Lack of political will is stumbling block to Lisbon’s new airport

 In Aviation, Economy, News

Plans for Lisbon’s new international airport have stalled because of a mixture of incompetence and a lack of political will from political parties to come together and make it happen.

This is the opinion of economist and former transport minister António Mendonça who addressed the International Club of Portugal on Wednesday, in Lisbon.
The candidate in the elections for the new president of the Portuguese Economists’ Association (Ordem dos Economistas) expressed the belief, to Essential Business following the event, that neither an airport at Montijo nor Alcochete would really solve the problem of Lisbon’s over-congested current facilities at Portela (Humberto Delgado International Airport), and that an entirely new, fit-for-purpose airport needs to be built from scratch in a strategic place away from the city with a good rail infrastructure to bring passengers into the capital.
“If we continue to delay the new airport, it will be redundant anyway, they’ll be landing and taking off vertically, joked the man who was also a one-time minister of public works and involved in the original TGV rail link plan between Madrid and the Port of Sines which was shelved with the collapse of the José Sócrates government in 2011 as Portugal’s coffers ran dry.
When asked why the new airport was taking so long to get off the ground, António Mendonça said it was a “catalogue of incompetence on various levels and a lack of political will”.
“There should have been a consensus between the PS and PSD parties and the other parties because this is a project of extreme economic importance the country”.
He remarked that even Italy, famous for its musical chairs-style governments, at an administrative level had a much better track record for large-scale public work projects of national importance than Portugal does.
He gave another example of Portugal’s body politic seemingly incapable of working together towards the common good of the country with the TGV high-speed rail link.
“It seems we are incapable of defining a strategy, let alone a coherent one. A new government comes along and shelves all the good ideas of the previous one. We’ve been putting off this project several times when it was already decided the time was right to advance,” said the economist who is also a professor at the Lisbon School of Economics and Management (ISEG).
Talking about his candidacy to lead the economists association, António Mendonça said that traditionally the order and its members had lived in ivory towers and seemed to have very little to do with ordinary people and society and this needed to change.
He said that Portugal needed economists, managers, analysts, auditors and consultants to design and carry out a strategy for growth after decades of economic stagnation.
There needed to be a dialogue between companies and institutions, professionals and society, while he stressed that not anyone could call themselves an economist, it had to be someone with the right training.
In his talk, António Mendonça gave a rapid and potted history of Portugal’s economic growth since 1961 with its up and downs, with growth usually following a crisis or because of Portugal’s entry into the European Union.
The economist highlighted the recent speech of the president of the ECB who on 2 November spoke on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the Bank of Portugal in Lisbon.
“Portugal’s past is rich with lessons for Europe today. One of the defining events for Portugal was the Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 which was an enormous economic shock, costing between 32% and 48% of Portuguese GDP,” Lagarde had said.
“Yet the Portuguese leaders of that time managed to turn a terrible disaster into a starting point for transformation. Perhaps most crucially, the earthquake provided the government with a now-or-never moment for a far reaching reform of the economy, with the launch of a series of measures, including industrial development policies, that would go on to revitalise the country in the latter half of the 18th century”.
António Mendonça said there was a clear parallel between Portugal’s reaction then to a crisis and its potential to react now with the current Covid-19 crisis, with the chance of transforming the economy and accelerating the necessary green and digital transitions.
“Now is the time and there are challenges we must face” he said referring to Portugal’s RRP (Recovery and Resilience Plan).
The economist also said that Portugal needed a central strategic planning institution to support institutions as a whole and not in a isolated and dispersed way. At the same time, governments had to continue to reduce administrative red tape and unnecessary bureaucracy.
In fact, there are major opportunities for Portugal. Over the last 15 years, the carbon intensity of Portugal’s economy was over one-fifth above the EU average.
The European Commission’s most recent Digital Economy and Society Index placed Portugal 18th out of 27 in terms of digital performance.
But now Portugal, one of the first to submit proposals for NGEU funds, is set to receive €16.6Bn billion in grants and loans, a sizeable majority of which will support green and digital initiatives.
This should reinforce the positive trends that are already underway: for example, energy sector carbon emissions have halved since 2005 in Portugal.