Portugal opposition questions central banker Centeno’s independence

By Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) – Bank of Portugal Governor Mario Centeno came under fire from Portuguese opposition parties on Friday, who questioned his political independence after the resigned Socialist prime minister proposed Centeno’s name as his potential replacement.

Antonio Costa stepped down on Tuesday after prosecutors detained his chief of staff in an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of green energy projects and said Costa was the target of a related probe. He denies wrongdoing.

On Thursday he said that, as an alternative to a snap election, his Socialist party had proposed to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa that he appoint Centeno, a respected European Central Bank policymaker and former finance minister, as the new premier. The president called an election on March 10.

“This is another demonstration, but this time much more serious, of his (Centeno’s) lack of independence,” Joaquim Miranda Sarmento, bench leader of the main opposition Social Democrats, told reporters.

A central bank spokesperson declined to comment.

Opposition parties had previously questioned Centeno’s move from the finance ministry to the central bank in July 2020, during Costa’s second term.

Liberal Initiative lawmaker Rodrigo Saraiva said the fact Costa suggested that Centeno could take over showed that “the Socialist Party thinks it owns everything, that it confuses the state with the party”.

A few other lawmakers also complained of “revolving doors for government officials”, who leave a political job to work in a company or bank or vice versa.

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves, editing by Andrei Khalip and Alex Richardson)