To be sure, Portugal is far from living through an economic boom. The minimum wage is only 700 euros (about $770) a month, youth unemployment is at 20 percent, and the country’s debt is very high, amounting to about 120 percent of gross domestic product. A small country, it also remains vulnerable to any problems that may arise internationally as a result of trade wars or problems in the EU. But Portugal nevertheless made so much progress that in January 2018, the country’s finance minister, Mário Centeno, was made president of the Eurogroup, the collection of euro-zone finance ministers. His elevation moved the Portuguese approach to the center of the European decision-making process—it was more than symbolic that Wolfgang Schӓuble, then Germany’s finance minister and regarded as among the most hawkish such politicians in the region, called him “the Cristiano Ronaldo” of European finance ministers, referencing the star Portuguese soccer player.
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Across the border from Portugal in Spain, Pedro Sánchez, who faces a general election next month, has suggested forming a gobierno a la portuguesa, meaning he wants his Socialist Party to negotiate an informal ruling agreement with the left-wing Podemos group. But his country has failed to replicate Portugal’s success in forming a stable government, and such an arrangement looks unlikely to succeed.
Stability has been in short supply across much of Europe in recent years, making it all the more remarkable that Portugal has managed to achieve some measure of political predictability, fiscal responsibility, and austerity reversal—all at the same time.
“It’s not exactly a miracle, because it can all be explained,” said the political scientist Pedro Magalhães. “But it has certainly seemed miraculous that you could combine these three things.” In a recent paper, titled “Portugal’s Leftist Government: From Sick Man to Poster Boy?,” he argued that the odd center-left political solution could be reproduced in other European countries.
When he took the stage for his victory speech last night, talking to a small but packed room of supporters and journalists, Costa started humbly, saying that voter turnout, at about 55 percent, was too low. But then he turned to the insult hurled at him four years ago, that he was leading a geringonça.
“The Portuguese people liked the contraption,” Costa said, to laughs and cheers. “They really liked it, and they want continuity with the current policies.” He said he would talk to the parties on his left about forming a new government of the same type. Despite some of their more radical ideological commitments, the Left Bloc and the Communists have said they are open to working with him again. The two parties list the raising of the minimum wage, improvements to public transportation, and free textbooks for schoolchildren as successes of their participation in the past government. (The simple provision of materials to every child, regardless of background, goes a long way toward fighting prejudice at its roots, said Pedro Filipe Soares, president of the Left Bloc’s parliamentary group.)
“Revolution means economic transformation, not people in the streets with guns,” Armindo Miranda, a member of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, told me, before stopping himself. “Well, it could mean people in the streets with guns. But it doesn’t have to.”