ly 2007 11:03 Home > News > Europe
Rival accuses Portuguese PM of lying about degree
By Elizabeth Nash in Madrid
Published: 23 July 2007
As Portugal takes centre stage as holder of the EU presidency for six months, the Prime Minister, Jose Socrates, is embroiled in a row over the authenticity of his university degree.
Antonio Balbino Caldeira, an activist in the conservative opposition Social Democratic Party, has posted alleged discrepancies about Mr Socrates' academic record on a blog. The claims have received massive press coverage, prompting Mr Socrates, 49, to sue Mr Caldeira for defamation. Meanwhile, a criminal investigation opened last month to establish whether the Prime Minister is guilty of using false academic titles.
The row focuses on whether Mr Socrates completed the necessary coursework at Lisbon's private Universidade Independente to justify his use of the esteemed title, "Engineer". The issue is particularly sensitive as Portugal strives to relaunch the EU's stalled "Lisbon agenda", which aims to combat economic stagnation caused by poor schooling.
Mr Socrates took three weeks to answer the allegations, prompting newspapers to uncover several inconsistencies in the awarding of the degree. Journalists found that qualifications awarded did not follow procedure and that four of the five courses were given by the same professor, Antonio Jose Moraes, a socialist government appointee. Details emerged when the government closed down the Independent University in April amid allegations of mismanagement and the misuse of funds.
Mr Socrates joined the university in 1995 and received his degree in 1996, when he was secretary of state for the environment. But in his official biographyMr Socrates claimed to have already obtained the coveted qualification of engineer. He later admitted that was a "lapse", and the government website altered his CV this year, downgrading "Civil Engineer" to "Diploma in Civil Engineering". Such distinctions are hugely important in a country where titles of engineer or doctor are prized as a passport to high office.
The saga throws doubt on Mr Socrates' personal integrity, and consolidates the dismal reputation of politicians among ordinary Portuguese. The indifference with which the allegations were received by most opposition MPs (they say it is a personal matter) fuel suspicions that Mr Socrates is not the only one to profess academic qualifications yet to be received.