The announcement of a historic spending package on June 20, 2020 finds Europe basking in the glow of solidarity, ready to incorporate “exceptional measures” into keeping the European economy afloat due to the economic complications of COVID-19. Portugal herself has walked away with a significant opportunity to continue building on the economic successes of the late 2010s; however, what that looks like is still far from certain.
With Portugal’s coffers swelling by €45.1 billion in EU grants over the next seven years (plus options for roughly €10.8 billion in loans), it seems the game has changed. Now Portugal, replete with adequate funding to weather the coming storms of the next decade, stands at the beginning of a “massive new challenge”. Prime Minister António Costa himself has stated that “we have to get it right”. Indeed we do.
A 142-page economic recovery plan, entitled "Strategic Vision for Portugal 2020-2030 economic and social recovery plan" was recently delivered to the government. Several of its points bear considering; in essence, it stands as a road map for the areas that Portugal should consider in determining how to link with the future. The EU funds and recovery plan come at a time when 20 percent of projects involving foreign investment in Portugal have been put on hold, with the chance they may be cancelled entirely. An economic contraction is a surety, as the estimated drop in Portugal’s GDP lies within the range of 6.9 to 12 percent.
Portugal’s success in garnering €15.3 billion in post-coronavirus recovery funds, plus €29.8 billion from the EU budget (2021-2027) serves as a tremendous boon to the country’s economic prospects. Costa himself has stated that the Portuguese must “manage these resources properly and not waste this opportunity”, and he’s absolutely right. The decisions made by Parliamentarians and other leaders of Portugal’s government will determine whether the country charts a course into a new history, or returns to the economic dilapidation that existed under Salazar (and more recently, following the Great Recession of 2007-2009).
Today’s (July 24, 2020) session of Parliament is likely to find vigorous debate surrounding the upcoming needs of the nation. The outcome of today’s meetings may serve as a harbinger of how Portugal will proceed. Unprecedented unity between all parties in battling the spread of COVID-19 has been the status quo; however, now that funding has been apportioned, the real battle will begin, as decisions for how to distribute funds could prove ugly.
Thus, we arrive at my impassioned plea:
Portugal, please use these funds to transform your economy, champion a Green Revolution in all sectors, and strive to position yourself as a power player in EU decision-making. Recognise that the past financial errors, austerity measures and corruption need no longer factor into how you govern. Your dynamic climb into a more secure financial position has been the result of diligent work by a coalition that has attempted to keep the benefit of the Portuguese people at the forefront of its approach toward progress.
Please understand that this is not the time for petty squabbles, for power plays or unconscionable graft. The future of Portugal is at stake; the tide has been rising on these Atlantic shores for several years now, and the Portuguese people deserve continued reprieve. They deserve to move into a unified future that preserves the indomitable will of its people. Portugal and her people deserve to wield power in the European Union.
Please, take your responsibilities seriously, gather the information needed to best transition the Portuguese economy, invest in projects that allow Portugal a position in Atlantic hegemony, and secure the inalienable rights of your people to live in dignity, security and safety. This opportunity comes but once, and I am hopeful that it will not be squandered, mainly due to the ingenuity and determination I’ve witnessed emanating from the Portuguese people themselves. If we make proper decisions together, ensuring fairness and opportunity for all, the likelihood that Portugal will emerge even stronger from this unique challenge is high.
After all, hasn’t Portugal’s time come to shine a bit brighter than in the past? I’d say so.