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The 'renewable' dream
13 Aug 2012 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
JOAO Luís Niza Pinheiro, who has been a diplomat all his professional life and served the interests of Portugal in Latvia and Senegal among other places, says that Europeans are now living in a time of fundamental change and unprecedented financial crisis in which their leaders might not know exactly what scenarios the future will present. The Portuguese ambassador to Slovakia is optimistic about Europe’s future, though he warns that the years ahead will be difficult. He says that not even the painful austerity measures that his government has had to take have changed the fact that the Portuguese continue to identify themselves as European citizens.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Ambassador Niza Pinheiro, who arrived here in 2010 and sees much potential for building bridges between Portugal and Slovakia, about Portugal’s energy challenges, links between Portuguese and Slovak academia and businesses, and tourism potential between the two countries.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Portugal has some of Europe’s sunniest areas, which has understandably resulted in the rapid growth of the use of solar power in Portugal. What are the main challenges that Portugal faces in the area of renewable energy?
I would use recent figures released by Eurostat to illustrate that we are on a good track to achieving those targets: the EU average in renewable energy stood at 12.4 percent of total energy consumption in 2010, while Portugal ranked fourth, with almost 25 percent. This places us at the forefront. All in all, this should result in lower dependence on oil, which is the largest source of energy in Portugal.
TSS: Slovakia has been trying for the past two decades to forge better links between the needs of the labour market and academia and is now, again, trying to tackle this issue. What is the situation in Portugal, a country with a rich university heritage?
In the early 1970s a number of other public and private universities were set up, namely in larger cities. Yet the whole network has shown a paramount interest in research and interaction with Portuguese enterprises. The network was completed by polytechnic institutes, which further strengthened the links between businesses and academia. The direct links between the universities and businesses include research centres as well as conducting applied research through contracts with individual firms. Then research teams from the universities participate in so-called ‘collective research projects’ financed by public funds. Specialised units known as incubators to promote start-ups for research done in universities are yet another form of link. There is, thus, a whole institutional setup, a certain pragmatic philosophy behind these links between academia and businesses. Of course, these links have not always been this strong and it was the variety and the increasing development in the academia approach and the growing power of the private sector in Portugal, alongside with the continuous internationalisation of Portuguese firms which allowed us to fully realise how useful these links can be and how they can work for the benefit of the whole country. Even now, when the crisis is hitting, there is an important number of starting enterprises which come from this connection.
Young entrepreneurs in Portugal, with small enterprises, are directly emerging from these combined forces, which puts them in the forefront of innovation and competitiveness in the economy.
This is actually one of the areas where I see great potential for cooperation between Slovakia and Portugal, and we can mutually learn from each other: you live in a different part of Europe and your economy is doing very well and I think together we can explore interesting ways of bringing academia and the private sector together.
TSS: The financial crisis has seriously impacted your homeland and in 2011 Portugal became the third EU country after Greece and Ireland to ask for a financial bailout. In response, your government has already introduced a package of reforms. What are its main pillars and how did the population receive them?
TSS: Have recent problems within the eurozone as well as the related austerity measures affected the public’s attitude towards the European Union? Is there any significant growth in euroscepticism in your homeland?
TSS: Could you please describe the current state of economic cooperation between Portugal and Slovakia?
TSS: Do you think that the investment potential between Slovakia and Portugal has been fully explored? What are the areas where you see some potential for cooperation between the two countries?
Your automotive sector is interesting since it is a well-developed sector in Portugal too; among others we have Volkswagen, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Toyota and Isuzu. So one of the potential areas for increased business could be for sub-suppliers of parts and accessories for vehicles. Portugal is efficient in this area. Also in electronic services: when you think about e-government or electronic procurement, our firms have solutions that already moved Portugal into the international arena, and I see a potential for the two countries to work closer together in these areas.
Then, there is the area of scientific and technological cooperation, since my country has strongly invested in areas such as biomedical sciences, communication and information technologies, and this has moved us to the European vanguard. We have top-level, internationally recognised institutions, for example the International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory, one of the best-equipped institutes in Europe, and thus Slovakia could also benefit from such an area of cooperation. So there are tools for exchanging researchers. Of course, some of this cooperation is already happening: we have some 12 projects underway with Slovakia and 53 research projects were financed by the 7th framework programme of the EU.
TSS: Back in 2010, Portuguese, along with Arabic and Chinese, was among the fastest growing languages in the United States. How do you assess the interest of Slovaks in Portugal, the Portuguese language and the culture of your homeland?
TSS: How do you assess the tourism potential between the two countries and what do you think Slovakia has to offer Portuguese tourists?
We need to put tourism at a higher level. Portugal, for example, has excellent hotelier schools and we could cooperate by providing training in them. In Slovakia now the golf sector is growing, which is very interesting for the Portuguese as we are now one of the top countries in Europe for golf. The Portuguese might also be interested in skiing in the High Tatras, since you have competitive prices in your skiing stations.
But without a doubt we do need to increasingly discover each other, because more exposure of the peoples to each other through direct visits will also help integration at the European level.
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