2007-04-16

Contraste ibérico

"LOOK at any table of European economic data and Portugal stands out. GDP growth last year, at 1.3%, was the lowest not just in the European Union but in all of Europe. Since 2000 the Czech Republic, Greece, Malta and Slovenia have all overtaken Portugal in terms of GDP per head. And Portuguese GDP per head has fallen from just over 80% of the EU 25 average in 1999 to just over 70% last year. Portugal was the first country threatened with sanctions by the European Commission for breaching the euro zone's stability and growth pact, which sets ceilings for euro members' budget deficits. [...] Sharing the Iberian peninsula with the economic powerhouse of Spain, where growth has been above 3% in all but one of the past ten years, makes Portugal's performance look worse. In a poll last autumn, 28% of respondents said they would prefer to be part of a united Iberia under Spanish rule. Few Portuguese would really go that far, but they do ask why they are doing much worse than their neighbours. There are several answers, say central-bank economists. Portugal has suffered more than Spain from higher oil prices. Its unit labour costs have risen sharply, whereas Germany's have fallen. Until recently, it has suffered a big drop in demand in its main export markets, especially Germany. Spain's economy has been buoyed by a construction boom fuelled by rising immigration. Renewed political instability has also taken a toll: on average governments in Lisbon have lasted just two years since the return of democracy in 1974. But the biggest difference is that Spain reformed its public sector and disciplined its public finances before joining the euro, not afterwards. When interest rates fell and released a surge of growth in the late 1990s, Portugal responded with an expansionary fiscal policy instead of taming its deficit. This was Portugal's big missed opportunity: one that Mr Sócrates is now seeking, belatedly, to remedy."


The Economist, 12 de Abril de 2007

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