Many of the Portuguese have already enjoyed their summer holidays, others are still thinking about them. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, President of the Portuguese Republic, is no exception. Between a packed schedule and his indecision as to which holiday destination to visit, the President of us all still found the time for an interview with Villas&Golfe, where he took the opportunity to say that he would enjoy a few days «here, there and everywhere». And he did. One moment with a smile on his face, the next waving and kissing, the next taking a dip, between selfies and the uncomfortable pain of a hernia, which appeared at the start of this year, the Head of State has found moments to rest, without ever truly resting from his mission. And, avoiding the so-called populism, Marcelo tells us he will continue working closely with people and their problems, because it is important to always respond to the «void» that others have created. Here we have the people’s president.
Is it hard work being President of all the Portuguese?
Today, as always, it is a complex and laborious task, but very mobilising, given its essential dimension of service. Perhaps, in recent decades, it has gained a more intense degree of exposure and scrutiny, as is proper of democracy, and, in it, the most media inclusive and even inorganic.
You are a man full of energy. You like to play tricks. How does Marcelo have fun?
I like to always look at the positive side of life. As for leisure time, I do have some, but everyone will understand that it is more limited when performing a function that has no schedule, no days off, and sometimes not even holidays. Last year, what we lived through with the fires, plus the attack in Barcelona, plus the accident in Funchal, all this dominated what would have been the summer holidays. This is what the presidential mandate is all about, just as all public service mandates.
Portugal has welcomed tourists from all over the world. It was voted the best tourist destination in the world. Do you accept that this boost in tourism is changing Portugal?
We all realise the crucial importance of tourism as a privileged export and as an expression of our innate vocation for encounter between cultures, civilisations, oceans and continents. And it is with joy that we see its very positive evolution.
What should the government do to ensure the country remains a favoured holiday destination?
We are all committed to investing in more and better tourism, with greater presence throughout Portugal. And even more diverse in origin and specific characteristics and less seasonal. I think the path being followed is heading in that direction.
Is regulation important in the tourism sector?
More than from just laws and regulations, tourism has benefited from the virtuous collaboration between public and private and from the creativity of our civil society, in being properly understood and supported. In hotels, restaurants, facilities, in cultural, religious, gastronomic, scientific, technological components, in addition to the natural and unique capacity to welcome that we have and have shown we have.
«We are much better than how we usually portray ourselves»
Will new tax increases be needed in Alojamento Local, the local accommodation sector that is helping the country to grow in the area of tourism?
It is not for the President of the Republic to comment on specific forms of tourism facilities, let alone at a time which they are under debate. Suffice to say that I am attentive to and following the debates, while seeking balanced solutions between very different points of view.
Will this suffocation not «strangle» the sector?
As I said, what matters most is the quest for a balance that is good for our economy and also for our social vitality.
Apart from tourism, what other sectors should be focused on in the country’s development?
Investing more and better. Exporting more and better. Taking advantage of the vocation of the platform in Europe, in the Portuguese-speaking world, in the Ibero-American universe, in the transatlantic framework, in other geographic and human realities. And, to this end, investing more in education, qualification, innovation, and in social and territorial cohesion.
There is so much talk about the interior now. What about the agricultural sector? Do you not think that investment here is vital?
Of course, agriculture, which has made remarkable leaps in recent decades, is an example of change, innovation, rejuvenation, export incisiveness and excellence.
Labour laws have recently been enacted by the ‘central bloc’. What’s your comment?
The matter has seen a coordination agreement, which I have praised publicly and will be the subject of debate and parliamentary deliberation after the summer. I do not like, as a matter of principle, to comment on legislative procedures pending in parliament.
You advocated a five-year goal to address the problem of coastal and inland inequalities. Do you think that this goal is feasible, given the disparity between the coast and the interior?
If we were to fail to meet this deadline to take clear and certain steps, we will have failed, perhaps irreversibly, in an essential part of our social cohesion... We must do all we can to ensure this is not the case.
«Too many politicians have lost the habit and the patience to have a closer relationship with the people»
The ageing of the population and the future of our community. Do you think that serious reforms are needed in this area?
Swifter, more specific policies would help. But it is also essential that there be sustained economic growth and equally sustained employment. And social structures tailored to the desired increase to birth rates. In addition, the inclusiveness of migratory surges that are important to our employment and this birth rate is still relevant.
In the next general election, which will take place in less than a year and a half, what position will you take? Are you going to keep the balance?
By definition, and as I have already shown, mid-term, by how I carry out my duties, the President is and will always be a factor of stability, coordination, closeness, dialogue, with the permanent exemption in the context of national political life, with or without elections.
Rui Rio is the leader of the PSD. Seeing as he has had attitudes that do not seem to agree with most of the party members, is he the right person to head the PSD at this point?
The President of the Republic respects the internal decisions of the parties and does everything to maintain the best relations with all of them and their leaders. In the present case, as in others, knowing for the people concerned for many decades and enjoying a natural and good personal relationship with them.
What do you think about the possibility of us having a ‘central bloc’ rather than the current geringonça ‘coalition’?
The Portuguese will say what they want. And the parties will choose the positions to adopt by the end of next year. On the basis of this framework, the President of the Republic will nominate the Prime Minister and the government that has the best conditions to serve Portugal for as long as possible.
Relations between Portugal and the CPLP (Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries). What importance do they have for Portugal?
Following the Cimeira do Sal summit, the CPLP has shown that it is able to enter a new and more stimulating phase of its life. Let us hope that this turns out to be the case, because I consider its role to be essential among Member States, observers and the world at large.
And Portuguese-Angolan relations. What steps are being taken?
Here too, we are experiencing a new and promising phase. I hope that, with the visit of the Prime Minister to Luanda, in September, this phase will enjoy a very motivating move forward.
Europe is «entering a dangerous age» - your words. What did you mean by that?
Times of multiple and difficult choices for the European Union, in a short space of time. That is to say, until the European elections, and with very different sensibilities and Eurosceptic drives on the rise. And age-old allies showing disconcerting signs. Those who believe in the European project and its role in the world will have to address all of this - with firmness, determination, lucidity, ability to act and unbreakable joining of values with realism in the understanding of what today disappoints or frustrates so many Europeans with relation to the Europe they have.
A positive and ingenious Portugal, a closer Portugal. Do you feel like the promoter of this change?
Yes, always. Giving a boost to those who have so many reasons to believe in themselves, despite how many bad or unreasonable things are out there. We are, nevertheless, much better than how we usually portray ourselves.
How will your holidays be? Are you going to the interior?
We’ll see where and when. But here, there and everywhere, trying to rest after a very busy moment and with many trips here and abroad. And an uncomfortable hernia that surprised me at the turn of the year.
You are the selfie President, popular, and who gives equal attention to everyone. You are «loved» by the young and old. What’s it like being in that role? Does being close to people avoid populism?
To avoid so-called populism involves, above all else, removing the economic, social and political reasons on which it is based. Thus avoiding the risks of acting against the democratic system or the intolerant tropisms that characterise it in human rights, as in the principles of separation of powers and of institutional independence. But I admit that always being close to people and their problems, being really close, helps. Because, in many cases, too many politicians have lost the habit and the patience to have a closer relationship with the people. They think that it is enough to defend them in speeches, in laws or in administrative decisions. And, then, they discover that they have become detached from reality. And they often find out when it’s too late... At that moment others have taken up their space. And if they have taken it up with positions not only to do with real matters, but also that break with the hard core of democratic values, then we already have the so-called populism, responding to a void that others have created. By distraction, intellectual or behavioural arrogance, being overwhelmed, closure, maladjustment to social dynamics.