Friday, September 24, 2021

“Tourism, TAP and airport are vital for the economic recovery”

Interview with Pedro Siza Vieira, Minister of State, of the Economy and Digital Transition

Joaquim Baptista

In interview with PRÉMIO, Pedro Siza Vieira, Minister of State, of the Economy and Digital Transition, speaks about the digitalisation of the economy and society, the importance of requalifying tourism for better economic growth, the business case for TAP and Lisbon’s need for a new airport. Siza Vieira furthermore highlighted the growth in foreign direct investment in Portugal, which reached its highest ever level in 2019, the growth potential of certain industrial sectors, especially healthcare and the need for Portuguese banks to finance productive investment.
The economic relationships of the European Union with the rest of the world and the advantages of the connections between Portugal and the CPLP member states feature among the other themes approached.

In your opinion, have there been significant steps forwards in the digital transition or are we in some kind of startup phase without yet knowing whether or not we shall survive?

I believe that we have taken significant steps and in recent years have progressed very rapidly in terms of the level of penetration of digital technology utilisation. 60% of Portuguese companies have established a presence on the Internet, up over 50% on the numbers that were there a year and a bit ago. Portugal was one of the countries with the lowest levels of its population using the Internet in the European Union (24%). However, the pandemic drove people to make increasing recourse to technologies. Online payments and shopping have risen massively, with a lot more people purchasing products from online Portuguese companies, reflecting an acceleration in the awareness of digital technologies and this familiarity underpins the trust that we have in our understanding that the path we shall inevitably have to take in forthcoming years as individuals, families, companies, the state, is to adapt to these digital technologies and purposely embrace their application in order to be able to work more transparently, more efficiently, more effectively. This may be easily achieved because at a time of need, we showed it was possible.

Is it correct to say the pandemic served to accelerate the transformation of society, making it more digital?

That is very correct and I think that this also reveals another reality. We had not duly recognised the extent to which digital technology had already matured and become able to help in resolving a series of problems in our current lives. Hence, we already had the devices, the capacity to transmit data over distance, data storage, data processing, we had a lot of devices available to companies and to people and we were still considering that this was something that more touched on the fringes of our lives. What the pandemic served to demonstrate is that we are able to benefit from digital technology to a far greater extent than we might have considered just a short while ago. In my opinion, in the next decade, this digital technology that has been building capacities but not yet getting fully leveraged, is going to accelerate and enable major growth in productivity.

Let us then move onto two other areas of the economy about which much has been spoken, one is the sea. The economy of the sea, there is much talk but you don’t see many concrete projects, apart from aquaculture and some networks for re-dynamizing or modernising Portuguese ports.
Do you think we are losing the train to Spain in terms of the ports, for example? Do you think railway and greater activities at Sines or Leixões are possible to make us become a hub in the economy of the sea or shall we remain an outpost on the edge of Europe?

From the point of view of accessibility and infrastructures, our geographic location requires that we be more efficient and more effective in the utilisation of our ports. I think a lot of progress has happened in recent years. Indeed, from the point of view of port operators, all the maritime and port operators say that the reform of the port regulatory framework was extremely useful for facilitating operations to become more economic in the utilisation of national ports. However, this has to continue because if we want to advance with reindustrialisation, this means that Portugal has to take receipt of goods, raw materials, components for transformation and the final products that have to be exported off to the rest of the world and, clearly, this requires major investment in our infrastructures for goods transporting. The ports are essential as are the improvements necessary to the road and railway links and thus there shall be major investment made in this area over the next few years after having been demanded for many years by our companies and that the PRR is going to enable us to provide a more decisive response. However, the sea involves so much more. This is not only about the ports and navigation, about the fishing that also plays an important role but that we also need to benefit from leveraging a series of the other potentials of the sea. An example of this is the applications of biomaterials able to be extracted from the maritime fauna and flora. We have very rich ecosystems off our coast that have a great potential for the harvesting of molecules and materials for incorporating into a series of indispensable inputs whether for the cosmetics, healthcare or food industries. I believe we’re going to see major growth in these biotechnologies based on maritime ecosystems over the next years.

