LISBON — Ramón Rivera had barely gotten his olive oil business started in the sun-swept Alentejo region of Portugal when Europe’s debt crisis struck. The economy crumbled, wages were cut, and unemployment doubled. The government in Lisbon had to accept a humiliating international bailout.
But as the misery deepened, Portugal took a daring stand: In 2015, it cast aside the harshest austerity measures its European creditors had imposed, igniting a virtuous cycle that put its economy back on a path to growth. The country reversed cuts to wages, pensions and social security, and offered incentives to businesses.
The government’s U-turn, and willingness to spend, had a powerful effect. Creditors railed against the move, but the gloom that had gripped the nation through years of belt-tightening began to lift. Business confidence rebounded. Production and exports began to take off — including at Mr. Rivera’s olive groves.
“We had faith that Portugal would come out of the crisis,” said Mr. Rivera, the general manager of Elaia. The company focused on state-of-the-art harvesting technology, and it is now one of Portugal’s biggest olive oil producers. “We saw that this was the best place in the world to invest.”
At a time of mounting uncertainty in Europe, Portugal has defied critics who have insisted on austerity as the answer to the Continent’s economic and financial crisis. While countries from Greece to Ireland — and for a stretch, Portugal itself — toed the line, Lisbon resisted, helping to stoke a revival that drove economic growth last year to its highest level in a decade.
Costa was a Member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Party (PES), heading the list for the 2004 European elections after the dramatic death of top candidate António de Sousa Franco. On 20 July 2004 he was elected as one of the 14 Vice-Presidents of the European Parliament. He also served on the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.
Mayor of Lisbon, 2007–2015
António Costa resigned all government offices in May 2007 to become his party’s candidate for the municipality of Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city. He was elected as Lisbon’s mayor on 15 July 2007 and reelected in 2009 and 2013, with a bigger majority each time. In April 2015 he resigned his duties as a mayor, while he was already the Secretary General of the Socialist Party and the party’s candidate for Prime Minister, so that he could prepare his campaign for the October 2015 general elections.
Candidate for Prime Minister, 2014–2015
In September 2014, the Socialist Party chose Costa as its candidate to be Prime Minister of Portugal in the 2015 national elections; in a ballot to select the party’s candidate, gaining nearly 70 percent of the votes, he defeated party leader António José Seguro, who announced his resignation after the result. By April 2015, he stepped down as mayor to focus on his campaign.
During the campaign, Costa pledged to ease back on austerity and give more disposable income back to households.He proposed to boost incomes, hiring and growth in order to cut the budget deficits while scrapping austerity measures and cutting taxes, asserting that would still allow deficits to reduce in line with the Euro convergence criteria. Also, he pledged to roll back a hugely unpopular hike in value added tax on restaurants and reinstate some benefits for civil servants.
Prime Minister of Portugal, 2015–present
On 4 October 2015, the conservative Portugal Ahead coalition that had ruled the country since 2011 came first in the elections winning 38.6% of the vote, while the Socialist Party came second with 32.3%. Passos Coelho was reappointed Prime Minister the following days, but António Costa formed an alliance with the other parties on the left (the Left Bloc, the Portuguese Communist Party and the Ecologist Party “The Greens”), which altogether constitute a majority in Parliament, and toppled the government on 10 November (the People–Animals–Nature party also voted in favour of the motion of rejection presented by the left alliance). After toppling the conservative government, Costa was chosen as the new Prime Minister of Portugal by President Cavaco Silva on 24 November and assumed office on 26 November.
Since coming to power, Costa’s government has managed to combine fiscal discipline with measures to support growth, while reversing most of the austerity policies imposed by the previous center-right administration during the 2010-13 debt crisis.
By March 2017, polls put support for Costa’s Socialists at 42 percent, up 10 points from their share of the vote in the 2015 election and close to a level that would give them a majority in parliament were the country to vote again. In the 2017 local elections, Costa further consolidated power in Portugal as his party captured a record haul of 158 town halls out of the country’s 308 cities and towns; nationwide, the Socialists’ vote share topped 38 percent, again up from their result in the 2015 parliamentary election.
During his tenure, Portugal experienced its deadliest wildfires ever, firstly in Pedrogão Grande in June 2017 (65 dead) and later across the country in October 2017 (41 dead). In October 2017, the opposition People’s Party (CDS) launched a motion of no-confidence in Costa’s government over its failure to prevent the loss of human lives in the lethal Iberian wildfires, the second such disaster in four months; the motion was largely symbolic as the minority Socialist government continued to be backed in parliament by two left-wing parties.