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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Porto rebels against Lisbon’s centralism and wins

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Portugal is one of the most centralized states in the European Union. And it’s not easy or quick for this to stop. The country’s regionalisation, which failed in a referendum in 1998, had been taken up by Prime Minister António Costa as a major political reform of this mandate, but rejected by the main opposition party, the Partido Social Democrat (PSD, centre-right), who voted for it on the Traveling makes it difficult to call a second referendum in 2024, as Costa wanted.

Meanwhile, the decentralization of competences in the areas of education, health, culture and social cohesion to the municipalities, which form the other major pillar of the Portuguese institutional architecture alongside the state, is progressing. The government will arrive for the State of the Union debate this Wednesday, relieved to have received the green light from the National Association of Portuguese Municipalities (ANMP) for the latest agreement. In the end, it will be his most important political success after a bumpy start to the legislature with a severe health crisis due to a lack of resources in hospitals and an unusual political disagreement between Costa and his Infrastructure Minister Pedro Nuno Santos over the New Lisbon Airport.

At the end of May, the Municipal Chamber of Porto left the ANMP, the representative body of the municipalities and interlocutor of the government, in protest at the economic damage that the transfer of education planned by the executive would cause. Porto’s rebellion against the Lisbon dictates emboldened other mayors to demand changes and forced a revision of state proposals.

The decentralization process did not get off to a good start. Few of the 308 Portuguese municipalities voluntarily accepted the new powers. “The government has imposed the powers to be delegated, the dates and the amounts, and the National Association of Municipalities has assumed these obligations without informing us”, the mayor of Porto, the independent Rui Moreira, criticized in an interview with EL PAÍS, which was conducted in May Municipal Chamber.

Despite his friendship with the prime minister, inherited from when both presided over the city councils of Porto and Lisbon, Moreira contrasted good administration during the transfer of public transport powers with poor proposition on educational issues. “The danger is that the fact that decentralization is being done very badly will lead to regionalization being rightly rejected by the population,” argued Moreira, who put the damage it would suffer at 10 million euros Porto Chamber with the government plan.

Porto’s snub came as a shock to other communities. Although no one followed their example and left the association that represents them, the demands managed to soften the central government’s criteria. With an obsession to stay on the path”how to count for sure‘ (the correct accounts) To try to deal with the skyrocketing Portuguese national debt, the Costa executive employs fiscal austerity whenever it can. The town halls complained that the economic transfers to support the schools were unsustainable and eventually the post was extended. “The chambers are already receiving more than the government is spending,” said Territorial Cohesion Minister Ana Abrunhosa a few weeks ago.

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This Friday, António Costa himself will sign the agreement with the ANMP to reinforce the political significance of the transfer of power that is undermining the country’s administrative centralism. However, there is no sign of Portugal being divided into regions in the medium term, although the Prime Minister once again defended the need for a referendum at a recent meeting of the Socialist Party’s National Commission. “You can’t stop because you’re afraid to listen to the Portuguese,” he said.

The President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who once opposed regionalization as leader of the PSD and has now softened his opposition, has warned that a new referendum will require a parliamentary consensus. Although the Socialist Party enjoys a comfortable absolute majority, the most important political reform that the country would undertake in recent decades will require at least the support of the PSD, the party that has been aligned with the PSD since the establishment of a post-PSD democratic regime in power is the Carnation Revolution of 1974. This consensus seemed secure until the recent change in leadership of the Conservatives, who elected Luís Montenegro as the new party leader, changed the party’s position on regionalisation. “Since there are no conditions for a referendum, we will not waste time having a sterile discussion about anything,” Montenegro said.

What the President of the PSD addressed a month ago is that before the country is divided into regions, the transfer of powers to the municipalities is still pending: “We are in the process of decentralization of powers, which has taken three years, which it has been turbulent and had no positive results.” Perhaps the agreement between government and local authorities now leaves him without this argument, but the PSD is a divided party on the country’s regionalization, like the Socialist Party. It doesn’t seem like the regions are just around the corner.

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Source elpais.com

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