You just mentioned the connection between the fact of having good port and railway infrastructures and national development from the industrial point of view. What industries do you see in Portugal in the next two decades, Autoeuropa or similar or another type of industry, such as the extractive, for lithium for example?

I think it’s going to be a combination. Our more traditional industries are going to continue growing in productivity and with their orientation towards international markets. I’m thinking about textiles, footwear, cork, metalworking and engineering, which have longstanding roots in our economy and in recent years have made great progress in terms of incorporating knowledge and innovation and turning towards international markets. Afterwards, we also have the new subsidiaries that have emerged in recent decades and that also attain a very significant weighting, as is the case with the automobile sector, which is not just Autoeuropa as the producer of cars and vehicles but also the long supply chain of component manufacturers that are today very important in Portugal and in the levels of exports. This should also highlight the aerospace industry that appeared far more recently. At the beginning of the century, Portugal had practically no involvement in this sector nor even visibility even while just last year Portugal registered many hundreds of millions of euros in exports from this sector and I think that we shall still be evolving in our orientation towards space.

Afterwards, there are all the other areas where I think that we are also going to be able to grow in terms of the level of production technologies, industrial equipment, in terms of biomaterials and biotechnologies. I also believe that we have particularly large potential for growth in the healthcare sector, especially medication and medical devices, areas that we also wish to provide incentives for to ensure their growth and development within this new EU framework.

“IN THE NEXT DECADE, THIS DIGITAL
TECHNOLOGY THAT HAS BEEN
BUILDING CAPACITIES BUT NOT
YET GETTING FULLY LEVERAGED, IS
GOING TO ACCELERATE AND ENABLE
MAJOR GROWTH IN PRODUCTIVITY.”

Let’s move onto the most famous cluster in the Portuguese economy, tourism. Clearly, the pandemic was a type of antonym for tourism, which blocked us all to a greater or lesser extent. You’ll shortly be presenting the measures that the government has in the plan for tourism. Can you tell us a little on this theme?

In 2017, we presented a tourism strategy for a decade. The idea was to ensure the growth in tourism revenue through to 27 billion euros, guaranteeing growth around the year, reducing seasonality in all regions and offsetting the concentration in Lisbon, the Algarve, Madeira and seeking to attract people from an increasing range of markets. We were making very successful progress along this path. In 2019, we recorded 18 billion euros in tourism revenues, a total above what we had been forecasting for this year. We were in fact gaining a reputation and a capacity for the attraction of tourism to many of the other regions of the country that suggested we were on the right kind of path. The pandemic came to interrupt this process and did so in a very painful fashion as activities in the tourism sector were the hardest hit by Covid-19 for the reasons known and also going to make a slower recovery than the rest of the economy. Tourism revenues were down 60% in 2020 as regards the year of 2019.

It is necessary to support this sector, we need to help in continuing the path the sector has already embarked down and we above all need to recover more swiftly. The forecasts from the International Air Transport Association, of the World Tourism Organisation and other institutions point to tourism activities returning to 2019 levels in 2023. If we plan for a certain level of growth between 2019 and 2027 and, if with the pandemic we have fallen back and only returning to growth in 2023, this means that we shall be behind where we planned for in 2027.

