The recent decision by the Portuguese constitutional court to unwind public sector salary cuts included by the government in its austerity measures has once more given rise to speculation the country may not meet it's 4.5% deficit target for 2012. The court - which ruled the non-payment of the two traditional Christmas and Summer salary payments for the years 2012 through 2014 was unconstitutional - took the view that since the measure did not also apply to the private sector, it was discriminatory. Whatever view we may take on how the Portuguese Constitution defines "discrimination" the important detail to note is that the decision will not apply to 2012, and will hence only have the impact of forcing the government to find additional adjustments for 2013 and 2014, or at least a new formulation which allows them to constitutionally cut public sector pay.
Nonetheless, despite the fact it will not affect this years fiscal effort the coincidence of the timing of the court decision with the appearance of a report from the parliamentary commission responsible for monitoring the execution of this years budget only served to heighten nervousness about the possibility that, with unemployment rising more sharply than anticipated and the economic recession still accelerating, this years deficit numbers may not add up as planned.
The country is facing a deep ongoing recession with a contraction of the order of 3.5% expected this year, and the outlook for the second half of the year is no shaping up as though it may well be tougher than the first half. In addition, with the European sovereign debt crisis threatening to cast its long shadow right across next year, it looks increasingly unlikely that the country will be able to go back to the bond markets in September 2013 as planned. So September may well be a good month to make some needed revisions to the existing IMF programme.
Portugal is making progress in reducing its fiscal deficit, even if it may fail to precisely meet this years target. But it is not making sufficient progress in reducing external imbalances, and in achieving international competitiveness. As a result sustainable economic growth and stable job creation still seem some years away. In the meantime young educated Portuguese are increasingly upping and leaving the country in the search for a better life elsewhere. This negative dynamic needs to be broken, and Troika representatives instead of repeating the same old policy errors need to take a fresh look, and with an open mind, at the situation.