COMMENT

Consensus was key to economic growth, Portugal's Perestrello says

VASSILIS NEDOS

TAGS: Diplomacy, Defense, Economy, Interview

A left-wing consensus and changes made to the country's bailout program helped Portugal's economy to rebound, Secretary of State for Defense Marcos Perestrello has said.

Speaking to Kathimerini newspaper on the occasion of a recent visit to Athens and Lesvos, where he met with Portuguese officials taking part in migrant patrols in the waters around the eastern Aegean island, Perestrello said that countries like Greece and Portugal should coordinate their positions in NATO and the European Union in order to deal with the “very real” risks on the continent's southern border.

The refugee crisis has brought countries on the opposite sides of Europe closer. The Portuguese Coast Guard conducts operation in the Aegean Sea, alongside counterparts from elsewhere on the continent. Do you believe the refugee crisis could prove to be a rehearsal for the deeper integration of the European Union in terms of security and common defense issues?

The refugee crisis has indeed brought countries like Portugal and Greece closer, driving them to search for solutions to, or at least mitigate an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Portugal and Greece have realized that cooperation was in this respect paramount for maritime countries like ours. On the other hand, both our cultures and traditions are used to receiving and welcoming foreigners, coming down from centuries of successful neighborly contacts.

Greece could simply not be left alone to face this crisis, which should be a shared responsibility within the European Union, first of all because such a demand is enshrined in the principles that support and guide the EU.

Portugal has deployed elements of its Maritime Police and the National Republican Guard to integrate Frontex, with around a hundred men, cars and boats, having reached more than 4,500 cooperation hours in almost two years.

How can Greece and Portugal further cooperate? The Portuguese Coast Guard has clocked more than 4,000 hours in the Aegean.

Portugal has behind it 900 years of maritime tradition. Greece has a very deeply ingrained maritime and navigation tradition as well. Both countries know by heart the sea, its value, its importance. Cooperation and the sharing of information, including the surveillance of refugee flows, also to ensure the integrity of human life in the sea, are particularly relevant to countries like ours.

The Portuguese and Greeks are seafaring people, which brings an added flavor, if I can put it that way, and certainly added value to our cooperation. I’m here in Athens to pay tribute to all the men and women who day in, day out push their human boundaries to the limit with a view to helping in the huge humanitarian crisis we are facing, and to reassure the Greek authorities about our total commitment to this operation.

Having so much in common, Portugal and Greece should join their efforts around building common positions in international organizations, first and foremost the EU and NATO, namely in questions relating to Europe’s southern border. As events have unfortunately more and more conspicuously shown, the risk coming from there is a very present and very real one.

What’s your country’s experience of austerity in terms of security issues? How did Portugal manage to exit the terms of the EU bailout program. 

Portugal has gone through quite a difficult period. I am sure you, by experience, fully understand the scope of my words. The austerity program has proven to be unsuitable and even harmful to our fragile economy. For more than four years salary cuts, massive unemployment and social negligence have taken a toll on the Portuguese people. They have suffered in a sort of peaceful way, but no less hard because of that.

In 2015 the Socialist Party headed a government with a anti-austerity program which worked. With a left-wing coalition in Parliament, and a left-wing consensus, changes were introduced in the bailout program. In 2017 the first results were clear: The deficit was reduced to historic lows as economic and investment growth was a reality. The most recent numbers show 2.8 percent growth in the first three months of the year. Unemployment has also fallen to historic levels. We are very proud of all these collective – the result of joint efforts, I would underline – achievements, which give us further encouragement to implement the necessary reforms while never neglecting, never losing track of the social dimension of the issue.

Does the Portuguese government agree with the 2 percent of annual budget to be targeted for defense expenditure in proportion to the NATO threshold?

Portugal is deeply aware of its responsibilities and will honor all its obligations within NATO. We will present our budgetary plan and timetable in a timely manner, built upon our specifics and particular case.

Like other countries in the Alliance, Portugal will respect its NATO obligations, sending a positive message to its partners. We have fully presented the paramount importance of the Alliance to world security, starting at our own door, here in Europe.

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