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Perhaps due to a pandemic osmosis process, the Portuguese are faced with successive waves of bad news from the Ministry of Infrastructure, especially in the transport sector. The Railway, TAP and the new Lisbon airport represent a triumvirate of problems that the current Government has never known how to manage, largely due to the ideological blindness of António Costa, Pedro Nuno Santos and their coalition partners.
Let’s start with TAP, whose disorientation begins with a reversal of privatization, which was nothing more than a nationalization of problems, leading to a process of rescue and information technology that has already absorbed 1,662 million euros from the public purse. The Government justified this intervention with the importance of the airline for the national economy. But is TAP really that relevant and capable of providing a quality public service? In Porto, it lost its entire company, with a 12% share, in Faro (5%), it was successively overtaken by other airlines, concentrating its operations in Lisbon (50%) and Funchal (31%). In this destination, its policies are also governed by the law of supply and demand, that is, by the market, which results in the establishment of exorbitant prices in high seasons, distorting the principle of territorial continuity that the Government, and not TAP, it’s true, it’s obligated to comply.
As it (now) belongs to the State, shouldn’t this route be covered by the Public Service Obligations Regime to the Budget to succumb only to the benefits it acquires from the mobility social assistance subsidy?
At the same time, we hope that the plan to determine will be able to convince the European Commission regarding the viability of the company, guaranteeing that it will exist in conditions, from 2025, to start the reimbursement of support received and remain operational beyond this period, without public aid. It is easy to understand that TAP’s strategy will always involve the exploration of commercially viable routes, with very well-founded exceptions – this is Christine Ourmières’ explanation for the suspension of the connection between the mainland and Porto Santo during the winter season. In the Azores, for smaller islands this public service is guaranteed by SATA.
Therefore, the question remains: so that prepared TAP serve us Portuguese? If it only operates on commercially profitable routes, it is to be assumed that any other airline will take its place and do it more efficiently – similarly to what happens in Porto and Faro -, which would save the already depleted resources. national coffers, or their more rational allocation. With an approval that takes time to have the green light from Brussels, the perspectives are for more cuts, in the opposite direction to what has been promoted by Minister Pedro Nuno Santos. But let’s admit that the region, with more or less adjustments by the Commission, is doing well. What is the solution for the company? Will it remain in the hands of the State? For what and why?
A possible solution would be a partnership with Lufthansa – a company that is free to make new acquisitions, after returning all the necessary aid to the German State – or with other larger companies, such as Air France, for example. However, for obvious reasons, it does not seem to me that this is possible to be carried out by an Executive ideologically linked to a left that abhors the concept of the market, so this seems to be a problem to continue in new waves.
Still in air transport, in six years, the Portuguese Socialist Executive has not been able to decide on the location of the new airport in Lisbon, an infrastructure that has long been claimed by various sectors, including tourism, but which has returned to square one.
But if, in air matters, things are not going well, on land the Government’s political marketing seems to be derailed. The previous Minister of Infrastructure, Pedro Marques, stated, in February 2019, that the execution rate for Railroad 2020 was 40%. In March 2021, the Mobility and Transport Authority announced an execution rate, until 2019, of 12.3% of the total investment. Minister Pedro Nuno Santos, in the same line as his predecessor – criticizing the delays registered so far -, announced, with pomp, the projects that would imply the largest investments ever made in the national railway. Let us question, therefore, not the efficiency, but the effectiveness of the actions disseminated by this communication tool that ministers use.
In the same logic, the Ministry of Infrastructure recently admitted delays in the execution of Railway 2020 – alleging technical complexities, imagine! – and that some investments will slip from Portugal 2020 to Portugal 2030, with serious risks of losing European funds for the period 2014-2020. To complete the list of problems, the divorce of the coalition partners, which led to the budget for 2022, does not allow an exceptional expenditure of 1.8 billion euros to reduce CP’s debt, which prevents it from obtaining financing for investment in rolling stock. In short, we were left with the retreading of some old compositions or those purchased on sale from Spain.
That’s too much mess already. This responsibility is assigned to others: the European Commission, the Minister of Finance or the Government of Pedro Passos Coelho. Never the humility of assuming mistakes.
Portugal should (and deserved) to be implementing a coherent transport policy, making use of resources from the Recovery and Resilience Plan, which enables a consistent and less painful recovery for the Portuguese, safeguarding the principle of territorial cohesion. When charging, there are still many loose ends and we that this Government is not capable of untying.
A few days ago a friend, revisiting a reading by Eça de Queirós, shared something that suits those who Govern us at the present time: “away from the people, from their interests, from their torments, from their soul”.