To this end, the work we are currently doing is all about helping the sector obtain the level that we planned for in 2027. In order to achieve this objective, we have to do two things: firstly, help tourism companies in the short term to deal with the impact of the crisis, the burden of accumulated debt, to overcome the end of moratoriums, etcetera, and to be able to maintain their productive capacity as best as possible for when demand undoubtedly does restart. Secondly, to help these companies become more productive, to adapt to the challenge of sustainability and greater efficiency in their usage of resources, digitalising their operations, relating better with their clients, continuing to support the upgrading of their services, especially in emerging destinations. To this end, we need to mobilise resources from various different sources, some more concentrated within the more immediate timeframe and with others looking out to the medium term. Thus, we began analysing the set of resources that the country has available, those of Turismo de Portugal, essentially stemming from gambling revenues, from PT2030, a new pluriannual financial framework that is emerging as well as from the PRR – the Plan for Recovery and Resilience and the new investment Banco de Fomento, and be able to deploy all of these sources of financing and supports within the scope of accelerating the recovery of the sector and further boosting its productivity. Another great focus also falls on external promotion, which has recently received the announcement of a new External Tourism Promotion Plan. Therefore, I hope that this combination of working to enhance demand while assisting the reaction from the supply side and the requalification that will again enable tourism to become the motor of growth.

In brief, could you explain your thinking on TAP, a company that is so closely connected to tourism? I believe the way the dossier is being handled is going down well both with the business community and society in general, is that the case?

I truly believe that TAP is absolutely strategic for Portugal. Normally, when people talk about TAP, they emphasise the need to secure the connections to the emigrant communities and the autonomous regions. From my perspective, that is important but not the most important fact. What is key about TAP is our connection with the world. Portugal is a small country that has been undergoing a transformation over recent years to become a small economy open to the exterior that, due to its geographic location, has to have greater connectivity, better connections with various points in the world. For this, we need to have an airline company located in Portugal that provides us with this function, to provide a platform for connecting between the continents. Furthermore, from the economic point of view, TAP is absolutely critical. I would illustrate this in the following fashion, whenever an American travels to Rome or Athens with TAP, this is an export for the country. Whenever a Portuguese citizen travels to Brazil or Canada through TAP, that is an import the country does not have to make. Therefore, in recent years, TAP, which expanded massively its international passenger sales, boosted Portugal’s level of exports. If we give up on having TAP, whenever we have an American travelling to Europe, this is an export opportunity that we miss out on and whenever a Portuguese citizen is going to Brazil with an airline company from another location, we end up with an import. We lose out on a company that, within the scope of the increasing level of air connectivity, acts as a motor of growth for our exports and improves our trade balance and we become more dependent on companies belonging to other nationalities and, hence, this significantly worsens our balance of payments. I do believe that we should not allow this to happen. However, from my viewpoint, this is very clear; the business case for TAP is to invest money to enable their recovery and that the country may fully take advantage of such benefits. Indeed, the European Union would not authorise the injection of money into TAP were it not convinced that the company is viable. The European Union, in its state assistance rules, does not allow for support to companies that appear inviable over a period of time. Hence, I think that TAP is a very critical case because it needs to be resolved but it is nevertheless essential and we are on the right path.

“I TRULY BELIEVE THAT
TAP IS ABSOLUTELY
STRATEGIC FOR
PORTUGAL.”

TAP also makes another important contribution, in addition to the direct and indirect employment, there are many millions of euros spent with Portuguese companies and that also has a significant knock-on effect in terms of indirect employment.

I have no doubt that saving TAP is highly unpopular in some quarters. However, I believe truly that TAP is strategic and, in the past, we’ve had various situations in which the Portuguese state allowed a series of strategic companies to disappear for diverse reasons, something that should never have happened. If I was convinced that TAP was an inviable company, there would be no reason to save TAP. However, as a viable company, we should not allow for a period of external crisis, an exogenous situation caused by a virus, to lead us to lose a strategic asset for the country.

You mentioned earlier the issue of the moratoriums and economic recovery. The banking sector, in addition to this enormous challenge, also faces the challenges of recovering its reputation that has been buffeted by various reputational crises, some real and others perhaps for political purposes. Do you think there is a lack of Portuguese banking, a bank with a Portuguese matrix, or do you think we can be relaxed as if we only had major banks with large international presences as some European countries defend, and even the European Central Bank has attempted to show, that it would be important to exist?

