Medina and Moedas – is there really any difference?

 In Associations, Elections, Events, ICPT, In Focus, News

The campaign for the Lisbon City Council elections in September will likely be close but the pundits say it is a done deal for the current incumbent in city hall, Fernando Medina.

First, Medina had done a good job for Lisbon, very much continuing the legacy of António Costa who was his predecessor before becoming prime minister.
Medina has been lucky in some ways; he rode the wave of international tourists that flooded into the capital in droves in 2016-2019 and capitalised on a number of international awards that made Lisbon the city to visit several years running.
Not only that, he also benefitted from probably the greatest influx of international developers and investors which saw luxury condominiums, International schools, guest houses, overseas re-locators developing, buying and doing up property left, right and centre from France, the US, China, Brazil, Turkey, the Middle East and Russia on the back of the Golden Visa programme.
This was not all luck, however. Years of hard work promoting Lisbon as a destination for tourism, business events and congresses, company relocations, a startup destination and the perfect place to make a lifestyle move, trumpeting the city’s low crime rate, natural charm, great travel infrastructure, fantastic cuisine and friendly people also weighed in heavily. In fact both António Costa and Fernando Medina, the tourism offices Turismo de Lisboa, the business entity Portugal IN and Invest Lisboa all worked hard and often hand in glove to really put the city on the map.
Expo ’98, of course, was the beginning of this long journey of international recognition. How many overseas people before that year could really picture a Lisbon monument in their imagination if they had not been fortunate enough to visit the city? Few, I suspect.
That has all changed. First, the economic crisis from 2011 and the ‘troika’ led to international journalists flooding into Lisbon from all over the world to write about Portugal’s dire economic situation at that time. Ironically, they ended up by passing on very glowing and positive impressions to their travel and culture desks at the newspapers and magazines which had sent them.
Lisbon’s marketing department too worked hard to invite important journalists to the city from key tourism target markets and a week or so of fine dining, wining and entertainments did the trick and worked the magic – more glowing reviews and TV travel programmes.
Technology too helped. First, the Web Summit attracts thousands of startups and tekkies to the city and fills its cafés, restaurants, hotels and attractions for a week each year, with many staying on over the weekend to enjoy the sights and hospitality.
Second, the rise of the digital nomad writers and influencers, particularly in areas such as marketing, social media, travel, food and lifestyle poured in and further spread the news about how cool and trendy Lisbon is.
So, in 23 years, and more particularly over the past four years, investment and tourists flooded into Lisbon which, at the same time, had a city council which spruced up its public parks (It was the EU’s Green Capital of Europe in 2020), carried out improvements along large swathes of the river front with new paved areas, promenades, picnic zones, kooky little shops and eateries and a new cruise ship terminal.
Lisbon, in fact, underwent the same kind of transformation that Prague underwent in the 1990s and St.Petersburg in the 2000s. Not into a world-class city like London, Paris or New York, but a thriving regional hub for the Millennials and Generation X, Y and Z; a bridge between cultures and continents that had not been seen since the 16th century when Lisbon really was, alongside Venice, Amsterdam, Ghent, Bruges, Seville and London, among the top maritime capitals in the renaissance world.
So, having listened to the two candidates, Fernando Medina and Carlos Moedas speak at the International Club of Portugal in July, they are the only front runners with any real chance of winning the contest to be Lisbon’s next mayor. The policies presented seemed pretty much the same, with a heavy emphasis on transport infrastructure projects that have been in the pipeline for some years, while Moedas is more keen on technology companies coming to Lisbon and then growing.
The key difference lies in who is lobbying behind them. When Carlos Moedas addressed the ICPT and said he had no political ambitions beyond being Mayor of Lisbon, no one in that room seriously believed him for a minute. I have know Carlos since I arrived in Portugal 23 years ago, and he is nothing if not ambitious, and is probably the leader that the broken PSD party needs right now since Rui Rio has about as much chance of becoming Prime Minister of Portugal as Peppa Pig.
This is because Rui Rio has failed to revive and unite his centre-right ‘conservative’ party that is still divided, disheartened and riven by ideological differences, and is also why Carlos Moedas is making a gambit for the mayor’s office – the traditional path to prime ministerial power in Portugal. He knows that if he can somehow be Mayor of Lisbon, he stands a chance of making a leadership bid for the PSD party and the general public will consider him as a sensible and viable alternative to the Socialists under António Costa, at the next elections.
So what did Medina, who is young, dynamic and popular promise to do that is different from Moedas who is also relatively young and dynamic, if less charismatic.
Not much. They are both big on transport and have pharaonic plans to extend the metro, build London Dockland’s style light rail systems linking Oeiras, Lisbon, Alcântara and the communities who work and live along the Sintra to Lisbon office parks corridor.
They both want to build housing projects for rent for the middle classes – although why anyone wants to fork out a third of their salaries on homes they will never own is beyond me – and they both make sympathetic if condescending token gestures to help the poor and elderly and build health centres.
Carlos Moedas is obviously backed tooth and nail by the influential property lobby in Lisbon which has brought in billions of investment into the capital since 2016, while stating at the ICPT lunch that he will overhaul city hall’s notoriously time-consuming and bureaucratic planning permission processes was the big hint here that he has big property developers fighting on his behalf in the vanguard. But that won’t bring in the votes of Joe public in the traditional ‘bairros’ or neighbourhoods who are sick and tired of tourists and developments.
Both candidates, as far as I can see, are talking the talk of solving people’s problems, encouraging technology, innovation and greening up the city.
Moedas has one piece of luck his favour: there is no financial or political sleaze on him as yet. Medina is not so lucky. The city council is facing millions in potential fines following a high-profile ‘Russia-gate scandal’ in which data protection rules may have been broken for potentially vulnerable citizens for years.
There were some 225 incidents where people’s data was erroneously passed onto 3rd parties in the context of demonstrations and which could lead to fine of anywhere between €10 and €20 million.
According to Expresso, if the elections were held now and not at the end of September, Fernando Medina would win, but not with an overwhelming majority.
Fernando Medina would win 42% of the intention to vote with Carlos Moedas garnering 31% of the vote.
And the bad news for Carlos Moedas is that according to the polls, 60% of Lisboners think that Fernando Medina is dong a good job, despite city hall perceived corruption and the phenomenon of ‘my aunt and sister and political affiliates work at City hall too’. Moreover, despite the disaster of Covid-19, the lack of flights and catastrophic fall in tourism receipts which has put Lisbon Council over €300 million in the red, the elections seem to be in the bag for Medina; a done deal … but then again, it ain’t over till the fat lady sings!