Thursday, February 2

Francisco Louçã, Bloco de Esquerda de Portugal: “A cycle begins for the right with more aggressiveness”

A militant against the dictatorship in the 1970s, founder of the Revolutionary Socialist Party in the 1980s and leader of the Bloco de Esquerda (BE) from 1999 to 2012, Francisco Louçã (Lisbon, 1956), professor of economics and member of the Portuguese Council of State, continues to being a reference for his training, which is now headed by Catarina Martins.

Neither the Bloco nor the Communist Party managed to drag António Costa’s Socialist Party (PS) to take more markedly leftist measures in the negotiation of the budgets and the disagreement ended in elections, the tightest in memory. “The left did not accept being a prisoner in a situation of social and labor degradation,” defends the professor, who still sees possibilities to reissue the ‘jargon’, “if the PS wants.”

There is a wound in Portugal that the left does not want to falsely heal. It is the passage of the troika, on account of the financial crisis of a decade ago, and the trail of social cuts that continue without being reversed. “The commitments that the PS would have had to accept so that there would be no budget crisis were small,” Louçã defends by phone while mentioning as an example the price of overtime or vacation days. “It wasn’t a revolution,” he says.

The future of the National Health Service, the other great point of conflict with the socialists, could be channeled, he considers, following the guidelines of Antonio Arnaut, one of the founders of the Portuguese Socialist Party and father of Portuguese public health, that the Bloco had made own. “The PS is afraid. Costa said that he did not want to withdraw business from the private company, an extraordinary expression […], tragic and not at all social-democratic. It’s reactionary.”

An agreement to reinforce the public system “was possible and would have had a very important mobilizing effect because the difference would be seen immediately”, judges the professor, who does the math: “With 10 million inhabitants, there are a million people in Portugal who do not they have a family doctor. It’s gigantic. It supposes a very great insecurity for the elderly and chronically ill that would be solved by hiring 600 doctors, when the country trains 400 every year.”

The Bloco defends the nationalization of strategic companies, which it calls “deprivatization”, but which the Socialists reject due to its impact on public accounts. Although Louça recognizes the great difficulties for public control of companies in the banking sector, he opposes the case of the postal service, in decline since it passed into private hands, and which the State could have recovered “at a cost of less than 80 million euros”.

The possibility of curbing energy oligopolies, in which there is a strong foreign presence (electricity and fuel are significantly more expensive in Portugal than in Spain) was barely discussed in the debates, although Louçã acknowledges that “in the face of such a campaign uncertain the political debate gains another importance”.

Lose to win

The former leader of the BE believes that a loss of support from his formation or from the communists can, paradoxically, tilt the PS to the left if the votes are still sufficient to “condition the formation of a majority, after a ‘shock’ in which the Socialist Party provoked elections to have an absolute majority and failed”. This is if one of the scenarios that the left warns about is not confirmed, such as the formation of a minority government between PS and PSD (centre-right) for a scenario of half a legislature. “It’s what the leaders of the PS prefer, and it suits the PSD tactically, because it takes advantage of the wear and tear of the Socialists thinking about the long term.”

Louçã sees the prime minister tired, after six years of government, the last two facing the pandemic. The response to COVID “focused a lot of social attention on government action and allowed a permanent role in the control of public life. [António Costa] he thought it would give him a great electoral supremacy, but, although it did have an effect, it has not been decisive”. On the contrary, with the polls pointing to a rise in the liberal right and the extreme right, the economist believes that “a cycle is beginning for the right with more social aggressiveness, contempt for the poor, the unemployed, with downward pressure on wages”, before which “the left has to live up to it with a unitary policy, capacity for convergence, measures that respond to the society and mobilization. “It is a more polarized and difficult world,” he concludes, with a reference that refers to his militant origins: “The adversary is recycled, but the fight is permanent.”