2014 - The Year that changed Portugal JORGE DURAN/AFP
José Sócrates, former Prime-minister of Portugal

There are still a few weeks remaining until the end of the year, but 2014 was an important year, and in particular many things happened in Portugal:

-  Portuguese people saw a several new “battles” between the Constitutional Court and the Portuguese Government;

-  Local powers started to change, mostly because of the 2013 municipal elections that bought new blood to the local councils taking out many “dinosaurs” from local politics and changing the political colours in many cities – however, more changes will still be needed ;

- Portugal celebrated its 871st  birthday, 40 years of freedom , 104 years of Republic and 374  years of the Restoration of Independence;

- The President of the Portuguese Republic felt bad in the celebrations of the Day of Portugal, Camões, and the Portuguese Communities, that this year was in the highest city of Portugal, Guarda;

- There were multiple teachers’ demonstrations against the new evaluation system and problems with teacher contracts in the beginning of the 2014/2015 school year - many schools did not have enough teachers;

- Portugal set several records of visits and won many awards in Tourism;

- Portugal experienced a massive epidemic of Legionella  (the third biggest in the world) in a city close to Lisbon and caused panic among the region’s population;

- Lisbon was flooded and its streets became rivers during the rainy season;

- There were the European elections where everything was discussed except the most important: Europe;

- The Portuguese Commissioner to the European Commission was appointed, the favourite having been the Finance Minister, but in the end Carlos Moedas, former Secretary of State, was selected to take care of the Research, Innovation and Science portfolio;

- Once again, the Portuguese team underperformed in the World Cup in Brazil;

- Portugal, more specifically its Prime Minister and President, watched the strange entrance of the worst authoritarian regime in the world (Equatorial Guinea) into the CPLP  (Comunidade de Países de Língua Portuguesa);

- Portugal and Portuguese people said goodbye to the Troika, who will keep watching them during a few more years – unfortunately, austerity did not leave with them;

- The main opposition party had an internal crisis that ended with the election of the President of Lisbon, António Costa, as a candidate for Prime Minister - this was the first primary election in the Partido Socialista;

- Portugal saw the creation of two new political parties (Livre and Partido Democrático Republicano) whose deputies will most probably enter the Portuguese Parliament next year;

- After a draw in the election for the new coordinator, the political party Bloco de Esquerda, that already had two coordinators, has now six coordinators and Catarina Martins is its spokeswoman;

- A new bank, Novo Banco, was created by the Bank of Portugal to mitigate consequences of the crisis of the financial system in Portugal. The crisis that affected Banco Espirito Santo (BES), the second biggest private bank in Portugal, is now under investigation;

- PT Telecom is in trouble and the new owner, Brasilian Oi, wants to sell it because of the implications in the BES case;

- A corruption scandal came to light, implicating the Golden Visas and causing the resignation of the Internal Administration Minister Miguel Macedo (Anabela Rodrigues replaced him and is the first female Internal Administration Minister);

- Duarte Lima, a former deputy, was considered guilty of money laundering and fraud involving business with BPN, a bank that went bankrupt during the crisis. He is contemplating a ten year prison sentence;

- While judges in Portugal are making justice, those who were in East Timor to help the country to improve their judicial system were expelled by its government;

- There were investigations in pharmaceutical firms and clinics accused of trafficking medicines to Africa - that was not the first time that something like this happened;

- Portugal was elected for the first time to the United Nations Human Rights Council;

- After the election of Fado three years ago as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, this year  Cante Alentejano was the one to get a special place in the World;

As you can see, a lot of things happened in Portugal in 2014. Some were good, others not so good.

I would like to focus on the 21st of November, which, no matter what happens next, will always be remembered. A normal flight, like many others, was expected to arrive from Paris to the Lisbon airport. However, this flight contained former Prime Minister José Sócrates and waiting for him were a few journalist and the police. He was arrested upon arrival. The police took him for interrogatory and he now is in custody awaiting his trial. He is accused of tax fraud, corruption and money laundering.

This event will be marked in Portuguese history because it was the first time that a former Prime Minister was arrested in Portugal. The fact that some journalists already knew what would happen and were waiting at the airport was not so original - once again, the secret of justice was violated.

Portuguese media like to speculate about everything and they seem to have informants everywhere, but nevertheless one has to be cautious about what they say - not everything is true. I am not saying that Sócrates is innocent, but it should be assumed so until he is proven guilty. We will need to wait a few days to see what the court says about this case “Operação Marquês”. Sócrates was already suspect in a few lawsuits, even during his term as Prime Minister, and everybody, especially the opposition parties, considered him a thief and expected him to go to prison after losing the elections against the current government. During his more than six years as Prime Minister, Sócrates did achieve some good things for Portugal, but he also spent lot of money on new infrastructures which were considered waste of money by the Troika.

A few days after the arrest, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said that “not all politicians are equal”, but in general opposition parties’ members are still cautious about the matter, waiting to see what happens next - they too may have some troubles with the judicial power. António Costa’s modernised Partido Socialista is trying to distance itself from this case, but this is not so easy when many of the party members still respect and follow Sócrates - Costa himself is a friend of his, and will visit him during the Christmas holidays. The fact that Sócrates remains in prison will affect the party, and 2015 will not be easy for Costa, who wants to achieve a majority to govern Portugal. Sócrates, who during his government had a few journalists silenced, is now sending letters to the press from the prison of Évora to try to defend himself from the accusations, while still waiting for an authorization to give an interview to Expresso, a Portuguese newspaper. He will not be silenced easily, and he is ready for a long fight with Portuguese justice to prove his alleged innocence. Two Portuguese citizens have already delivered a habeas corpus to release Sócrates, but so far without success.  

Justice is finally working in Portugal. Some Portuguese people have started to remark that the judges have too much power, while only last year they were complaining that politicians were not being held accountable for their crimes. People on the street are saying that in a few years judges will control the country, and Portugal will be a Democracy of Judges. I do not agree with this - corruption needs to be fought, and Portugal has already suffered too much from corrupt politicians. However, the problem is not only too much power or too much money - corruption is everywhere in Portugal and judges are not enough to eradicate it - Portugal needs a change in mentalities. This takes time, much time, but in my opinion it is worth it to wait for better days, when we can live in an almost perfect World were the corrupt are in prison and are not living on stolen money.

2014 is not the year that changed Portugal, but it probably will be the year that started the change. And this change started thanks to new people holding important positions in the Portuguese justice, and among them Joana Marques Vidal (Attorney General of the Republic) and Carlos Alexandre (responsible of the Central Court of Criminal Investigation). They are trying to improve Portuguese justice, and attack corruption.

I am not sure I will write another article this year, so I take the opportunity to wish Happy Holidays and a Happy 2015 to all the readers of One Europe.