One of the two Euro MPs travelling to the Algarve on Friday to promote debates on the rights and wrongs of oil exploration and the ins and outs of Brexit has spoken out over the “total lack of willingness of authorities to engage” – particularly over the issue of onshore and offshore oil exploration.
Despite the fact that every Algarve mayor is said to be against oil drilling in the Algarve, only two have committed to showing up for the morning event on May 13 at the Auditório do Museu, on Portimão riverside.
The energy minister, president of national fuel entity ENMC, former environment minister Jorge Moreira da Silva (the man responsible for awarding controversial onshore licences to a company that did not comply with ‘minimum requirements’), even environmental association Quercus have apparently expressed their lack of availability to take part, without offering any kind of substitute representation.
“I am going to take advantage of this,” MEP José Faria has vowed.
“I am going to go back to Brussels after the meetings – after the things we find and the issues people raise – and I am going to push for changes.
“This isn’t simply an issue of the Algarve,” he added. “The whole of Portugal has been cordoned off for exploration without any consideration for the environment, the consequences and the populations involved.
“Almost every area of sea within Portuguese territory has been awarded to different companies, and if it wasn’t for foreign residents making a fuss, it would have all gone ahead without a murmur.
“This is wrong, and I really want to do something about it.”
Ensuring that the debate on Friday morning will not be lost on non-Portuguese speakers, Faria – the only Portuguese MEP on the European committee on the environment – will be providing interpreters “from English to Portuguese and Portuguese to English”.
As opposed to Moreira da Silva – who complained in parliament recently that opposition to oil exploration was being “led by retired foreigners who want to live in the land of the Indians” – Faria welcomes expatriate involvement, saying it is pivotal.
“The foreigners know what this is about,” he told us. “That is why we are coming down here to listen to them.”
Debates – the venues
As we explained last week, there will be two debates: the first in Portimão’s Auditório do Museu from 11am, entitled ‘Tourism vs Oil’.
Speakers confirmed include the mayors of Faro and Aljezur and, at time of writing, the only other entity showing willingness and availability is ASMAA – the citizens movement that has been fighting oil exploration plans for the last four years.
Still to confirm (but Faria says showing no hurry to do so) are all the other ‘authorities’ involved in licensing concessions, as well as Portuguese environmental NGOs involved in anti-oil platform PALP.
Even Portimão mayoress Isilda Gomes is too busy to attend, Faria told us.
Following the oil debate – due to wind up at lunchtime – business will move east to Faro where mayor Rogério Bacalhau has opened the doors of his council building for a debate in English on Brexit, from 5pm.
Also taking part on the day is fervent remain campaigner Euro MP Catherine Bearder, of the Liberal Democrats.
Both Faria – representing Portugal’s MPT Earth Party – and Bearder are hoping for as many people at both debates as possible.
“This is an opportunity to hear people and take their views back to the European Parliament,” said Faria, stressing that the fact that authorities are showing so little interest in the oil debate is telling.
“This is an opportunity for them to come forward and, if they don’t, they will have to explain why they were not interested. We have to push them.”
Breakaway group from Quercus also pushing for rescission of onshore contracts
Also pushing is Zero, the new environmental group – whose name stands for sustainable earth association – that broke away from Quercus earlier this year.
Led by former Quercus president Francisco Ferreira, the group met this week with Secretary of State for Energy Jorge Seguro Sanches.
“We are convinced that there are juridical arguments that invalidate onshore exploration involving hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and the contracts that have been conceded,” Ferreira told Lusa news agency.
More specifically, he mentioned “a series of juridical doubts on how contracts with Portfuel were made”.
Tourism bosses “too busy” promoting Algarve Nature Week
Excuses given as the Resident telephoned around ranged from “we weren’t told about this in time” to “we’re too busy”.
Portimão mayoress Isilda Gomes has a business trip to the Azores pre-booked for some time on Friday, said a source, while tourism boss Desidério Silva is reportedly promoting Algarve Nature Week in Quarteira.
But as Faria explained, “if they are busy, surely they have someone else who could represent their entity for them?”
Meantime, the Brexit debate is reaching new levels of delirium. As anyone following UK TV has learnt, the consequences of leaving Europe are becoming more terrifying by the day.
From the British chancellor’s warning weeks ago that a vote to leave “could seriously affect the housing market”, Brits have seen PM David Cameron predict everything from a “worsening unemployment situation” to full-blown World War.
The agony of many expats both here and elsewhere in Europe is that whatever happens as a result of the referendum, they cannot engage as they lost the right to vote after living outside UK for 15 years.
Nonetheless, Friday’s debate is not the only occasion when people can discuss their hopes, fears and ask questions to those who may know the answers.
A talk by Graham Chambers, a former member of the European Parliament Secretariat, is also scheduled on The EU and Brexit on Tuesday, May 17 at Lagoa Municipcal Library.
Promoted by the Algarve History Association, the event – like both debates on Friday – is free of charge and everyone is welcome.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]
Photo: Anti-oil campaigners took to the streets of Loulé last month to say “no” to oil exploration in the Algarve
Photo by: Luis Forra/Lusa