5 from Portugal

26th September, 2013

This week I visited Portugal – spending Monday and Tuesday in Lisbon. On Monday I met all of our embassy staff, members of the European Affairs Committee of the Portuguese Parliament and representatives of the Irish community that live in Portugal. I spent all of Tuesday morning in a meeting with the Secretary of State for European Affairs Bruno  Macaes. This consisted of a meeting to discuss issues of mutual interest to both countries and then a press conference where the Secretary of State and I spoke about the different challenges facing our countries and our view of how Europe was responding to the crisis. This forum was chaired by Megan Greene, who is very familiar with the situation in Ireland and a regular visitor to our shores.

The overall objective of this visit was for each country to better understand our respective situations and to establish priorities for how we could work together across the coming years. This was brilliantly enabled by the excellent staff in our embassy.

My main observations from this visit were:

1 – There is massive interest in how Ireland is responding to the economic crisis  and how we will navigate an exit from the bail out programme. A leading paper focused on the differing performances of Irish and Portuguese bond yields on their front page during my visit. This is a regular and prominent theme of political and economic analysis.
2 – How different political and state institutions decisively impact on how countries respond to their difficulties. The Portuguese Supreme Court has playing a decisive role in the execution of the economic policy within their country.
3 – The importance of diaspora to both countries. Obviously their presence abroad is influenced by their former history. Angola, for example, now has a Portuguese community of over 100,000.
4 – Both countries agree on the many measures needed to strengthen the joint response to the economic recession. We discussed the status of banking union and the response to the scourge of youth unemployment and made specific areas of agreement.
5 – That the pressures involved in the development and implementation of national budgets is not confined to Ireland! Each Government is grappling with the pressures of deficits and deficits.

We agreed next steps for our relationship in the coming period and I hope to host Bruno in Dublin in the near future.