I believe that a country that does not have an autonomous financial system is a country that is more dependent on the exterior, has lower levels of strategic autonomy. As a convinced European, I still believe the country needs to have strategic autonomy and the capacity to make some critical decisions and, to this end, should maintain an autonomous financial system. What does a financial system do? The financial system attracts the savings of residents and directs them to those who need financing, whether this is for their economic activities or to purchase their homes, whatever the purpose. If we do not have a national bank, the managers of any bank, an international bank that is just located here, shall take advantage of the national market but shall also seek to apply the resources of its shareholders in places that are able to return the greatest returns. And these may not necessarily be in the country. We have a very serious problem in Portugal, not only the lack of capital but also the lack of credit for productive investment. Our companies experience difficulties in accessing credit to make such productive investments. Banks lend money to those who already have money and not to those who have specifically interesting investment projects, hence, we need banks that are capable of financing this kind of productive investment. I believe that Portugal needs an instrument that other countries in Europe have, that is an investment stimulus bank. We have set up an investment bank to help channel the credit into productive investment by the private sector. And I do believe that if we do not have our own autonomous financial system, we shall once again be jeopardising our own interests.

9 The decision-making centres have to be inside the country to a to a greater or lesser extent…

I am neither a protectionist nor a nationalist. On the contrary, I’m a convinced European but no country has an autonomous voice if there is not the capacity to shape and influence some of the decisions that influence it.

10 And the new Lisbon airport. Is it desirable? Is it necessary?

It is absolute necessary that we reinforce the airport capacity in the region of Lisbon. All the projections for mobility and air connectivity end up as deviations from the reality over the long term. We shall continue however to travel by air and we are going to need to strengthen our airport capacity. The great drama, not at all understandable, is how this country, and particularly the region of Lisbon takes half a century to reach a decision as basic as how to go about reinforcing that capacity. We politicise everything and on this issue there is no obvious technical consensus. Therefore, these things become not only about differences in technical opinions but also party-political divergences. I hope that the path has been set out, as requested by the PSD (opposition Social Democrats), to define a strategic environmental evaluation of the feasible locations for Lisbon airport. I don’t know if this was entirely necessary but it was a condition for the PSD to support the passage of any legislation and so that whenever we do have a decision then we shall be able to advance with implementation without any new objections from the municipalities. We are wasting a lot of time but doing this in the only way that was possible.

I’m going to move onto another question in this field that establishes a link with the following. Do you think the large international corporations have, on the one hand, the confidence and, on the other hand, the returns on the investments they make in Portugal?

I’ve absolutely no doubts about that whatsoever. In recent times, we’ve witnessed major growth in foreign direct investment. In 2019, the investment stock in Portugal was at the highest level ever. We have some of the largest national exporters, some of the most profitable of all companies, are internationally owned. I continue to see in various industrial sectors, in services, finance, among others, the installation in Portugal of activities designed to serve the entire world. I frequently talk with foreign investors who are seeking out Portugal for factors that we, ourselves, do not value sufficiently; for example, the quality of our human resources not only in technical terms but also the availability to work in international environments, in the linguistic capacities and in the soft skills of Portuguese staff, the security, the political stability or the quality of our infrastructures. Foreign investors want to come to Portugal because it is a country fully participating in the European Union, with excellent relations with the rest of the world and with highly qualified staff for the type of investment that they wish to make.

From the fiscal duty point of view, both national and other international entities, consider that the fiscal load in Portugal is a little high. Do you agree?

Never in conversations that I have held with international investors has the question of the fiscal load been an issue. Firstly, because in Portugal we have a level of incentives and fiscal benefits for investment, innovation and development that are very powerful. Companies that invest in research and development may deduct from their taxable profit all of the expenditure they make on this area and, therefore, the companies that come here to invest do not talk about the fiscal question, on the contrary, what gets referenced is the advantages of SIFIDE (the System of Fiscal Incentives for Business R&D). SIFIDE was considered by the OECD as the second best system of all member state systems for supporting business research and development.

