Pedro Passos Coelho was born in the parish of Sé Nova in Coimbra, Portugal, on 24 July 1964. He is the youngest son of a medical doctor, António Passos Coelho (born Vale de Nogueiras, Vila Real, Douro, 31 May 1926) and the woman he married in 1955, a nurse, Maria Rodrigues Santos Mamede (born Santana da Serra, Ourique, Baixo Alentejo, c. 1930). He has an older sister, Maria Teresa Mamede Passos Coelho, a medical doctor, and an older brother, Miguel Mamede Passos Coelho, who was born with cerebral palsy.
He spent his childhood in Angola—then one of Portugal's overseas possessions—where his father practised medicine. After the Carnation Revolution of 1974 and the independence of the territory as the People's Republic of Angola, he returned with his family to Europe and settled in Vila Real, Northern Portugal.
He started very early in politics, as a 14-year-old boy, and had a long and prominent career in the youth branch of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the JSD, where he was a member of the National Council (1980–1982). As a young student, his academic interests, vocations and ambitions were directed towards a future career in medicine, in order to follow his father and older sisters' steps, or instead mathematics. However, his largest ambition and vocation revolved around politics.
Passos Coelho moved to Africa at five years of age, and studied in basic schools of the cities of Silva Porto and later Luanda, in the former Portuguese territory of Angola, until the age of 10. His parents went to the Portuguese African territory of Angola to work there among the native rural populations who were plagued by tropical diseases such as tuberculosis. Firstly, Coelho studied in a nun-run Catholic school, then in the public school, and again in another Catholic school run by the Marist Brothers. Then, after the Carnation Revolution in 1974, and the dismantling of the Portuguese Overseas Empire in Africa, he returned to Europe, settling in his grandparents estate, in Valnogueiras, near the city of Vila Real, Norte Region, Portugal. In order to attend a secondary education institution in Vila Real, the Liceu Nacional Camilo Castelo-Branco (Camilo Castelo-Branco National High School), he moved to the city. His father only rejoined the family in 1975, the year that Angola became an independent territory known as the People's Republic of Angola.
At the age of 19, Passos Coelho went to Lisbon in order to study mathematics at the University of Lisbon. This course was his second option after medicine at the same university, however he did not reach by a fraction the extremely high marks needed to be admitted in the Lisbon Medical School. Meanwhile, he had taught mathemathics at the Escola Secundária de Vila Pouca de Aguiar high school for a year (1982/1983). In Lisbon, he made a living by working as a part-time private mathematics tutor, and continued to develop his political career as a promising figure of the PSD youth branch (JSD). He was elected vice-president of JSD in 1987, and president in 1991. However, Coelho did not graduate in mathematics by the University of Lisbon. He had his first child when he was 24 years old (1988), just before he was married for the first time to Fátima Padinha, former member of girl band Doce.
After dropping out the University of Lisbon he would enroll in 1999 for the Lusíada University from where he would be awarded a degree in economics in 2001, when he was 37 years old, and had already been member of the parliament between 1991–1999, among other attributions (he worked in a public relations capacity during the late 1980s in Qimibro, a metals broker and trading firm founded by José Manuel Bento dos Santos and Eduardo Catroga, after invitation by a cousin who worked there).
Starting very early in politics, he had a long career in the youth branch of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the JSD, where he was a member of the National Council (1980–1982) and Chairman of the Political Committee (1990–1995). He was a Lisbon deputy to the Assembly of the Republic in the VI and VII Legislatures (1991–1999); he also joined the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO (1991–1995) and was vice chairman of the Parliamentary Group of the PSD (1996–1999). In 1997, he ran for mayor of Amadora without success, but was elected municipal councillor (1997–2001). After has been member of the parliament from 1991 to 1999, Passos Coelho became eligible by law to a life pension, however, he declined the offer.
He was awarded a degree in economics by Lusíada University (Lisbon) when he was 37 (2001). He became a consultant with Tecnoformas (2000–2004), consultant of consultants LDN (2001–2004), Director of the Training Department and coordinator of the Program of Seminars URBE – Núcleos Urbanos de Pesquisa e Intervenção (2003–2004). He joined the company Fomentinvest as a CFO (2004–2006) working with Ângelo Correia, chairman of Fomentinvest and also a noted member of the PSD. Correia, an experienced member of PSD, is a close friend of Passos Coelho, both inside their party and corporate governance careers, and is considered Passos Coelho's political mentor. Passos Coelho became a member of the Executive (in 2007), accumulating the functions of chairman of the Board of the HLCTejo (2007–2009).
He was vice-president of the PSD during the leadership of Luis Marques Mendes (2005–2006) and has also been president of the Municipal Assembly of Vila Real Municipality since 2005; he was a presidential candidate for the PSD in May 2008, where he proposed for the first time a programmatic review of the party's orientation. Defeated by Manuela Ferreira Leite, he founded, with a group of his supporters, the think-tank Construir Ideias (Building Ideas). On 21 January 2010, his book Mudar ("To Change") was published, and he was again candidate for the leadership of the PSD for the direct elections in March 2010; he was elected president of the PSD on 26 March 2010.
