Portugal’s president in shorts and the long game for Poland’s shipping industry.
Portugal’s president doesn’t need much sleep. Between interviews at 22.00 and phone calls to his staff at dawn, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has a reputation for keeping odd hours – just one of the peculiarities he has become known for throughout his 40-year career as a politician and a pundit. Even today, at 67, you might see the Social Democrat early in the morning at the beach in Cascais, the well-off suburb of Lisbon where he lives, ready for a dip.
During daylight hours, however, dressed in his trademark blue tie and suit, he has taken a leading role in what promises to be the most unpredictable presidency in recent Portuguese history. From breaking protocol to walk, rather than drive, to his inauguration in March to inviting the president of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, to the first Council of State meeting, his theatrics have kept him centre stage. Critics call Rebelo de Sousa a schemer and it’s true that there is design to his antics. “He needs to have fun,” says his biographer Vítor Matos. “At the same time he creates an effect around each of his actions.”
Rebelo de Sousa, the former leader of the opposition Social Democrats party, won the presidential election in January with a majority in the first round. He was favoured in polls in the lead-up after promising to promote compromise with Portugal’s recently elected – and fractured – left-wing coalition government.
“He’s popular, almost populist,” says Matos, who adds that the support of public opinion will be fundamental when he does make serious decisions, especially in a position with no executive power. “Soft power is his strong suit.”
Rebelo de Sousa has a legion of fans thanks to his career as a popular political pundit. Distancing himself from his austere predecessor, his campaign ran around affection: hugs, frequent jokes and a big smile.
On formal occasions it’s not hard to guess what he’ll be wearing: blue tie and a two-button tailor-made blue suit. But he embraces the chance to dress the part as a normal guy when he can: national football team scarves, traditional caps or polo shirts.
The year-round dips in the ocean (and an unforgettable 1989 Tagus river crossing as part of a media stunt) call for shorts in solid patterns and cool colours.
Moccasins for the beach and then monk shoes for work – a convenient alliance between comfort and style.
Date: 5 June
Candidates: The opposition, the Social Democrats, has said that it will boycott the election. If it does a return to power by Nikola Gruevski’s vmro-dpmne looks inevitable.
Issues: This early election was scheduled for April and meant to reset the country’s politics after months of scandal – but was postponed due to more scandal.
Monocle comment: Macedonia is long overdue a serious government.
Poland’s shipyards played a historic role in rise of the Solidarity trade union movement that led to the fall of communism in the country in 1989 but their glory has since faded. To revive them, Poland’s Law and Justice party government, which came to power last autumn, recently adopted a new law introducing tax exemptions making it easier to include shipyards in special economic zones.
The government sees reviving the shipbuilding industry as an integral part of its economic development programme. It hopes that 3,000 jobs will be created but the questions remains: can Poland attract new business?
Few places in Germany face such tough challenges to integration as Berlin’s Neukölln district: one in five residents are foreign, born in 151 different nations; a further one in five are second-generation immigrants. District mayor Franziska Giffey has a clear idea of what needs to be done.
What can other parts of Germany learn from Neukölln?
The question has been the same for years: how can we not just take care of people but empower them? The answer is always the same too: education – starting in early childhood. It takes a strong state, strong institutions and an integrated approach. So we do projects for everyone, not just refugees or Arabic children. Anything else leads to resentment. We communicate to people from different value systems that our constitution isn’t negotiable. There are rules to follow.
You are critical of some Islamic values. Does that make your work here harder?
We are sympathetic but sympathy ends where another person’s rights and liberties are infringed. Some people say that if girls can’t attend swimming lessons because of their beliefs we have to accept that. No. Swimming lessons are part of school and that is compulsory for everyone.
What would you recommend to other mayors?
Mayors have to demand more personnel. Integration can only happen at a local level. They also have to back up volunteers with actual staff to co-ordinate efforts. It’s important to balance resources between new arrivals and the existing population too. We’re talking about people who can contribute great things when empowered.