In this area, there is another area that I would like to highlight. Throughout some years, we had the idea that there was international competition to attract foreign investment through cutting costs, for example fiscal costs, we had the example of Ireland and other countries that specialised in being some kind of “tax haven” within the European Union. This question has been called into question for some years now. Under the auspices of the OECD, there is discussion on the taxation of multinationals and the need for minimum levels of corporate taxation at the international level. The idea is for an international definition that corporate taxation cannot be below “X” and that means companies no longer have the motivations for pressuring countries to lower their fiscal duties in efforts to attract foreign investment. And very interestingly, it is the new American administration, President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, that have stated that not only do they want to accelerate these discussions within the OECD but also that they want a minimum international IRC rate in all countries of 21%. There truly is an enormous desire to discourage competition via fiscal means in addition to, from a more self-interested point of view, not allowing American companies to move their headquarters abroad only to attempt to benefit from lower levels of taxation.

In my view, the very fiscal question is going to cease to be a factor for international competition. In Portugal, last year, the effective average rate of IRC was 21%, which compares well with what we shall probably have in the future. It also needs referencing that companies only effective pay taxation on their profits and this is not only about the application of a rate as first there are all the deductibles for fiscal incentives, benefits, and so forth.

“I THINK THAT THE CPLP AND
THE RELATIONSHIP AMONG
THE COUNTRIES THAT
SPEAK PORTUGUESE IS ONE
OF THE GREAT STRATEGIC
ADVANTAGES OF PORTUGAL.”

You have already touched upon the United States and hence my next questions deal with the economic relations between the European Union and the United States, the European Union and China, Russia and India and with Portugal in the middle of all this. What are you expecting? The Americans protest a lot because of the Chinese. The Chinese continue to invest, India is advancing but has not yet advanced significantly with investments here. Russia is a less proximate partner. What do you have to say about this theme?

I think Europe, the European Union, has in recent times grasped the ned for reflection on its strategic positioning in the world. Europe grew up with the conviction that the United States is going to pay for our protection and with this we’ll be able to ensure we’ll always have access to raw materials, to external markets because the United States supervises an international economic order in which we are major beneficiaries and therefore we don’t have to be too bothered about any of this. We export cars to China, we buy from there components for things that are important to us, we get our oil from the Middle East and if there is any problems the United States will sort the situation out. However, all of this has been called into question in recent years by many factors that are too extensive to recall here. And, in any case, Europe is now engaging in deep reflection on its strategic autonomy and the way it should interrelate with China, understanding how there is the need to reduce our dependence as regards this market but without jeopardising our commercial relationship that has to be maintained. We are also trying to diversify our relationships with other parts of the world, such as the recovery in the negotiations with India, which took place during the Portuguese Presidency out of the need to agree commercial deals with new markets, that’s already been the case with Japan, with Canada, and, I hope, and Portugal has invested greatly in this, with Mercosul and there is the need to restore the stability of relations with the United States. In truth, the United States and Europe share essential values in terms of democracy, human rights, the economic order and, therefore, the reconstruction of this trusting relationship and the great Trans-Atlantic market, is to the benefit of all. Therefore, I hope Europe strengthens its own strategic autonomy while rebuilding healthy relations with the United States and reformulating its other relationships with other parts of the world.

I do believe we’re experiencing a time of instability; whenever there are changes, there are instabilities and uncertainties and I believe it would be to the benefit of the European Union to accept on the need for deep levels of strategic reflection in ways that might perhaps not have been thought to be needed previously.

The CPLP – the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, both politically and economically, what is the future?

