Angela Merkel's interrelation with three Portuguese prime ministers – The Economic Journal

Angela Merkel's interrelation with three Portuguese prime ministers - The Economic Journal

Angela Merkel took office for the first time in Germany in November 2005, just eight months after José Sócrates took office as Portugal's prime minister. The institutional relationship between the two took a high point in 2007, when Portugal held the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union (succeeding Germany), a mandate that would be marked by the signing of the Lisbon Treaty on 13 December, of the European Union (EU).

At that time, Merkel considered that "cooperation between the German and Portuguese presidencies of the Council of the EU was very close and guided by great mutual trust", while Socrates' work was highly praised. "I have always had an intense exchange of views with the Portuguese Prime Minister, José Sócrates, on all the important European dossiers in recent months," German Chancellor declared on December 21, 2007.

As Portugal's public accounts deteriorated, the relationship between Merkel and Socrates became more tense. Between September 2010 and March 2011, the new versions of the Stability and Growth Program (PEC), four in total, were followed by austerity measures aimed at reducing the budget deficit. Despite the tension, Socrates maintained lines of dialogue and cooperation with Merkel, to the point of being accused by the opposition in Portugal of subservience towards Germany. And when the disapproval of PEC IV in Parliament resulted in the downfall of the Socrates Government in March 2011, Merkel made a point of praising the Portuguese counterpart. "I am grateful to Socrates for taking responsibility for the public accounts of his country," he said at the time.

Few will remember, but the interrelationship between Merkel and Pedro Passos Coelho (successor to Socrates as Portugal's prime minister in 2011) did not start as best, and the chancellor lamented the lead of PEC IV in Parliament. In March 2011, during a European People's Party (EPP) summit, Passos Coelho spoke with Merkel and expressed his disagreement. "It's not our opinion [do PSD] and it is not my opinion. Moreover, I had the opportunity to speak to Mrs Merkel and to convey her precisely this point of view, "Passos Coelho told reporters.

Notwithstanding this initial criticism, it was up to Passos Coelho to execute the troika and cooperation with the Merkel government was so intense that the Portuguese prime minister (like Socrates) was accused of subservience to Germany. More recently, in November 2016, Passos Coelho praised Merkel's "support" and "help" to Portugal. "We owe Germany a lot of support and a lot of help at a time when we needed it. The engineer Socrates went there, when he was prime minister, in search of this support and had it. She was a socialist, and Mrs. Merkel, a Christian Democrat, supported him to see if the national political situation brought an improvement in the economic and financial situation. It also helped me a lot and helped the country a lot. One day I will write about it, as it should be, "Passos Coelho said in an interview.

Antonio Costa followed in the post of prime minister. In February 2016, at the end of a meeting between Costa and Merkel in Berlin, the German chancellor acknowledged that Portugal experienced "difficult times" in recent years, but stressed that significant progress was made during the adjustment process and praised Passos Coelho. "António Costa's predecessor led Portugal through a very troubled period, it was not easy, but really impressive things have been achieved and everything must be done to continue this successful path," he said.

As she had done with Socrates, Merkel demonstrated her loyalty to her predecessor as the prime minister of Portugal, beginning her relationship with the successor in a cautious way. But the trajectory of rebalancing the Portuguese public accounts ended up neutralizing this initial mistrust. To the extent that Germany supported the appointment of Mario Centeno, Portugal's finance minister, to the Eurogroup presidency.

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