Portugal Could Be the Next Greece

As the Greek crisis deepens, questions are already being asked about whether another Eurozone member could end up in the same situation.

With huge public debt, a vulnerable economy and the prospect of a radical left-wing government on the horizon there is one obvious contender.

Portugal’s public debt now stands at 129 per cent of GDP, the seventh worst figure in the world according to the CIA World Factbook. Greece is third with 175 per cent.

Although it has been bailed out before and adopted various austerity measures demanded by its creditors, the country’s conservative government may well be ousted in elections later this year by radical leftists.

The Portuguese Socialists, the traditional party of the left in the country, have become increasingly radicalised under their current leader, Antonio Costa, pledging to reject austerity measures demanded by the country’s creditors.

Costa has pledged to end the “obsession with austerity” and promised to grow the public sector if he wins re-election. He told journalists in Lisbon: “There must be an alternative that allows us to turn the page on austerity, revive the economy, create jobs, and – while complying with euro area rules – restore hope to this county.”

Although the Socialists only have a slim lead, polls suggest they may be able to team up with the old Communist Party to form a majority, creating a government that could rival even Syriza in terms of radical policies.

Costa also pledged to block the sale of Portugal’s national airline and various utilities, as well as increase spending on healthcare and make it harder for companies to sack workers.

Unlike Greece, however, Portugal is no longer under troika control, having exited its bailout programme last year. It remains, however, under “post-programme surveillance”, with European ministers able to issue “recommendations” if it starts borrowing too much again.

One potentially deadly factor for the country is that nearly 70 per cent of its debt is owned abroad, meaning that devaluation will not solve the problem. As Market Watch writes:

The Portuguese are close to unique, in both having very high debts, and most of it being owned abroad. Nor does it just end there. Once household and corporate debt is added into the equation, Portugal has more debt in total than any other eurozone country, Greece included (which mainly has government debt to deal with). There aren’t any reliable figures on who that debt belongs to, but it is fair bet that is mostly foreigners as well.

[…]

At some point, all those foreign holders of Portuguese debt are going to realize it will have to be written off, at least in part. Once that happens, there will be a stampede to sell — and the elections later this year could well be the trigger for that.

As the euro crisis deepens, Portugal is the next one to watch. If Greece crashes out of the euro, and if the Socialists and Communists come to power, the future of the Eurozone will be in even further doubt.

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