17th Nov 2019


If you build it, will they come?

  • Portugal's Al-Queva dam

As EU-backed projects go, the hydroelectric Alqueva dam in Portugal looks mighty impressive. The dam was initially opened in 2002 with the help of €203 million of EU funding, and currently has a capacity of 259 megawatts.

The second stage of development, with an additional 259 megawatts, was commissioned earlier this year.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Mayor of Beja Jorge Pulido Valente (r) (Photo: Benjamin Fox)

In the process, the dam also created the largest artificial lake in Europe, providing enough water supply for the region's farming communities to survive three years of drought.

Such projects are the "anchor of development," says Jorge Pulido Valente, the mayor of nearby Beja, a city of around 50,000 which sits in the Alentejo region of Portugal, just under 200 kilometres south-east of Lisbon.

The city played host to the Congress of European Emerging Regions (CoEER) this month, with the underlying theme the role of infrastructure projects in driving regional economic growth.

The Alqueva dam, together with the development of Sines harbour, and Beja international airport, a converted military airbase, are the jewels in the region's crown.

With Portugal in recession as it struggles to cope with an economic crisis which forced it into a €90 billion bailout programme in 2011, getting the most out of the country's EU structural funds is now a political priority.

It is also an issue which unites local politicians. Government-created regional assemblies bring together local mayors who then draft a programme on how the largesse from Brussels should be spent.

The next big project is likely to be an irrigation system capable of treating of water and sewage for 21 municipalities in the region.

A strong case can be made that big public investment projects can act as stimulus measures giving a shot in the arm to the region affected.

Hundreds of jobs are created at the construction phase and, barring very poor planning, the economic gains will see a relatively speedy return on the investment.

A study to analyse the effects on population growth and jobs estimates that 20,000 people will come to Beja and its surrounding area due to the new job prospects, particularly in the agriculture sector.

Unemployment in the Alentejo region stands at 11 percent unemployment and falling, much lower than the national jobless rate of 17 percent and rising.

"We will need more workers than the region can provide," the mayor says.

Portugal will get a total of €19.6 billion in EU structural and cohesion funds in the 2014-2020 budget cycle, much lower than the €21.5 billion available to it between 2007-2013. One billion euros have been specifically allocated to help with the country's economic difficulties.

But one of the consequences of the crisis is a greater number of applicant projects competing for a smaller pot of money.

"We now have three important projects that are candidates for EU funds but only one will be selected," Pulido Valente comments, adding that "the problem is not the amount of funds but the national and regional priorities."

It seems that the Alentejo experience is to paraphrase the famous line from Hollywood's 'Field of Dreams' - "if you build it they will come".

It is not quite that simple, however.

Agriculture, and in particular, olives and grapes, is the main source of income in the region, and the sector is growing. However, projects such as Alqueva and Sines harbour offer job opportunities that encourage migration from rural communities.

But EU resources are needed for rural communities, says Pulido Valente, noting that over 60 percent of the Portuguese population live outside the country's cities.

EU regional policy is "almost exclusively aimed at competitiveness in urban areas, but we need funds to support projects in rural areas."

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Regions & Cities magazine.


Beja airport: A runway to nowhere?

From the outside, Beja international airport looks clean and snazzy. Inside, the six check-in desks, car rental services and tourist information office are all ready to serve you.


A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.


A tourist's guide to EU-funded Amsterdam

When it comes to projects paid for by EU regional funds, most people think of roads in Romania or bridges in Bulgaria. But richer regions also receive money. EUobserver takes you on a tour of selected projects in Amsterdam.

News in Brief

  1. Catalan politicians extradition hearing postponed
  2. Germany: EU banking union deal possible in December
  3. EIB: no more funding of fossil-fuel projects
  4. UK defence chief: Russia could trigger World War III
  5. Hungary's Varhelyi will face more questions
  6. Police put former Berlusconi MEP Comi under house arrest
  7. MEPs criticise Poland for criminalising sex education
  8. UK will not name new commissioner before election


A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.


The EU Agencies Race

In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies, exploring how their location matters and the benefits for cities and regions to host them.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Latest News

  1. France unveils new model EU enlargement
  2. Key moments for new commission This WEEK
  3. EU threatens legal action against UK over commissioner
  4. Corruption in the Balkans: the elephant in the room
  5. Green MEPs unconvinced by Romanian commissioner
  6. EU states fell short on sharing refugees, say auditors
  7. Hungary's commissioner-to-be grilled over loyalty to Orban
  8. Widow's plea as EU diplomats debate Magnitsky Act

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us