I think that the CPLP and the relationship among the countries that speak Portuguese is one of the great strategic advantages of Portugal. Portugal has an international weighting far greater than the scale of its economy and its population. A major proportion of this derives from our history, which enabled the establishing of very strong relationships with various regions in the world and also with our communities dotted around the world. This relationship with countries that speak Portuguese, I do consider as a great strategic advantage that the country has. There are 10 million of us and 4% of the global GDP speak Portuguese. We should not lose this strong connection and project it forwards for forthcoming times. It is difficult because now the economic situation of some CPLP member states is more difficult, the times experienced by Mozambique, Angola, Brazil are not those that facilitate strong economic and commercial relationships. However, none of this ever allows for the grounds of even beginning to question our commitment to the CPLP.

Let’s now then talk about the Portuguese Presidency of the European Union beginning, once again, with Africa. It was thought at the beginning that Portugal might be able to stage a Europe – Africa summit but the circumstances ended up not allowing for this. President Emmanuel Macron ended up organising a French summit with many African countries, including Mozambique and Angola. Did this move by the French represent an overtaking of the Portuguese Presidency and/or Portugal? They also resumed, after having suspended them since 1998, financial aid to Guinea Bissau, very curiously on the same day that President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is to be arriving there. Is this not a clear effort to overtake through some kind clear affirmation of the French presence in Africa?

The French presence in Africa is strong and good relations between the African countries and the European Union and its member states is also always good as Africa is the future.

Africa over the next few decades is going to experience the greatest economic growth of all the major regions around the globe. The continent has a very young population and we need to look to Africa as a horizon of growth for our exports but also from the perspective of our own interests because we are extremely close neighbours. If the continent is bad, then the effects will also be bad for Europe, especially in terms of the quantity of migrants that might be arriving here on a difficult to manage scale. This is my perspective, a perspective from Portugal. Portugal has always raised the question of fostering closer relations between the European Union and Africa. We did seek to hold a summit with Africa during our presidency but these things are prepared with a great deal of antecedence and the pandemic blocked this summit from getting held.

On the other hand, we said that we aimed to build on the relationship with India and to this end organised a major EU-India summit even while this did not take place in person due to the pandemic, it did happen.

However, this priority to us is clear and I’m going to tell you something in a personal capacity, it was always my conviction that everything that favours the growth of the Portuguese speaking African countries is positive for Portugal. In an ultimate analysis, the Portuguese have very proximate relationships, better knowledge about the country, we always benefit from the growth of Angola, from the growth of Mozambique, from the growth of Guinea.

The idea that Portugal might be some kind of priority interlocutor for these countries is not real especially because we do not have the scale or the capital markets that these countries need but we are always beneficiaries of the growth of these countries stimulated by their relationships with others. This is my personal opinion but I would not refrain from expressing this on account of being a member of the government.

Time to act for a fair, green and digital recovery. Was the Porto summit a success or merely a declaration of good intentions?

It was a great success. I think that many people don’t fully grasp how the European Union functions. The European Union departs from the definition of some principles, that very often are extremely difficult to obtain politically and, once established as objectives, the entire legislative and political program over the subsequent timeframe then begins to get worked in accordance with these political objectives. Therefore, having managed to obtain a social summit in which countries and social partners signed up to specific objectives, in terms of professional training, poverty reduction and so forth…, is a guarantee that over the next years, the EU legislative agenda is going to work in this direction. That’s how it was in the past. When we talk about things such as the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, such as the reduction in the number of combustion vehicles in circulation, this always involves the definition of some policies that years later get implemented through targets and that then become far more evident to all European citizens.

This was indeed a very major event and a great moment for affirming Europe.

Fostering a European recovery leveraged by climate and digital transitions, implementing the social pillar of the European Union as an essential factor in ensuring a fair and inclusive climate transition, strengthening the strategic autonomy of a Europe open to the world were the objectives defined by Portugal for this president that is now closing. What balance would you provide in overall terms?

