PM in hot water over football stop-over in Hungary

Costa diverts Air Force jet to watch Euro final alongside Viktor Orbán

PM António Costa has managed to unite all parties in outrage by being photographed sitting alongside ultraconservative Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán after diverting from his published schedule to fly in an Air Force jet to watch a football league final in Budapeste.

National fury centres on the fact that the PM was flying in a Falcon jet – ostensibly to Moldova to attend a European political summit – on taxpayers money. 

By diverting to Hungary to watch the game on May 31, he will have been adding to already considerable expenses (by incurring extra fuel costs, etc.)

Commentators like former Euro MP Ana Gomes read the incident as António Costa still focused on a future European posting. This pally moment with Mr Orbán will have been part of Costa’s ‘campaign’, she told journalists.

Her take is echoed by deputy editorial director general of Correio da Manhã Armando Esteves Pereira who writes “In the changing rooms of Puskás Arena, António Costa was really in an electoral campaign for the job of president of the European Council”.

Mr Costa meantime has said the whole idea was to “give a hug” to Portuguese trainer José Mourinho, whose team Roma was playing Sevilla, while President Marcelo has tried to keep out of the spat by saying “it is up to the prime minister to explain why he did not include the stop in Hungary on his official schedule” (this being a novel way of turning the situation deftly on its head…)

Marcelo also said the equivalent of ‘I can’t see what all the fuss is about’… (which most everyday citizens will almost certainly agree).

In many ways the furore is ‘yet another Lisbon bubble story’.

‘Lisbon bubble stories’ bounce forever across national headlines – one of the latest being that no member of government visited Pedrógão Grande on the 6th anniversary of wildfires that killed 66 citizens. Thus this little moment of ‘male bonding’ involving a football (or potentially balls) fits perfectly with a narrative that there are some things our leaders can’t be bothered to do, and others that they positively go out of their way for.

Lots of tweets include one by former PSD minister Miguel Poiaires Maduro who believes “in a serious State a prime minister using a State jet for an event that is not in his public agenda would be the end of that prime minister’s political journey…

No one imagines this is the end of António Costa’s political journey – which is why opposition parties are so angry.

Like other Lisbon bubble stories before it, this one will bounce across the headlines quite a bit more before it pops suddenly in favour of a new controversy. It could be argued that this is so not what everyday citizens, struggling to make ends meet, need to be bothered with. Certainly PCP communist leader Paulo Raimundo thinks so, telling reporters frantically quizzing party leaders about their feelings that what “concerns people” are “the conditions of life, the increase in prices, the brutal injustice in distribution of wealth and peace”.

The European Central Bank has just increased interest rates to the highest level in 22 years, warning this is certainly not the end to economic pain in store for populations. Just last Thursday’s hike will add further stress to the mortgage committments of hundreds of thousands of Portuguese families. SIC television news reports that in some cases, people’s mortgage repayments have risen as much as €300. DECO (consumers association) reports there are “increasingly more families” in fear of default, placing their properties on the market in order to free themselves “from the burden of credit”. It is these issues; the failings in health/ education/ justice that jostle perennially in the background as focus today is more on a rearview of two political leaders watching football…

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Portugal Resident