14 Oct Awaiting the end of the worldwide pandemic with sheer optimism
Jorge Delgado, Secretary of State for Infrastructure, highlights the importance of viewing challenges as opportunities in order to evolve
Over the last two months we have seen the world on high alert and governments taking all manner of actions to stop the pandemic. Portugal, as a nation, rose to the occasion and has received global praise for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis, especially considering how hard its neighbour, Spain, was hit. What in your opinion, were the key elements that allowed for Portugal to tackle this crisis so effectively?
We reacted quickly with very tough measures. Everybody that could work remotely was mandated by the government to do so. Following that we adopted a set of economic measures that allowed to keep our business afloat during the lockdown period. We kept an eye on the numbers of cases and slowly started easing the measures in accordance to expert advice.
Could you please provide us with an overview of the port, air and rail logistics in Portugal as it relates to its strategic and commercial importance for the country?
New airports are currently being discussed in Portugal, as we are thinking of building a new airport in Montijo to compliment Portela. As a matter of fact, we need a new airport and a larger runway space for the increasing demand in Portugal. In terms of ports we have competent infrastructure at the moment, with our largest, Port in Sines, and others like Leixões in Matosinhos. There are plans currently underway towards expansion as well as the improvement of links between railway lines and ports. In terms of roads infrastructure, we will soon complete a highway that already exists, the A26 that begins in Sines going through Grândola. In general, we have a good road network in Portugal. We have made a big investment in these areas, so much so that we admit that we may have neglected the expansion on railway infrastructure for a few years. However, we are trying to recover the time lost with a big plan of investment – Ferrovia 2020 – that is ongoing as well as with another big list of railway investments that are part of our National Plan of Investments 2030 – PNI2030. These large investments in railways will be open for international tenders. According to the public contract code, as this kind of investments are related with significant national value, they must be available for international companies.
The European Commission had already indicated that in order to achieve carbon neutrality considerable additional investments would be necessary, in the order of EUR 175 to 290 billion per year. It is also crucial to increase investment in the energy system and related infrastructures. What role will future infrastructure developments play in the decarbonisation and digitalisation of the Portuguese economy?
We have divided this in mainly two large ministries, which are the environment ministry, that also encompassed the energy sector, and our ministry for infrastructure and housing. We know that one of the biggest contributors to climate change is the transport sector, so it is within our focus. It is not only a question of environment and sustainability, but it is also of quality of life and freedom of people. These days, mobility is something that appears as important as having a home to live in or access to education. The equality of opportunities go hand in hand with equality of mobility. The way to solve that is by making public transport more efficient, reducing the number of individual vehicles on the road. In this way we improve the citizens quality of life and reduce our carbon footprint. We are playing an important role in our ministry in these two objectives. We are improving the quality of our railway lines, constructing more of them so people have the option to use them more than their vehicles. We want to make all of the train lines electric, so within the next ten years we will have green energy powering all of our railways’ infrastructure.
Total financing under the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) in Portugal amounts to EUR 3.8 billion and is set to trigger EUR 13.2 billion in additional investments. As it stands, what are Portugal’s most attractive Investment opportunities linked to infrastructure and transport in general?
We will be able to go forward with our plans when the decision by the European Commission for the Recovery & Resilience Plan is concluded. This plan will fill in the gaps of our missing links in infrastructure. In addition, it will tackle some missing regional links that make transport more equitable for those who live outside the larger cities or missing links related with the industrial and enterprise areas. We also want to improve the cross-border connections between Portugal and Spain. These are the main road connection objectives. In other hand, if our railway lines are old, our trains are older. We have trains with more than 50, 60 and 70 years, like those in operation in the Cascais line. For a start, we started working on a plan of recovery for all old trains. We had a lot of trains stopped for a long time that we want to recover. That is why we have invested in a new factory for maintenance and recovering an important part of this old fleet. This is only an intermediate situation, because what we really need is a big number of new trains. We currently have a public tender open for 22 new trains. We are also planning to buy 62 new urban trains and 55 regional and interregional trains. This is an amount of investment of more than EUR 700 million.
In order to conclude, could you please share with the global readers of Newsweek a message of optimism and reassurance about Portugal and the rebooting of its economy?
We passed a difficult crisis in 2010 and 2012, but since 2016 we have started recovering our economy. For the first time last year, in 2019, we have had positive results in terms of government deficit, so it seems that, as a country, we are working in the right direction. All investors, from inside or outside of our country, are now looking at Portugal with respect and confidence. This crisis is a global crisis so I believe that this confidence will remain and as long as we can control the COVID-19 pandemic. We will start from the same point we were at six months ago and grow even quicker as a country in all social and economic dimensions.