|Portugal's leading elder statesman has called on the country to copy Argentina and default on its debt to avert economic collapse, a move that would lead to near certain ejection from the euro.
Mario Soares, who steered the country to democracy after the Salazar dictatorship, said all political forces should unite to “bring down the government” and repudiate the austerity policies of the EU-IMF Troika.
“Portugal will never be able to pay its debts, however much it impoverishes itself. If you can’t pay, the only solution is not to pay. When Argentina was in crisis it didn’t pay. Did anything happen? No, nothing happened," he told Antena 1.
The former socialist premier and president said the Portuguese government has become a servant of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meekly doing whatever it is told.
“In their eagerness to do the bidding of Senhora Merkel, they have sold everything and ruined this country. In two years this government has destroyed Portugal,” he said.
Dario Perkins from Lombard Street Research said a hard-nosed default would force Portugal out of the euro. “It would create incredible animosity,” he said. “Germany would be alarmed that other countries might do the same so it would take a very tough line.”
Mr Perkins said all the peripheral states are “deeply scared” of being forced out of EMU. “They fear their economies would collapse, which is ridiculous. But in the end voters are going to elect politicians who refuse to along with austerity as we are seeing in Italy, and the EU will lose control,” he said.
Raoul Ruparel from Open Europe said Portugal had reached the limits of austerity. “The previous political consensus in parliament has evaporated. As so often in this crisis, the eurozone is coming up against the full force of national democracy.”
The rallying cry by Mr Soares comes a week after Portugal’s top court ruled that pay and pension cuts for public workers are illegal, forcing premier Pedro Passos Coelho to search for new cuts. The ruling calls into question the government’s whole policy “internal devaluation” aimed at lowering labour costs.
A leaked report from the Troika warned that the country is at risk of a debt spiral, with financing needs surging to €15bn by 2015, a third higher than the levels that precipitated the debt crisis in 2011. “There is substantial funding risk,” it said.
In a rare piece of good news, eurozone finance ministers agreed on Friday to extend repayment of rescue loans for Portugal and Ireland by a further seven years, reducing the pressure for a swift return to markets.
Brussels said both countries are “still highly vulnerable” to forces beyond their control, and deserve a “strong signal” of support. Critics say it is too little, too late. Fast-moving events on the ground now have a will of their own.