"Portugal, on the Path to Growth and Jobs" conference in Lisbon: speech by Johannes Hahn

Type: Complete speech   Reference: I-088562   Duration: 10:15:05  Lieu:
End production: 11/04/2014   First transmission: 11/04/2014
Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Regional Policy, addressed the conference "Portugal, on the path to growth and jobs" organised by the European Commission in Lisbon, Portugal, on 11 April 2014. The conference aimed to look into the future prospects for growth and jobs in the country and the importance of European funds and programmes to boost the Portuguese economy. Portugal has received over 70 billion euro in Cohesion Policy funding since the country joined the EU in 1986. This funding enabled the country to invest in sectors which have been key to Portugal's economic growth. For 2014-2020, Portugal has been allocated around 21.46 billion euro for Cohesion Policy, which will be used to further increase economic competitiveness, improve entrepreneurship, boost innovation and tackle unemployment.

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10:00:00 Speech by Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Regional Policy, (in ENGLISH): Be reassured, we are here to support, to assist Portugal to improve its competitiveness. It is all about competitiveness in a global competition. It is not only about the competitiveness of Portugal. If Portugal is better performing, it is a strong input to Europe's competitiveness as a whole. Portugal has weathered the storm. There is still a strong wind or a tough breeze but in principle the storm is over. Portugal has been through the worst financial crisis in the EU's history, and come out stronger. For many, life is still very difficult. And there is still a great deal of work to do to prepare Portugal to return to growth at the height of its potential. But, I do believe the worst is over. My message today is that at the peak of the crisis, you were not alone. And, now, as we begin to look to the future, the EU is by your side, helping you to plot your course to new opportunities and brighter prospects for the people of Portugal. I would like to thank José Manuel for this innovative event. It is the first time all we who have been working to invest EU funds in Portugal have been given such a chance to showcase our achievements. I will speak in a moment about our plans to foster growth over the next 10 years, triggering a new model of economic development in Portugal. 00:03:30
10:03:30 Speech by Johannes Hahn (in ENGLISH): But first, let's think back. Portugal has received over 70 billion euro in cohesion policy funds since it joined the EU – and of all the Member States it is one of the best at ensuring all the money is efficiently invested. When the crisis came, some choices had to be rethought. We helped by moving millions of euro from slower acting projects to ones with more immediate impact. And, we reduced the national co-financing rate to relieve the burden on your public finances. In recent times EU funds have not been your primary, but practically your only source of investment funds. The crisis would have bitten even deeper, if EU funds had not helped safeguard jobs and create new ones, and ensured that essential investments continued. Despite the crisis, our programmes carried on working to increase the competitiveness of SMEs, reshape the Portuguese economy and keep businesses alive. - By the end of last year, the ERDF had provided direct support to more than 11 000 companies, mostly SMEs, generating investments worth over 10 billion euro. SMEs are the lifeblood of our economies, and create the most jobs. - Nearly half of these companies were in knowledge intensive and high tech sectors. These are the sectors that will create Portugal's future prosperity and new opportunities for your young people. - One in ten of the companies were start-ups, supporting new enterprise. - And we did everything we could to make the money work harder. Nearly three quarters of the companies were supported using financial instruments that multiply the value of the EU funds, or improve access to credit. 00:04:48
10:08:18 Speech by Johannes Hahn (in ENGLISH): One of Portugal's biggest problems is that young people leave school too early. Laszlo may want to say more about this, but the European Regional Development Fund together with the European Social Fund have contributed to a very significant decrease of early school leaving down from 39% in 2006 to 21% in 2012. - Nearly a billion euro of ERDF money have been invested in rehabilitation of secondary schools. And, at a time when the country couldn’t afford to invest in improving quality of life, the EU made sure that important work went on. - The Cohesion Fund invested nearly 900 million euro improving access to drinking water supply and waste-water treatment. - And, the Fund carried on tackling urban rubbish disposal, reducing landfill and increasing recycling and reuse. There was a time when Regional policy meant big infrastructure. In some parts of Europe, that is still necessary. But here, in Portugal, Regional policy is about helping you reach your full potential with innovative programmes that tackle your need to diversify, to grow new enterprises, develop the talent of your population and find new markets. In the new financing period that has just begun, we will be doing this with a new approach which will ensure funds are targeted where they can have most impact. Regional development funds will be focussed on key areas that we are identifying with the Portuguese government – and there will be clear indicators so that the European taxpayers (including the Portuguese ones!) will know whether the programmes achieved the desired objectives at the end of the period. With 25 billion euro in European Structural and Investment Funds to invest in Portugal over the next ten years, it is imperative that we set the right priorities, for the most effective use of the money. 00:03:11
10:11:29 Speech by Johannes Hahn (in ENGLISH): I talk regularly with my friend Miguel Poiares Maduro and there is close co operation between our services at every level. I think we are agreed on the major objectives: improving competitiveness, lowering unemployment and promoting a resource efficient economy.  We want to increase competitiveness by enhancing the development and production of tradable goods and services  We want to continue the fight against unemployment by improving entrepreneurship and business innovation, and improving SMEs' access to finance  AND we will shift investments to environmentally friendly, low carbon options, particularly in the transport sector We are working to find the right mix region by region in Portugal, in the north, in the south, in your major cities and the outermost regions. Everywhere, we want to play to your strengths, and reduce your weaknesses. All this will take hard work. We can't just copy what was done in the past. Prosperity is a moving target. If we want new and better results, we need to be smart and move with the times. And we need to be pragmatic. To get the best results you have to prioritise. Prioritising means having the courage to choose what is important and to leave the rest. Not everything that everyone wants can be funded. To take one example: I am often asked whether we will be funding more roads in Portugal and my reply is that it is not a priority for us. I am sure you can suggest improvements. But I am sure too, that most people will agree that boosting employment and growth is more important just now. So I am asking the government to be clear about what is priority – and about what is not. 00:03:36
10:15:05 Speech by Johannes Hahn (in ENGLISH): The Commission is here to help and we will be flexible. But flexibility has to have its limits. The new Regional policy is based on strategy. First set your priorities, then allocate your funds. Not the other way around. I am not always popular when I say this, but the money has to follow the strategy – not be pre-allocated to those who are used to receiving it, before it is clear how the funds will be used. We have received your first drafts of the future Operational Programmes. The sooner we agree on really good programming documents the sooner the new funds can be put to work. I want to see the new investments begin – but let me say: quality matters more than speed. Taking the right decisions now will have an impact for years to come. Better lose a few weeks getting it right, than spend months and years regretting those decisions later. We are here today to talk about European funds. But these are not OURs. These are YOUR funds. Our aim, your aim, should be to see this money work as hard as possible for the future of Portugal. All of us on this platform are committed to that goal. Today I visited two projects that left me very optimistic about Portugal's future. The Biocant project in Coimbra is doing inspiring work in the biotec sector – while the Pedro Nunes business incubator is creating jobs that will last. I am sorry you could not be there to share that experience with me. So, here is a short film of a project which has just won this year's award for the most innovative project in Europe for smart growth. Congratulations Portugal! We want to see you succeed! 00:02:46
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