Thursday, at the Rotunda in the Low Memorial Library, Prime Minister of Portugal José Sócrates spoke on “Energy Policy and the Portuguese New Growth Agenda.” Born in 1957, Sócrates joined the Portuguese Socialist Party in 1981. He worked his way up governmental posts, and has been a civil engineer, a member of parliament, and a spokesman on environmental affairs for the Socialist Party. He helped organize the EURO 2004 cup in Portugal and that same year was asked to form a new government, after leading the opposition. In 2009, he was reelected. Bwog’s Conor Skelding reports.
Throughout his address, Sócrates displayed ample charisma and humor with quips like, “My friend advised me not to speak in English, but in the international language. Bad English. So watch out, I will be speaking English.” This was all punctuated by heavy gesticulations and by the continuous click and flash of high-speed shutter cameras.
Sócrates began by describing Portugal’s economic landscape six years ago. In 2004, Portugal was suffering high unemployment, high debt, and a devastatingly large trade deficit (accounting for fifty percent of said debt). Portugal, having no oil of its own, was extremely dependent on foreign petroleum.
Today, Portugal is a different place entirely. A staggering forty-five percent of its energy is either wind, solar, or wave based, and it is the fifth most renewable European country, exporting more electricity than it imports. Each year, 100 billion Euros are saved on fossil fuels. More than twenty thousand Portuguese are employed in the renewable energy sector, with corporations forming frequently. Sócrates’ goals for 2020 are no less impressive. He aims for sixty percent clean energy by 2020, with another 3.7 billion Euros to be invested in doubling the wind energy output.
Sócrates explained that clean energy is about more than just carbon emissions reduction. This “huge transformation in our economy” is also about spreading technology, producing more jobs and making money. Evidently, the bet he made in 2004 on renewable energy is paying off. Sócrates referenced the Spanish concept movida, which he defined as movement, a collective action. He explained that it is “necessary to have a strategy” which is accessible to the private sector, government employees and the wider public, so that it is implemented smoothly.
Sócrates ended the didactic portion of his talk with dreams of an electric car currently under development by Portuguese manufacturers. Sócrates elaborated on a city of the near future with ten percent of its cars emission-free and silent. It was a point that resonated with students in the capital of the universe.
Sócrates ended with a question and answer session, in which he further demonstrated his charm and charisma. Students eager for the limelight lined up for the microphones. Questions spanned all topics. One student solicited Sócrates’ opinion on Iran—Sócrates supports the United States, calling for a new politics centered on international law and respect. Another asked how the United States might also implement Portuguese reforms—Sócrates believes it will happen when the time is right and when we need it most. Another asked what his greatest achievement was. Sócrates, witty as ever, replied, “I am a modest man, so I will not take half an hour [on that]” and went on after the laughs to briefly describe the tough reform and cost cutting he brought to Portuguese social security. One super cool freshman asked Sócrates how their drug policy, which he believed was totally permissive, can enlighten the American drug policy. Sócrates, chuckling, took it in stride and explained that rather than take an ideological position, he supports pragmatism. Drugs are illegal in Portugal, but penal sentences are not handed out. Fines and risk reduction are the goal and policy.
When time was nearing up, the host and asked for closing remarks. Sócrates, man of the people, outstretched his arms, and called for one more question.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons