Speaking to Portuguese TV yesterday, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa characterized the controversial More Housing bill – which, among other measures, seeks to end the country’s Golden Visa program – as “inoperable” and “unfeasible” from beginning to end.
President de Sousa likened the bill – which he indicated was so large that getting a clear grasp of its contents was difficult – to a melon: “People used to say that you only know if the melon is good after opening it,” he remarked.
De Sousa hinted that the government may have proposed the bill more as a means of bringing attention to the party platform than to formulate legislation that could realistically pass. The President also labeled the bill a “poster law”, a term he explained as “laws that appear to proclaim certain programmatic principles, but the idea is not exactly that they pass in practice.” In the very short term, he added, such poster laws serve as “a pole of fixation for what it promises.”
De Sousa lamented the bill’s futility and even suggested that “it would have been preferable not to have raised expectations since there was a real problem [housing affordability] and the apparent solution is unworkable. It would have been better not to have talked about it.”
He then acknowledged the urgency of the matter and affirmed that “arriving in Belém, [the proposition] will be decided on – that is, promulgated – urgently.”
“No efforts will be spared” to ensure the law complies with the constitution
Porto-based lawyer Inês Costa Moura, General Manager of International Atlantic Services, said the impact of the President’s statement was “a very significant one” because his “opinion is extremely important, and his positions on any matter are usually taken into account, even before the law is sent to him.”
Moura highlighted that De Sousa’s public comments buttress the arguments presented by the bill’s detractors, whose criticisms of the proposal “have been piling up for the last weeks.” She also thinks the President’s words will encourage those who argue that the presentation of the final proposal on March 30th represents “only the beginning of the discussion.”
Moura believes it’s unlikely that the government will try to make significant changes to the bill in the few short days that remain before the 30th. She also highlights that, even if Costa’s cabinet does attempt to make last-minute amendments, both the President and other political parties represented in Parliament have made it clear that “no efforts will be spared to make sure that the laws that are published comply with the Constitution, are feasible, and – more importantly – retain the confidence private investors have in the Portuguese state of law.”
On whether the President, if so determined, has the ability to derail the bill, Moura explained that the President’s mandate “is not to publish a law that does not comply with the legally bounding principles of the Portuguese Republic” and that he “can still veto the law sending it back to Parliament for redrafting or the Constitutional Court for analysis.”
The President, she believes, intends to “safeguard the trust of private investors” and is taking into account “the non-retroactivity of the law and the weight that the tourism industry has in the Portuguese economy.” Since the President is a professor of constitutional law, she notes, “a perceived attack on vested rights, as well as retroactive decisions, will hardly be accepted.”
The recent comments have Moura hoping for the possibility of a favorable outcome. Whatever the final draft of the bill looks like on the 30th of March, she points out, “both the Parliament and the President seem highly motivated to guarantee that activities that create economic value and stimulate investment are kept.”
The Portuguese President is only the latest among a string of high-ranking public officials who have raised damning indictments about the More Housing Bill.
De Sousa’s predecessor, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, attributed the current housing crisis to the “government’s policy in the field of housing in the last seven years,” rather than a consequence of foreign investment in local accommodation or golden visas.
Silva berated the “lack of plans presented to the media with pomp and circumstance and that, above all, remained on paper or in PowerPoint, without even a single Secretary of State now appearing to take responsibility for the mistakes committed.” Silva’s comments referred to the package as a whole, however, and referred to the proposed closing of the golden visa as one of a few “obviously positive measures” within the bill.
Earlier this week, Madeira’s President Miguel Albuquerque said the autonomous Portuguese region would “refuse to apply the measures” of the bill, citing the detrimental effects it would have on the archipelago’s economic prospects.
Jose Miguel Judice, former Head of the Lawyer’s Association, rebuked the bill as “very ineffective, poorly studied, rushed, revealing a huge lack of knowledge of the real world, and with devastating effects for the tourism sector.” President of the Portuguese Association of Real Estate Promoters and Investors (APPII) Hugo Santos Ferreira, meanwhile, lambasted the government’s proposal, calling it an “unprecedented attack on and punishment of tourism and foreign investment.”