There are some things here that are the critical steps that are possible, we approved the European Regulations for the Recovery and Resilience Plan and we approved national Resolution Plans for Recovery and Resilience. This is all critical to being able to accelerate the climate and green transformation. Ensuring that all these changes, because the climate transition destroys jobs, between the digital transition destroys jobs and impacts on the way that we all work, they are inevitable paths but while at the same time also acting to be inclusive, thus, not leaving anybody behind that implies a large investment in professional training, combatting poverty, etcetera…. This was the reason that we placed the Social Summit at exactly the same levels as the transformation of the European economy. What we understood in our Presidency is that Europe needs to invest in that which are the factors for future competitiveness, not doing this by purely and simply destroying what exists and building all over again, as we might say, on top of the ruins. Hence, the idea of placing the Social Summit, the training and qualification objectives, the combating of poverty, the rights of work, dealing with a new economic paradigm from this same idea.

The joint financial programs, not just the PRR but also the pluriannual financial framework and the Social Summit, in parallel, are the translation of this idea of the Presidency to accelerate the digital and climate transformation, building resilience but within an inclusive style of approach.

I did not talk much about the PRR because there has been so much discussion of this theme…

When I talk about the PRR, I talk about the tool for European recovery and resilience, which undergoes different interpretations across each country, countries have specific recommendations and there are others for different countries. The states have to undertake reforms that correspond to specific recommendations made by the European Commission every year for each state. They tell us to change the administrative justice, fiscal justice, economic justice and the regime for bailing out companies and bankruptcies and reforming the healthcare sector. For the French, it is the retirement system, for the Spanish the employment market. However, beyond these specific recommendations, every country has to make a major investment in the climate transition, therefore in improving recourse to renewable energies, whether through energy networks or through hypocarbonic transport networks, for example.

A last question. The interview from the general point of view is finished but there is a question that raises doubts and that I ask both to the minister and to the citizen. In recent days, we have witnessed the situation in Odemira, which is not the only place either in the country or in Europe but it was what we saw. What is your opinion as a citizen and if there is any intention from the government point of view to try and limit access to government aid for entities that practice this type of attitudes towards foreign citizens that come and try and find a better life in our country.

I had no idea that persons who have access to community funding might be trafficking immigrants…

It’s not active trafficking, it’s benefiting from the reduced cost of immigrant labour who are themselves the victims of such trafficking….

Many months ago, they asked me a question about what had for me been the lessons and reflections resulting from the first stage of the pandemic. One of the things that I said was the following; we noticed, both in Portugal and in the rest of Europe, that the working of our society is extremely dependent on workers who we have ignored, many immigrants who live in poor living conditions and who have poor access to healthcare and experience very poor wage conditions. We live very comfortably because there are immigrant workers from Central Asia in the German slaughterhouses, because in the Portuguese fields there are Asian immigrants working, because on many building sites in France there are workers from Eastern Europe and we cannot ignore the situation of these persons any longer. The Portuguese in the 1960s set off to participate in the reconstruction of Germany, in the growth of France and lived in absolute inhuman conditions. In that time, our co-citizens were these people from Odemira. And we should all recall just what our co-citizens went through in times past; we have the obligation to treat these people well. These people who come here to work for seasonal jobs but who end up bringing their family and who then establish themselves as residents, paying their taxes and contributing towards social security.

So, we all have every obligation to work towards finding decent housing solutions for everybody.

Thus, the state is aware of these situations…

Not only attentive but also extremely dedicated to this issue. We have identified that there are 26,000 families in Portugal who do not have appropriate living conditions and we have set the objectives that by 2024, which is the 50th anniversary of the 25th April revolution, to ensure that all residents, including these 26,000 families, many of whom are from other countries, have access to decent housing. I think that this is something that a European country, a developed country such as Portugal is nowadays, has to ensure. I shall go further, I think we really need immigrants, we need foreign workers. We are an ageing country and a country with many activities that demand the intensive labour that the Portuguese no longer want to do and not just because of the wage. Many of these workers receive the minimum wage and where not more because it’s difficult and heavy labour and, thankfully, our compatriots are no longer willing to do. Therefore, we are going to need them and we should treat as we would have wished our own compatriots had been treated in the countries they emigrated to in the 1960s. 

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