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Portugal’s president re-elected in pandemic-hit election

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Portugal's centre-right president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa (pictured), was re-elected on Sunday (24 January) in an election marked by record abstention blamed on the pandemic. Rebelo de Sousa secured 60.70% of the ballot, easily clearing the 51% threshold needed to avoid a run-off. Ana Gomes, from the governing Socialist Party, came in second with 12.97%, just one percentage point higher than the candidate from the far-right populist Chega party, André Ventura.

The record low turnout of 39.49 per cent is believed to be due to voters avoiding the ballot boxes for fear of coronavirus. Portugal currently has the world's worst rate of daily infections and deaths per 100,000 people, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. Prime Minister Antonio Costa, from the Socialist party, "warmly" congratulated Rebelo de Sousa for his victory and "wish him all the best" for his final five-year term.

Rebelo de Sousa had been consistently leading in the polls in the run up to the election. The 72-year-old law professor and TV personality is known among the Portuguese for his easy-going style, and has sustained an approval rating of 60% or more. He is also a former leader of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, and has worked closely with the centre-left minority Socialist governments to help tackle the pandemic.The role of Portugal's president and head of state does not have legislative power, but can veto legislation. The president can also dissolve the legislative assemblies and grant pardons.

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Commission approves €15 million Portuguese scheme to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in Azores region in context of the coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved a €15 million Portuguese scheme to support micro, small and medium-sized enterprises with head offices or permanent establishments in the region of the Azores in the context of the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme, called ‘Apoiar.PT Açores –4ºT 2020', is open to companies from sectors most severely affected by the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. Under the scheme, the public support will take the form of direct grants. The scheme will be open to companies that have experienced a 25% fall in turnover in the last quarter of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. The measure complements another measure, approved by the Commission on 10 February 2021 (SA.61758), which referred to the fall in turnover in the first three quarters of 2020.

The aid will correspond to 20% of the lost turnover, with a maximum amount of €5,000 for micro companies, €20,000 for small companies and €50,000 for medium-sized ones. Micro and small companies active in certain specific sectors and which declare a turnover decline of more than 50% will receive direct grants equal to 40% of the fall in turnover, with a maximum aid amount of €12,000 for micro-companies and €48,000 for small ones. The Commission found that the Portuguese scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the support will not exceed €1.8 million per company; and (ii) the aid will be granted before 31 December 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.62023 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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EU invests almost €7 million in European world-class supercomputing in Portugal

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The European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking, which pools European resources to buy and deploy world-class supercomputers and technologies, announced the signature for a contract worth €20 million for a new supercomputing system: Deucalion  in Portugal.  The EU will contribute nearly €7m to the cost of the supercomputer, which will be capable of up to 10 petaflops or 10 million billion calculations per second, and will be hosted by the Minho Advanced Computing Centre (MACC). It will be used to further advance research and development in resource and energy efficient technologies, drug discovery, and weather prediction.

It will also help develop industrial applications in many domains: drug and material design, bio-engineering, and climate-friendly energy systems. The EU is at the forefront of investment in next-generation supercomputing infrastructure. In addition to the Deucalion in Portugal, six EuroHPC supercomputers have been acquired in the following centres: Sofiatech in Bulgaria, IT4Innovations National Supercomputing Center in Czechia, CINECA in Italy,  LuxProvide in Luxembourg, IZUM in Slovenia, and CSC – IT Center for Science in Finland. The Joint Undertaking plans to acquire another pre-exascale supercomputer in Spain, later this year. Moreover, a Commission proposal, presented in September 2020, aims to enable a further investment of €8 billion in the next generation of supercomputers and quantum technologies. More information is available here.

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EU Cohesion policy: €60 million for Portugal in clean and efficient public transport in Coimbra

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The European Commission has approved an investment of €60 million from the Cohesion Fund to convert an old railway line into a route for electric buses connecting Coimbra with the municipalities of Lousã and Miranda do Corvo and the village of Serpins, in Portugal. The new line will also make it easier for people to travel between central Coimbra, the hospitals and university in the northern part of the city, and the peripheral areas to the southeast. With 13 million passengers per year estimated to use the new transport system, the project will help reduce congestion, traffic-related noise and carbon and greenhouse gas emissions.

Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) commented: “This project will provide citizens from Coimbra and the Coimbra region with much deserved clean, safe and efficient transport services. It will offer a more attractive public transport that will reduce travel times and pollution, and improve comfort and the quality of air.”

The new buses will form part of a multimodal public transport system under a single tariff and ticketing system that will make them more attractive to use. The project is expected to be operational in early 2024. 2021 being the ‘EU Year of Rail' will lead to a lot of regional and local improvements in the area of transport. More information regarding EU funded investments in Portugal is available on the Open Data Platform.

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