President and Prime Minister in TGV clash.jpg

President and Prime Minister in TGV clash

PRIME MINISTER, José Sócrates, announced last week that the government would push ahead with its plans for a high speed rail link between Madrid and Lisbon.

Speaking in Chaves, only one day after President Cavaco Silva recommended that the government carry out further feasibility studies, José Sócrates told journalists the time was right now to “go for it.”

The Prime Minister was in Chaves on Saturday for the inauguration of a 30 kilometre stretch of road on the A24 motorway. Talking to journalists, he made it quite clear that Portugal would move ahead with its TGV project between Madrid and Lisbon.

In reply to those who asked him about Cavaco Silva’s comments, made the day before, about the necessity of more in-depth economic viability studies into large-scale public projects, such as the TGV and Ota airport, the Prime Minister replied that the debate “had been going on for 10 years and would continue to be discussed”, but that, “Portugal could not afford to remain outside the high speed rail link network seen in other European countries”, such as Germany and France. “This would be an error for which the country would pay dearly in terms of competitiveness and quality of life” he added.

The Prime Minister believes it is vital to press ahead with the Madrid-Lisbon TGV link at “an appropriate speed” to make the Iberian Peninsular more competitive.

“What is important is to explain to the Portuguese, in the clearest way possible, both the benefits and the costs the TGV would have for the country,” he said.

President Cavaco Silva is calling for a ‘cost-benefits’ in-depth study into the high speed rail link. He has said he wants to know the financial viability of such large-scale projects for the country, adding that the TGV had not topped the agenda of discussions by the Prime Minister as it should have. The remarks signal the first clash of opinion between the two men since Cavaco Silva took office just over 130 days ago.

Up until now, both the President and the Prime Minister have been working closely together with kitchen cabinet style co-operation and weekly meetings to discuss issues facing the country, such as agricultural policy and social exclusion.

“It would be nice to discuss the economic viability of projects like the TGV – which, without doubt, would be a considerable investment – to know whether it would contribute towards the well being of the Portuguese people,” said the President.

PSD leader Marques Mendes applauded the President’s statements by adding, “It’s a good common sense attitude that merits attention,” while social democrat MP, Manuel Oliveira, said, “the project would cost loads of money at a time when the country needs to tighten its belt.”

By Chris Graeme