The Mayor of Porto, Rui Moreira, announced this morning that the Government reached an agreement regarding the “methodology” for the railway construction between the Northern Region of Portugal and Galicia. The procedure will follow the “Iberian gauge”, rather than the European one, which, according to Rui Moreira, offers the advantage of enabling complementary trajectories. However, this “old-standing dream” may take as much as 10 years to be accomplished. This information was put forward during the second edition of the “Diálogos Gallecia”, also attended by the President of the Spanish Xunta de Galicia, Alberto Núñez Feijóo.
This is the second edition of the cycle of debates promoted by the Spanish communication Agency Qualia, under the patronage of Xacobeo 21-22, and the support by Porto City Hall. The outlining theme was the railway, following the debate held in A Coruña, in December last year.
During the debate held this morning at Porto Municipal Theatre - Rivoli, and moderated by the economist Cristina Azevedo, Rui Moreira advanced that, according to the latest talks with the Portuguese Government there is “strong determination regarding the achievement of a long-standing dream, which is the link of the Atlantic seaboard, by means of a fast, safe and efficient connection between Lisbon and A Coruña”.
The obstacles regarding the procedures to be followed have been resolved, the Mayor confirmed, and “there is an agreement regarding the methodology, because one of the issues at hand was the fact of having a European or an Iberian gauge”. At present, that problem will be solved. “The information at my disposal is the intention of maintaining an Iberian gauge”, Rui Moreira clarified, during the debate held at the Rivoli and attended by the President of the Municipal Assembly, Miguel Pereira Leite, the vice-Mayor of Porto City Hall, Filipe Araújo, as well as entrepreneurs of the Northern Region (See the full debate here).
“The information at my disposal is that there will be a duplication of the North Line, between Lisbon and Porto, and that from Porto – Campanhã it will link to the airport until the border and then until the Spanish network, furthered Rui Moreira, also explaining that his last gathering with the Portuguese Government is recent and was useful in terms of “assessing how will the railway be integrated in the city”.
According to the Mayor of Porto, the method to build the railway tracks, according to the Iberian gauge, “has the advantage of enabling supplementary trajectories. Were it to be built under the European gauge, it would only enable to link one larger distance. By using the Iberian track gauge we have the possibility to combine services (…), and profit from the Spanish railway channel expansion, which is way advanced than our”, and still meet the “territory's complexity”, Rui Moreira added.
“The current railway can be electrified, but it would not be a long-term solution”, furthered Rui Moreira.
The completion of such an endeavour should take, at least, ten years, as explained Rui Moreira, advancing that “by my experience with public works, I estimate ten years to complete the endeavour”. The President of the Spanish Regional Government shares this view, stating that “estimating ten years seems wise, and we do not fall behind deadlines”.
In his intervention, Alberto Núñez Feijóo mentioned that the north of Portugal and Galicia have shared the key purpose of “linking territories, in order to form an Euro-region”, which is the first and the oldest of the European Union, established in the early 1990, Núñez Feijóo enhanced. “Every day, circa 68 thousand vehicles cross both sides of the border”, informed the President of the Spanish Xunta de Galicia, adding that this is a very important step for the region, thirty years after the establishment of the high-speed train Madrid-Sevilha. “We lingered to get here, but, as usual in this side of Europe, we finally arrived”.
Link to Portugal was drafted as early as 2011
“The second priority is, undoubtedly, our link to the North of Portugal, especially the city of Porto, highlighted Alberto Núñez Feijóo. “The railway connection to Portugal was first drafted in 2011, and the Vigo Railroad Station was already procured as a stop for high speed trains, but the crisis halted the project.”
This gap can be reduced and the President of the Spanish Xunta de Galicia feels optimistic with the new position by the Portuguese government of deeming this railroad connection a priority. “This is great news, both for Portugal and for Spain. Not everything had to be centralised in and by Madrid. That is a mistake. More people inhabit this area, there is a huge economic activity, and it is also a way of entering Spanish cities through Galicia”, enhanced Alberto Núñez Feijóo, adding that on the Spanish side, there will be advantages from the connection between Valladolid and the Basque Country, which is about to be completed. Another priority in Galicia is that the “railway includes all national and international connections”, affirmed Feijóo.
In turn, Rui Moreira claimed that the railroad investment in Spain benefits Portugal, by osmosis. “The connection Madrid and Galicia also boosts our region”.
Mayor Rui Moreira affirmed he does not hold “a pessimistic view in this regard, reiterating that this bet of our neighbour country in the railway must be seen as an opportunity and not as a threat. “It is adamant to connect Bragança and Puebla de Sanabria by road, in order to boost the Spanish TGV”.
In addition, “as far as we are concerned, the most important thing is to consider convergence rather than competition”, highlighting that the “connection between ports” is key, namely the ports of Leixões (Matosinhos), the port of Vigo and the port of A Coruña.
Claims to strengthen the Euro-region
Both leaders agree that there are a set of issues that must be claimed for the region. According to Rui Moreira, these “specific claims”, as Cristina Azevedo put it, would include a “simplifying and reducing bureaucracy in procedures”, which featured, as well, similar guidelines regarding the licensing of industrial activities”.
On occasion of the Eurocities conference, the Mayor of Porto had already warned against the risk of adopting centralising procedures that will only benefit some people, and the need to standardise procedures. That is the reason why he favours the establishment of an Agency for Development, in charge of attracting investment for the Northern Region and for Galicia”.
Rui Moreira also advanced that both regions should cooperate more at the level of the academia, training and exchange of qualified workforce, ready to face the digital transition challenge.
The Recovery and Resilience Plan is built for Lisbon
Referring to the 40 years of the autonomous status of Galicia, which Alberto Núñez Feijóo assessed as “successful” that served to mitigate the regional inequalities and thus enabling the Northern Region of Spain to thrive in the economic viewpoint, and is known today as a region that “pays its dues and spends most sensibly”, led Rui Moreira to affirm that, by comparison, Portugal even accentuated centralism, four decades later.
As an example, Rui Moreira approached the Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP), highlighting that it will be used “as a financing to the capital”, as Lisbon does not have access to funding”.
“The RRP is addressed in a territorialisation way, upon a territorial discussion in other parts of the Globe; here, that does not take place”, affirmed Rui Moreira. “This would be the opportunity to carry out a major reform”, as well as a “profound change regarding competences”, added the Mayor of Porto, who criticised again the ongoing decentralisation process, which he named “pseudo decentralisation”.
This is the reason why Rui Moreira is very sceptical regarding regionalisation. “I do not believe that there will be a regionalisation. I think that the return model will be the regionalization. Nor will it be through decentralisation as it is, it should be planned”, declared Rui Moreira.