By 2010, in a context of sovereign default, he helped defeat the Socialist government under the leadership of José Sócrates when it tried to adopt a package of austerity measures in order to maintain economic stability, leading to the resignation of the prime minister on 23 March 2011, and the general election of 5 June 2011.
Passos Coelho lives in Massamá, Greater Lisbon. He was married to Fátima Padinha, a former singer with the girl band Doce, by whom he has two daughters, Joana Padinha Passos Coelho (born 1988) and Catarina Padinha Passos Coelho (born 1993), and he is now married to Laura Ferreira, a physiotherapy technician, born in Bissau, Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau, West Africa), by whom he has one daughter, Júlia Ferreira Passos Coelho (born 2007). Apart from his native language, he can speak some French and English.
On 5 June 2011, after the Portuguese legislative election, Passos Coelho was elected Prime Minister of Portugal. He achieved a historical win for his political party, the PSD, defeating José Sócrates of the Socialists. Through a coalition with CDS-PP, Passos Coelho and the PSD were in position to form a right-wing majority in the Portuguese Parliament. Immediately after the election, he started conversations with Christian-Democratic President Paulo Portas to form the coalition.
Passos Coelho's political program was considered the most liberal ever adopted by the PSD, and included a firm intention to accomplish the European Union/IMF-led rescue plan for Portugal's sovereign debt crisis. The rescue plan included widespread tax increases and reforms aimed at better efficiency and rationalized resource allocation in the public sector, in order to reduce the number of unnecessary civil servants and chronic public sector's overcapacity. They also included the privatization of at least one channel of the public radio and television RTP network, the Caixa Geral de Depósitos' insurance operations, and some parts of the National Service of Health. His coalition partner Paulo Portas of CDS-PP, expressed publicly his disapproval for some of Passos Coelho's proposals. Passos Coelho entered office as a moderate social conservative, with a mixed record on abortion (he voted no in the 1998 referendum and yes in the following in 2007), while opposing euthanasia and same-sex marriage, supporting same-sex civil unions instead. It was not certain if he would try to overrule the previous José Sócrates-led Socialist government laws that allowed abortion until 10 weeks and same-sex marriage in Portugal. During the campaign, he admitted the reavaluation of the current abortion law approved in 2007, after a referendum, that allowed it under any circumstance until 10 weeks of pregnancy. The law was deemed unconstitutional by 6 of the 13 judge members of the Portuguese Constitutional Court. Other creations of the previous cabinets led by former Prime Minister José Sócrates were criticized by Passos Coelho, including the state-sponsored Novas Oportunidades educational qualification program for unschooled adults, which was dubbed a fraud due to alleged low standards of intellectual rigor and academic integrity.
From 21 June 2011 to 24 November 2015, Passos Coelho led the XIX Governo Constitucional (19th Constitutional Government). In the fifth vote of confidence the government faced, as called by Os Verdes, the government was scheduled to win a vote despite being opposed by the Communists, Left Bloc and Socialists (if it failed the government would not be able to have another vote). Despite attempts to form a national unity government, Socialist party whip Carlos Zorrinho said that the move was not with the government but that all parties were available for a possible new government. The motion by Os Verdes was initiated on 14 July 2013 during a state of the nation debate. Coelho said that the vote was "very welcome" and would serve as a vote of confidence.
Paulo Portas and Vitor Gaspar resigned from the cabinet over the country's austerity programme. Though Coelho accepted it, he said that the government would continue with the measures and would seek to heal the rift with his coalition partners.
In order to accomplish the European Union/IMF-led rescue plan for Portugal's sovereign debt crisis, in July and August 2011, his government announced it was going to cut on state spending and increase austerity measures, including additional tax increases, but it will also have a social emergency package to help the poorest citizens. As time went on it became increasingly clear that a series of supplementary measures would be taken during the course of the year as a means to restrain an out-of-control budget deficit. These included sharp cuts in spending on state-run healthcare, education and social security systems. His cabinet enforced reforms of the local administration to save money by avoiding unnecessary resource allocation and redundancy. This included extinguishing the 18 civil governments (Governo Civil) located across the country and a large number of freguesias. According to the Portuguese Statistics Bureau, there were 4,261 freguesias in Portugal as of 2006. The reform implemented according to Law 11-A/2013 of 28 January 2013, which defined the reorganization of the civil parishes, reduced the number of freguesias to 3,091.Public servants: the government wanted to sharply reduce the number of public servants and to achieve this it created a special mechanism to cut jobs by mutual agreement. Due to the unsustainable and growing expenses with public servant salaries and privileges, the ruling party PSD said it would only hire one worker for each five that leave, a rule which revealed the extremely large number of unnecessary redundant public servants that had been signed in across the decades. Hiring procedures for the public service were changed in order to guarantee an independent process and public servants' wages were taken into account to limit extra payments. On 18 October 2011, the Portuguese Minister of Finance, Vítor Gaspar, said to the Portuguese television RTP 1 that the wage cuts imposed to public servants the previous week in the presentation of the State Budget for 2012 were the only way to avoid a much more painful and complex policy of public servant mass firing. He said that if wage cuts were not enforced, it would be necessary to get rid of about 100,000 public servants immediately (under the terms of the law, Portuguese public servants were shielded from unemployment, so a number of special derogations would be needed to achieve this).
