Elisa Ferreira - Portuguese European Commissioner for Cohesion Policy and Reform
Elisa Ferreira - Portuguese European Commissioner for Cohesion Policy and Reform

Finance minister’s ‘warning’ about EU expansion gets firm response

‘Shape up and stop whinging’, says Portuguese European commissioner

The curiously insular remarks made by Finance Minister Fernando Medina yesterday about ‘EU expansion eastwards’ have been met with a firm hand. Portuguese European Commissioner for Cohesion Policy and Reform, Elisa Ferreira, has said the equivalent of ‘shape up and stop whinging’.

Her exact words were much more diplomatic: ““What I think is the strategy for all countries, the good strategy, is to work towards not depending on funds. I think that this ambition should be very clear and very explicit politically, so that it contaminates, in a positive sense, all the actors who are involved in the use of funds”.

But the message boiled down to a fairly sharp reprimand to Mr Medina, who elsewhere ‘basks’ in the fame of having brought down Portugal’s astronomic level of public debt. If he can do that, he can work out how to keep money flowing WITHOUT going to Europe with a begging bowl, suggests Ms Ferreira.

As Lusa says – again much more diplomatically: “The European Commissioner was responding to a question from Lusa about statements made by the minister of finance, Fernando Medina in which he said that Portugal “has not reflected sufficiently and in depth” on the eastward enlargement of the European Union, which will cause Portugal to change its position among those that “benefit significantly from cohesion policy funds”.

Indeed, Mr Medina ended his warning, suggesting Portugal will become “one of the richest countries in the bloc”, which may have sowed a seed in the heads of the hundreds of thousands struggling to keep a roof over their heads that embracing countries which in some cases are trying to choose democracy over tyranny might not be to Portugal’s advantage.

Elisa Ferreira took Fernando Medina’s line that “Portugal might lose out on Cohesion Funds” and countered “dependence is always a bad thing. Therefore, the objective of the structural funds is not – to use that old and very tired Chinese proverb – to give fish, it is to give fishing rods…”

Ms Ferreira’s message came during the annual event of the Interreg cross-border European support programme, which is taking place this week in the Galician capital.

For Elisa Ferreira, this logic is especially important for institutions such as universities and research centres, companies that need to absorb innovation and new technologies, writes Lusa.

“When we talk about a new way of producing, we are not theorising. In fact, the agenda is moving very quickly, all production processes have to be transformed in order to move from a base dependent on polluting energies to clean energies,” she emphasised.

Funds currently being used are a “unique” and “historic” opportunity. “They have to be used with a view to us not needing them in the future,” she insisted.

Elisa Ferreira is a former director of the Bank of Portugal and former minister for the environment and planning (PS).

The way she sees Portugal’s future is in defining a strategy “that will take us to a dimension that is no longer based on basic infrastructures “, but on “knowledge and the ability to give opportunities to young people who are highly qualified”, transferring to companies “all the knowledge” still contained in universities, entering “areas of international competition and international cooperation”.

That would leave funds, like cohesion funds, free for countries that may not have mature infrastructures, even mature democracies (like Portugal has).

This is not the first time Elisa Ferreira has ‘moved in’ on PS Socialist ‘bleats’.

Very recently, prime minister António Costa appeared to be trying to get the European Commission to step in and pull Portugal out of the housing crisis which, arguably, has been created by the State’s incapacity to build homes for the best part of two decades

Within days of his attempt, Ms Ferreira was telling journalists: “Housing is a bottomless pit (…) Where are we going to end if we finance housing? It doesn’t mean that we can’t do it, but we have to work very hard to ensure that, without the logic of a rebalancing fund, we don’t waste precious money. (…) It’s important not to create an instrument that is water in the desert.” ND