Will there be a Portugal of regions in 2024? | International

The regionalization of Portugal is in the Constitution, but not in the bars. The unfinished land reform has dragged on since 1976, it has stumbled and seems to concern politicians more than citizens. A week ago, the Prime Minister, the socialist António Costa, relaunched the idea of ​​achieving the regionalization of the country with the holding of a referendum in 2024. “No one should be afraid of what is happening. is coming, ”said Costa, who recalled that Portugal is the most centralized state in the European Union. “We must turn this page definitively by trusting and focusing on decentralization,” he defended at the annual congress of municipalities.

The Prime Minister’s proposal comes 23 years after the first referendum on regionalization. This consultation, held on November 8, 1998, revealed two things: the lack of interest in the reform of the State was general (only 48% of the voters in the census) and the interested parties were against (63.52% against the project). Thus, the proposal of the then Prime Minister and current Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, to create eight regions has sunk into indifference and rejection. Only the voters of Alentejo – and in the hair (50.69%) – agreed to join a new territorial delimitation.

The referendum, which had been supported by the Socialists and the Communists, was opposed to the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Party (PSD, center right). Its leader at the time, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, celebrated the failure of the territorial reform: “The Portuguese have shown that they are against experiences and adventures and with their votes they have avoided an unnecessary, stupid mistake. and dangerous.

But Rebelo de Sousa, President of the Republic since 2016, will support the consultation this time if it enjoys parliamentary support, which seems viable given that the leader of the PSD, Rui Rio, is in favor as long as the public debt does not is not. increases. regional parliaments are not multiplying either. On the left, Bloco and PCP are both in favor of territorial reform. However, Rebelo de Sousa left some warnings: “The regionalization that they want and will build is not for mayors or for certain political forces, to create places for the end of their mandates or to share power between gone stronger. It’s for the Portuguese ”.

Before speaking in this way at the national congress of municipal councils, which approved a resolution in favor of the creation of regions, Rebelo de Sousa had already shown signs of change. “The President of the Republic has realized that with covid-19 and the various problems posed, an intermediary power is necessary between the central administration and the municipalities”, he declared this summer. Daily Public former minister José Cravinho, who chaired in 2019 at the Assembly of the Republic an independent commission for decentralization. Its final report defends a division of the country into five regions, which correspond to the current territorial demarcations managed by the Regional Coordination and Development Commissions (CCDR): North, Center, Lisbon and Tagus Valley, Alentejo and Algarve. António Costa agrees with this breakdown: “It is clear that the best thing is that we settle the five continental regions to avoid a debate which divides those who support regionalization. In no case would they have the political autonomy of Spanish women, a model observed in Portugal with suspicion because of the permanent tensions, nor that of the Azores and Madeira, the only autonomous regions of the country.

The aim would be to define the coexistence of this regional power with the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto, which already have strategic skills such as mobility. “We should give more skills to the regions in the management of European funds, in education and vocational training and in infrastructure management”, suggests the professor of the University of Minho, Fernando Alexandre, very critical of the with regard to Portuguese centralism. “The government controls around 85% of public spending. I think that the poor development of the Portuguese economy in the 21st century is partly due to the exhaustion of this model of governance. The State has not been able to respond quickly and flexibly to the needs of the various territories faced with the acceleration of technological change and globalization, ”explains Alexandre.

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The Portuguese territorial structure is based on two strong pillars: the State and the municipalities. Identity also responds to this duality: national patriotism and localism. There was a time when even the second seemed to win out over the first. Historian José Mattoso recounts in national identity (1998) the dialogue at sea between King Don Luís and some fishermen in the 19th century. When the monarch asked them from his ship if they were Portuguese, the sailors replied: “Us? No sir. We are from Póvoa do Varzim ”. For Mattoso, Portugal was first of all a state and then a nation: “The Portuguese state has gradually added a series of territorial areas that are hardly linked to each other, with marked cultural differences and with very different conditions. What made their unity was the continuity of a political power which dominated the whole in a firm and highly centralized manner ”.

This centralism continues. “The most developed countries are the most decentralized”, specifies the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in a report prepared at the request of the Committee of the Assembly of the Republic. “We need a regionalization which is the engine of cohesion and development, which contributes to the strengthening of municipalism and the improvement of the management of public affairs, which strengthens democracy through the direct election of representatives of the regional power and that decisions can be evaluated. by citizens ”, said Luísa Salgueiro, Mayor of Matosinhos and President of the National Association of Portuguese Municipalities, at the recent congress.

“There is no intermediary between the municipalities and the central power, but it depends on what we want to do. I fear that in the future we will discuss who pays and who receives ”, warns economist João Farias, who chaired the Algarve Regional Development and Coordination Commission between 2007 and 2011. Farias, with a long career at the European Commission, warns: “The Europe of 27 can no longer be a Europe of the regions. We must decide whether we are the princes of an empire or the kings of an quintal”.

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Edward K. Thompson