, but it is also up to them to stay," he said.

The troika, consisting of experts from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, recently started its review of Portugal's efforts needed to disburse the next bailout tranche.

But popular support for the bailout is fading away. Last time around before a troika report, the government had to scrap a controversial cut in what employers had to pay for their workers' social rights after mass protests and strikes over the move.

News in Brief

  1. Europe has no vision, says Italian minister
  2. Juncker has 'slight doubts' on his group's convention idea
  3. EU parliament spat changes nothing, says Juncker
  4. German elections likely on 24 September
  5. Maltese PM announces plan for Brexit summit
  6. EU needs more Turkey-style migrant deals, Malta PM says
  7. Dutch minister: Don't underestimate risk of hacking
  8. European court rules against Russia adoption ban on US

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey