Portas sought to distance the situation in Portugal from that in Greece, where growing protests over the country’s austerity measures, imposed in part as a condition of financial assistance from European institutions, has led to intensified discussion in recent weeks about the possibility of Greece leaving the Euro. Observers have speculated such a move could trigger similar moves in other southern European countries.
Portugal is one of three European countries, after Greece and Ireland, to receive bailout funds from the EU and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — in Portugal’s case, 78 billion Euros — on the condition of certain austerity measures.
But compared to Greece, “Portugal has a different attitude,” Portas told an audience of about 250 people in MIT’s Building 34. For one thing, he emphasized Portugal’s intent to follow the terms of the bailout, rather than renegotiating. “The sooner we do it, the sooner we’ll recover our autonomy,” Portas said during his talk, titled “The Portuguese Perspective in the Present European Context.”
Moreover, Portas added, unlike Greece, “You have a stable government with a large majority in parliament, so you don’t have a political crisis.”
Portugal’s economy has been in the news this week after a review by the EU, IMF and European Central Bank found that the country was sufficiently “on track” to receive another installment of funds from those bodies.
However, as Portas acknowledged, 2012 is expected to be another year of recession for Portugal, which will have to find new sources of long-term growth. “If we want a dynamic economy, we’ll have to anchor that economy in exports,” Portas said, adding that he wanted to “open our economy … to innovation.”
In praise of ‘scientific cosmopolitanism’
In that vein, Portas lauded MIT as a “cathedral of innovation” and heralded the “immense number of interesting projects” stemming from the MIT Portugal Program.
“I believe the MIT Portugal Program is very helpful to internationalize Portuguese enterprises, Portuguese business and Portuguese startups,” Portas said during the event’s question-and-answer session. “I believe in scientific cosmopolitanism and international innovation … I believe this program can open our economy, open our universities, open our enterprises and open our scientists.”
The MIT Portugal Program, founded in 2006, is a collaboration between MIT, the Portuguese government, industry, and a set of seven universities and 14 research centers in Portugal. Research in the program often applies ideas from the discipline of engineering systems to specific topics in sustainable energy, transportation, bioengineering and advanced manufacturing. It involves 70 faculty at MIT and 270 faculty in Portugal.
Ernest Moniz, director of the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), who introduced Portas, noted that the MIT Portugal Program has already produced 31 PhDs, with another 300 in the pipeline, and been responsible for eight startup companies so far. The government of Portugal is also a sustaining member of MITEI.
Portas noted that the government of Portugal was currently working to renew its support of the MIT Portugal Program. “I know negotiations are underway and I hope [there will be] a good resolution,” Portas said.