We will continue to invest in our tourism potential and in our capacities as a hub for economic development
Interview with Maria das Dores Meira, Mayor of Setúbal in Portugal
- July 14, 2020 10:30
- Monika Dimitrova
Maria das Dores Meira was born on 13 September 1956 in Lisbon. She is a lawyer specialized in industrial law and intellectual property.
Between 2002 and 2006 she held the position of councillor in Setúbal responsible for the areas of culture, education, youth, social inclusion and sport. In 2014 she was awarded Commander of the Civil Merit Order by the President of the Portuguese Republic.
Maria das Dores Meira has been Mayor of Setúbal since September 2006. From 2016 to 2018 she was President of the MBBW - Most Beautiful Bays in the World.
Setúbal combines land and sea, city and natural areas, tradition and modernity. Photo by Setúbal Municipality
Mayor Meira, please describe the picturesque municipality of Setúbal in a few sentences.
We are one of the largest Portuguese cities and we benefit from some of the most extraordinary natural landscapes of our country. Situated in an estuarine area full of life and next to a natural park of enormous environmental importance, we combine in one territory the beauty of all this natural heritage.
Setúbal has been internationally recognized for its beach areas of great beauty, and its economic activities that contribute in a very significant way to the development of our country. The geographical position of Setúbal, about 40 kilometers from the capital, its accessibility, in particular thanks to good railway and port networks, and the proximity to the main national airport, all put us in a unique position that highlights our potential to welcome new investments. The same goes for tourists seeking the quality of a place that is still largely preserved and protected.
Setúbal is the most important hub of an area that is home to essential industries, such as ship repairs in one of the largest European shipyards, paper production in one of the largest factories in the world or the manufacture of cement and fertilizers. The largest automotive factory in the country, which exports part of its production through the port of Setúbal, is located in the neighboring municipality of Palmela.
Equally important when describing our municipality is to highlight the excellent wine produced in the region, always accompanied by delicious gastronomy, supplied by one of the most important fishing ports in Portugal.
What are your main achievements and initiatives completed since taking office as Mayor in 2006?
The main achievement has undoubtedly been the profound change in the positioning of the image of the city and the municipality. Setúbal ceased to be seen only as a bland and industrial city and began to be looked at as a tourist destination filled with natural beauty, good beaches and good food.
Our repositioning has also allowed us to attract more investment and to improve and diversify our economic base. The tourist industry, virtually non-existent in 2006, has gained an enormous strength today, partly because the City Council invested heavily in the regeneration of the city and its external promotion, but also because there were many entrepreneurs in the sector who believed in our potential and decided to invest here.
Without the commitment we had made to improve the road network and public spaces, and to communicate our city's values and capacities we would not have been able to achieve a situation in which, before the pandemic declared in March, there was almost no unemployment. There are many other achievements of course, however, the above points I have just mentioned represent, in fact, the most important result of these years of hard work.
And the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was precisely what I have just mentioned in the previous answer. In 2006, we had a municipality still fairly marked by years of a crisis, which in the 1980s and 1990s generated unemployment in the large industries operating here and in turn created labor conflicts that went on for many years.
The impacts of those years remained for too long in the external perception people had of the city and turning this situation around was really our biggest challenge. Today I am sure that we have managed to change our image, which as you know is much more difficult than just doing construction works, although we have done those, too, and many of them.
What will the summer of 2020 in Setúbal look like? How will the local tourism industry restart?
The local tourism industry will also suffer from the sharp setbacks that necessarily happen as a result of the pandemic. We believe, however, that in some sectors, particularly the restaurants, the domestic market may be a balancing factor. The hotel sector will of course suffer serious downturns as a result of the restrictions on travel and the climate of justified fear.
What about this year's cultural and sporting programming? How did the coronavirus pandemic affect the annual events?
It had a very severe effect. We have cancelled hundreds of events and all of the most popular activities that we have in our annual agenda. From sport events that attract many thousands of people every year to our secular annual fair that brings together hundreds of thousands of visitors for 15 days. But there was no other way about it.
What are your thoughts on TheMayor.EU portal as a unifying platform for European municipalities, and how can it be useful for you and your citizens?
The existence of a portal with these characteristics allows us as representatives of local governance to get to know other realities and other experiences very comprehensively, reinforcing the spirit of cooperation on which the European project is based. The existence of this portal seems therefore very positive and we hope that it can continue to do its work, and extend its scope of influence.
What are the main objectives you want to work towards in the near future to make Setúbal a better place to live?
We will continue to invest in our tourism potential and, at the same time, in our capacities as a hub for economic development with the search for new investors capable of bringing to Setúbal environmentally sustainable industries and new possibilities for the development of different fields of knowledge.
To find out more about Setúbal, visit the profile of the municipality.
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