Study Visit in Portugal: A rich learning experience on EU regional development approach

16-22 September

Regional Development Programme Albania (RDPA), financed by the Swiss and Austrian Governments, successfully finalized the planned Study Visit “Learning from EU Experience on Regional Development” conducted in Portugal during 16 – 22 September 2018. 30 participants, representing central level project implementation institutions (ADF), Regional Development Agencies, Mayors and experts in the field, were part of this Study Visit that aimed at learning from the Portuguese regional development history as one of the EU countries with a long and positive experience in this area.

The Study Visit was focused in the capital Lisbon as well as `Centro Region`, one of largest regions of Portugal which enjoys a strategic position since it is located between the two major national urban centers: Lisbon and Porto. Through planned meetings, presentations and discussions in key national, regional and municipal level institutions, the study visit intended to broaden the understanding of the participants, in regards to the institutional chain of implementing regional development policy.

On the path of implementing a successful regional development policy upon EU accession, Portugal had to overcome some serious challenges being: the increase of its competitiveness, mobilization and leveraging  of resources and skills, promotion of job creation and converging with the more developed EU economies. Such challenges are similar to what Albania is currently facing on its path to EU integration, thus providing a roadmap of regional development related processes and obstacles.

The study visit kicked off in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, where the participants had the chance to visit the Agency for Development and Cohesion. The presentations and discussions were focused on the Portuguese experience in absorbing EU Cohesion Funds, emphasizing how the territorial and regional disparities have been tackled through development projects in the framework of the European Structural Investment Funds. Important in this process has been the consolidation of regional institutions’ capacities and related Local Governance Units, so they could generate important development projects in the Region.

In a meeting with the Prof. Jaime Andrez, Chairman of the Board of the Managing Authority of the Operational Programme for Competitiveness and Internationalization, participants were also briefed about the stimulus of competitiveness by the European Structural and Investment Funds, highlighting the tourism sector which has benefited the most from this Programme.

In Coimbra, the Albanian delegation visited the ‘Centro Regional Coordination and Development Commission’ (CCDRC), a decentralized Agency of the national government, established to promote an integrated and sustainable development for the Centro Region. The focus of the visit was to present the importance of the effective cooperation between the Central Government level, Regional level institutions and Local self-government bodies in implementing regional development policies. This session raised in particular the interest of the participating Albanian Mayors, who were keen to hear more about the new partnerships forged between regional actors, as well as the CCDRC experience in defining regional development policies and establishing integrated programmes aimed at territorial cohesion and competitiveness. The discussions revealed interesting facts about Portugal regional development history. When Portugal adhered the European Union in 1986, the regional development was focused in improving basic infrastructure, investing mostly in health and education sectors. Only after such needs were fulfilled and the country enjoyed a level of welfare, the regional development policy was directed in other strategic sectors, such as renewed & efficient energy, tourism, research and innovation or capital investments.

In their journey, the participants were welcomed in the Municipality of Castello Branco, which constitutes a good example in absorbing and managing EU funded regional development projects. Successful urban development projects funded by EU and implemented by this Municipality were introduced, explaining the availability and the opportunity of EU funds in support of regional development projects and providing an overview of ‘Flagship’ projects. For illustration, the programming cycle of the EU structural funds 2014-2020 dedicated to Portugal, includes a volume of 4,4 billion euros plus the national funds (public and private).

The Study Visit was finalized in a field trip visiting the Project “Lugar da Vista Alegre”, that demonstrates how the EU funds have been utilized to preserve the national tradition and heritage and improve socio-economic conditions of the local population. This integrated project to revive two centuries of history of porcelain, allows preservation of an international cultural heritage site, saving the brand from ruin and increasing tourism in the region.

The Study Visit in Portugal this year, being the second organized by RDPA, after the Study Visit organized in Romania last year, provided guidance, real examples and success stories from an EU country with an effective Regional Development policy.