Rui Moreira, Mayor of Porto: “Portugal should have regions with political power like Spain has” | International
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In recent years, Portugal began a timid process of decentralization of powers to the municipalities, which in this legislature should be consolidated and reinforced with the holding of a referendum on the division of the country into regions. The offer of the Government of the prime minister, the socialist António Costa, did not satisfy many municipalities, dissatisfied with the financing provided for the new tasks in education and health, but it was the slam of the independent Rui Moreira, president of the Municipal Chamber of Porto, to the National Association of Portuguese Municipalities (ANMP) for its lousy defense of local interests against Lisbon, which stirred the waters enough to make the central government review its proposal. This interview was held in June at the Municipal Chamber of Porto, before a new agreement was reached to transfer competences in education and health between the Executive of the Coast and the municipalities, signed last Friday. Moreira (Porto, 65 years old) showed his chest with the improvements obtained thanks to Porto’s defection, although he still sees no reason to return to the municipal body.
Ask. What was he pursuing with the departure of Porto from the National Association of Municipalities?
Response. Above all, we intended that in the phases of decentralization in health and social cohesion, the National Association of Municipalities does not assume unattainable commitments with the central government.
P. What fit does decentralization have in the regionalization that is to be promoted again with a referendum in 2024?
R. I am a regionalist, but here I am also clear. If it is so that the State passes tasks and not competences to the regions, if it is so that the State does not transfer power or income, regionalization is a disaster and the citizens will come to the referendum, after seeing what has happened with decentralization, and they will vote against. The danger is that the fact that decentralization has been done very badly and everyone agrees on that, is going to lead to the rejection of regionalization, and rightly so, by the population.
We have a gigantic central government and a local administration without resources
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P. If competences in education, health and social cohesion are transferred to the local Chambers, what mission remains for the regions?
R. We would have to have administrative regions with political power like Spain has. The idea of making purely administrative regions does not solve the equation, but there are very important matters that a region could define, such as priorities in the environment, infrastructure or competitiveness factors, which would make it possible to mitigate the enormous difference that exists today between the Lisbon region and the rest of the country. In Portugal, central government spending is 34.9% of GDP, while in Europe it is 26.7%. In other words, Portugal has a more expensive central government than the European average. City spending is 6.9% of GDP in Portugal, while the European average is 11.4%. This means that we have a gigantic central government and a local administration without resources. This situation is now aggravated by the Recovery and Resilience Plan. Only in culture, in the Lisbon metropolitan area they receive 114 million euros. For the entire North region there are 9.8 million and the Center region, 19. 93% of the State is concentrated in Lisbon with more than 650 institutions. The average salary in the metropolitan area is 1,477 euros, while in the rest of the country it is less than 1,100. This causes a migration of qualified population. The only regions that are growing in population in Portugal are Lisbon and Algarve.
P. Under what conditions would you return to the National Association of Municipalities?
R. That does not depend on me, it was decided by a municipal assembly where I do not have the majority. The National Association of Municipalities has to be an instrument of municipal politics, a claiming body of municipalism and not an obedient body of central power, always dominated by partisan logic.
P. What is your relationship with the prime minister, with whom you shared claims when both were mayors?
R. I have had an excellent relationship with the Prime Minister for more than 20 years.
P. The railway connections between Spain and Portugal are worse than in the 19th century.
R. In terms of competitiveness, they are worse than in the 19th century.
P. What does the Chamber of Porto claim?
R. The Chamber has dealt with this matter together with the Xunta de Galicia, specifically with Alberto Núñez Feijóo, and also with the Government, which has presented a plan that has our approval. What is on the table is to build a second Porto-Lisbon line parallel to the current northern line, which will then go to the Porto airport and from there make the connection to the border with Galicia. I know that there are negotiations between the Portuguese Government and the Spanish Government so that this connection also has investment in the Galician part, but it is already a decision of the Spanish ministry. This would allow Vigo to be the node that made the connection between this line and the high-speed network to Madrid; At the same time, it would be important for this line to have a connection through Santiago to A Coruña, so that the Atlantic façade would be equipped with infrastructures. It is a model that I have defended for years of complementarity between the north of Portugal and Galicia. We do not want a railway connection with Madrid through Portuguese territory, we want to take advantage of the connection to Vigo and promote our Francisco Sá Carneiro airport, which has a clear influence on Galician territory. This is an issue that greatly concerns the mayor of Vigo, but it is my position.
It makes no sense that all goods between Portugal and Spain circulate by road
P. Why aren’t they interested in connecting with Madrid through Portuguese territory?
R. We have to make choices and when we look at the map of the Iberian Peninsula and see where the population is, the great concentration is in the area between Porto, Braga, Vigo, Santiago and A Coruña, and a connection from the interior to Madrid would be faster , but will pass through territories with low population density. It may be good for Porto and Madrid, but the low-density territories gain little, or very long term, from the passage of the train. But the train is not only the connection with Spain, we do not have a railway in Portugal. The Porto-Lisbon connection takes as long as it did 30 or 40 years ago. The railway does not exist. In the transport of goods, Spain is the main supplier of Portugal and Portugal is the third of Spain and all these goods circulate by road, it does not make any sense. We also have an energy transition that is a commitment of the two countries. The train is the fat knot that we have to untie.
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