Making government local

A recent reorganisation in the region’s administration has led to the creation of the Grande Área Metropolitana do Algarve, a new body which, it is hoped, will eventually lead to strategic decisions about the Algarve being made within the region, rather than by central government.

What is the new metropolitan area?

There are two new separate bodies. There is a new assembly – the Grande Área Metropolitana do Algarve – composed of three delegates from each of the 16 local câmaras, making 48 in total, plus an overall president, making 49 members.

Of these 49 members, 22 are from the PS (Socialist Party), 22 are from the PSD (Social Democratic Party) and five are from the Communist Party. The idea is that the new body will function as a cohesive entity, fighting for the Algarve’s interests, and not as individual units.

The presidents of each câmara will participate in the separate entity, the executive committee, known as the Junta Metropolitana.

Who is the overall president?

Macário Correia, also the current head of Tavira Câmara. He is now being touted as ‘the Algarve’s strong man’ and is a staunch supporter of autonomy for the Algarve.

When was it launched?

On March 31, 2004. The Secretary of State for Local Administration, Miguel Relvas, presided over the inauguration ceremony. During the signing of the protocol in Faro, Correia made clear that the new structure’s statutes will have to be formally approved in each of the region’s 16 municipal assemblies.

What are its powers?

It has been described as the embryo of a future regional government, but, at the moment, its powers remain limited. It has no formal tax-raising powers but can pass local legislation regarding administrative matters.

When was it first muted?

In 1998, a proposal supported by the socialist Guterres government of the time, but opposed by the PSD/PP.

Where is it based?

Faro, the capital of the Algarve.

What are its political components?

Nine of the Algarve’s câmaras are presently run by the centre-right PSD (currently in power) and the other seven by the socialist PS. The accord foresees the integration of representatives of the three main parties in each municipal assembly – the PSD, PS and CDU, except in those local authorities where there is an absolute majority.

How will it operate?

The two new laws of administrative decentralisation also give municipalities the possibility of associating together in so-called Grand Metropolitan Areas and in inter-municipal areas, giving local authorities the freedom to form various alliances.

What do people think about it?

José Dias, from the Algarve Tourist Board, gave us his views on it. “It’s very similar to the London Metropolitan Area. For example, Albufeira has certain licensing hours and Lagoa has different hours. The Metropolitan Assembly will hopefully put an end to the situation whereby two câmaras have different rules – it’s an administrative body that will aim to create some uniformity across the region. And it’s not only about opening and closing times. For example, Albufeira charges so much for a cubic metre of water, but in another câmara it’s different. That must change.”

How does its president envisage his role?

“What we have created here is an intermediary body that receives powers from the state and from regional câmaras,” said Correia. “Matters such as the acquisition of goods and the provision and inspection of services, training programmes and cultural programmes, could eventually pass to this new assembly. Although it is not yet, constitutionally, a local decision-making authority, we are hoping it will become one over time. In the end we envisage that the work carried out by central government will be transferred over to this new body. The Algarve is really a unique case, separate in the national context. It has special circumstances that make it proper that we pass to this new phase.”