Public administration: since the beginning the government promised to disclose within 90 days the list of public entities which were to be eliminated, reintegrated in other public institutions or be privatised due to their uselessness. These included dozens of financially strapped public institutions, foundations and public companies at a local, regional and national level, which were considered ineffective and futile due to overspending.
Taxes: tax rise. Higher indirect taxes, like VAT (IVA), for almost all goods and services.
Labour: Labour laws were also altered, but most of the changes did not affect current workers, only those starting a new job from there on, while some public holidays were moved from mid-week to Mondays or Fridays to avoid typical extra-long bank holiday weekends. Faced with growing unemployment and hoping to avoid greater public unrest, the government cut the time needed to qualify for unemployment benefits from 15 to 12 months, but reduced the benefit period from the current 30 months to a mere 18 and created new rules which reduced the monthly unemployment benefit granted to each unemployed citizen.
Privatisations: release of state ownership on the utility Energias de Portugal (EDP), the power company REN – Redes Energéticas Nacionais, the financial institution Banco Português de Negócios and the flag carrier TAP Air Portugal by the end of 2011. The insurance company of the public bank Caixa Geral de Depósitos (CGD) was also for selling. Revenue from the sale of other parts of CGD was to be used to beef up the bank’s capital ratios and its ability to lend to companies. Besides this, the government kept the promise to withdraw its special rights (golden shares) in companies such as Portugal Telecom.
Transports: the Lisbon-Madrid high-speed train, or TGV, was put on hold. The decision was taken bearing in mind the cutting cost measures and the contracts that had already been signed. Transport providers like the Lisbon (Carris) and Porto bus companies and subway systems were also assessed to see if and when they could be sold off. The government programme also added that the road and rail transport companies, like Comboios de Portugal, "urgently need" to solve their chronic operating deficits and growing debts.
Regulators: the regulatory bodies were turned into independent authorities with their officials being chosen through a process which comprises the government, the parliament and the presidency.
Media: the media company owned by public broadcasting corporation RTP was to be restructured as early as 2012 in order to halt costs, and the privatisation of one of the two TV channels it owns (RTP1 and RTP2) was also on the table. Lusa news agency was also to be reorganised, following the state's goal of rethinking its position in regard to the national media.
Monitoring measures: the government created a special unit to monitor the measures agreed with the so-called international troika composed by the International Monetary Fund, European Commission and European Central Bank. This special unit was subordinated to Carlos Moedas, the deputy secretary of state of the prime minister Passos Coelho.
Health: Public hospitals were turned over to private management "whenever this is more efficient, maintaining the essentially free health care services". The fees and taxes a citizen had to pay to use the national health service were substantially increased.
Foreign affairs: Passos Coelho's cabinet enforced international relations policies directed towards increased economic relations with Portuguese-speaking countries like Angola and Brazil, as well as supporting openly the creation of an economic and fiscal government for the European Union. The government also supported a State-backed emigration policy in order to help unemployed and underemployed citizens who wish to flee rampant poverty and social regression, to find a job in foreign countries.
In the end, the Portuguese Constitutional Court with the praise of most unions and opposition party leaders, rejected almost all main government policies and reforms proposed by Passos Coelho and his cabinet.
During his first year in cabinet, it became clear that the deep economic and financial crisis of Portugal would prompt several policy changes and increasing dissent over the cabinet's judgement. After an inaugural speech in which he promised to stabilize the economy, promote financial growth, employment and protect the ones who needed the most, he moved on to adopt deep austerity measures that, within the first year of government, led to the exact opposite. In addition, his government had earlier adopted a promoting stance on emigration, often advising the growing number of young unemployed people to leave the country. On 15 September 2012, Passos Coelho and his coalition government faced one of the biggest civil protests in the history of Portuguese democracy, where demands were made for solutions to be put in place. On 21 September 2012, while the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet were meeting with President Aníbal Cavaco Silva, a large number of protesters rioted in front of the presidential house, the Belém Palace, clashing with the security forces. Grand-Cross of the Order of Merit, Poland (6 June 2012)
Grand-Cross with diamonds of the Order of the Sun, Peru (6 June 2012)
Sash of Special Category of the Order of the Aztec Eagle, Mexico (28 October 2014)
(Source: Official results)
(Source: Official results)