Outgoing European Commission president Durão Barroso has been criticised for calling it a “barrel-load of money” – but the community funding that will be on its way to Portugal over the next seven years is sizeable: a cool €26 billion. The money is destined to boost business growth and job creation, but it will also go towards social, urban and territorial cohesion.
Most of the money is to be spent between now and 2020 on training and education in the hope of cutting unemployment, with 93% of the funds going to “the poorest areas of the country”.
Along with the Lisbon area and Madeira, the Algarve is considered one of the “less poor” regions of the country, and thus only qualifies for 7% of the funding package.
Durão Barroso declared: “€26 billion is a barrel-load of money”. He used the term in a speech where he said the money coming to Portugal was “concrete proof” of European solidarity.
But former finance minister Manuela Ferreira Leite was unimpressed. “It is something we don’t need to thank anyone for. There is a cake to distribute, and different countries negotiate the amount that should be attributed to them. It’s a lot in relation to what? Should we deserve less?” she asked.
British taxpayers think so, apparently. A Ukip spokesman has described it as “the most expensive sticking plaster in history” and said it was “tipping money down the drain.”
Critics are said to be furious that British taxpayers will be effectively forking out up to £2.7 billion over the next six years to help prop up “one of Europe’s basket-case nations.”
The European Commission has adopted a ‘Partnership Agreement’ with Portugal setting down the strategy for the optimal use of European Structural and Investment Funds throughout the country.
The agreement, signed in Lisbon on July 30, paves the way for investing €21.46 billion in total Cohesion Policy funding over 2014-2020 (including European Territorial Cooperation funding and the allocation for the Youth Employment Initiative). Portugal also receives €4.06 billion for rural development and €392 million for fisheries and the maritime sector.
The EU investments will help tackle unemployment and boost competitiveness and economic growth through support to innovation, training and education in cities, towns and rural areas. They will also promote entrepreneurship, fight social exclusion and help develop an environmentally friendly and resource-efficient economy.
The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Regional Policy, arrived in the Portuguese capital for a meeting with the Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, where the Partnership Agreement was launched.
Commenting on the deal, Manuel Barroso said: “The adoption of the ‘Partnership Agreement’ is vital to continue the support of Portugal’s recovery and development. It is very much geared towards improving competitiveness, creating jobs and promoting social inclusion. It is now paramount to use nearly €26 billion in an efficient and productive manner, directly benefiting the Portuguese people.”
Commissioner Hahn added: “This vital, strategic investment plan sets Portugal on the path to jobs and growth for the next decade … and the Agreement reflects the European Commission and Portugal’s joint determination to make the most efficient use of EU funding.”
The Partnership Agreement will focus on key interventions to support Portugal’s economic recovery through a significant increase in its competitiveness. These include, for example, entrepreneurship and business innovation, fostering R&D knowledge transfer between academia and businesses, enhancing the competiveness of SMEs, supporting the shift to a low-carbon economy and promoting resource efficiency, as well as contributing to the modernisation of the public administration, and investing in education and training.
“This is a barrel-load of money, and concrete proof of European solidarity,” said Manuel Barroso, who aimed to silence critics who believed the European Union was unsympathetic towards Portugal.
But it was not lost on those attending the meeting at São Bento – politicians and assembled press – that between the accession to the then European Economic Community in 1986 and the end of 2013, Portugal received upwards of €97 billions-worth of various structural and cohesion funds – something like €9 million per day and a fortune that still did not prevent the bankruptcy of the country in 2011 or change the outlook of the Portuguese economy.
“Portugal does not want to waste EU funds, as in the past,” said Passos Coelho, atoning for historical financial mismanagement, and asserted that the country will “make good” EU support after “three years of great economic hardship.”