(...)Portugal’s debt is expected to rise to 85 percent of gross domestic product this year, from 76.6 percent in 2009, because of rising unemployment and government spending on infrastructure projects like dams, hydroelectric power systems and a high-speed rail line to Madrid.
Portugal’s main opposition, the Social Democrats, has criticized the government for throwing borrowed money at problems. Mr. Sócrates himself shunned the term “stimulus spending,” saying in the interview, “Not spending, investment.”
The government is hoping its track record will raise confidence. When Portugal’s deficit rose above 6 percent in 2005, it brought it below 3 percent by 2007 by cutting public spending.
“We did it in the past — we will do it again,” Finance Minister Fernando Teixeira dos Santos said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “We are the same guys. We are committed to doing it.”
But this time the same guys lack a solid majority.
Last Friday, Parliament sent an anti-austerity message by passing a regional spending bill to nearly double funds to Madeira and the Azores.
“I told Parliament that that would be a wrong message to pass to the markets,” Mr. Teixeira dos Santos said Tuesday. He said he would use all the laws in his power not to apply the increase.
Mr. Sócrates took pains to distinguish Portugal from Greece. He said the country had carried out “very serious” structural reforms in recent years, including reducing the public sector, raising the retirement age and changing the social security system. Unlike Greece or Italy, it has also instituted sophisticated e-banking systems in which citizens can file taxes at A.T.M.’s.
As talk grows of a possible bailout for Greece, Mr. Sócrates insisted that Portugal did not need help from the European Union. “We don’t need anything from Brussels,” he said emphatically.
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