Magazine article Management Today

Europe's Boomtime City

Magazine article Management Today

Europe's Boomtime City

Article excerpt

In Europe's westernmost capital, discussion about the recent EC presidency often centred more on the Council of Ministers' new pink building than on the problems being thrashed out inside. Set between the beautiful Belem tower and the Jeronimos monastery, smack in the middle of the most historic part of the waterfront where Vasco da Gama and the other discoverers put to sea, it was bound to invite criticism. But it has attracted admiration, too, not least from Channel Tunnel contractors who were here recently to see how it was built in such a short time.

Thanks largely to the EC, work is going on around the clock everywhere in Lisbon. Pavements are full of holes, building sites are lit at night and people complain they can't get a plumber. As money pours in, unemployment has shrunk to around 4% -- pretty good in a country of 10 million which nearly 20 years ago had to absorb 750,000 retornados from its colonies. True there are shanty towns and beggars but the really bad times are fresh in memories. In Salazar's days, they tell you, peasants would emigrate from the bleak rural north-east for the Third-World promise of Lorenco Marques. Even in the mid-'80s, just before the EC came root-a-tooting, over the hill, economic decline brought real hunger to the desolate industrial heartland of Setabul.

But now it's boom time. For more than four years, year-on-year investment has continued to double. Executive salaries went up 18% in 1991 and in financial circles young bloods are asking for the kind of relative salaries we got used to hearing about in London half a dozen years ago. The blockbuster is the $2.8billion Ford/Volkswagen car plant, to be set up with an encouraging 70% EC subsidy. Close behind is Pepsi Cola with a potato chip plant. Good news spreads fast: doctors, lawyers and other professionals have been arriving hopefully from Brazil.

The infrastructure is racing to catch up. There are no plans to uproot the charming Sheffield-built trams in downtown Lisbon despite the traffic jams they cause. But a few more stations are pencilled in on the Metro map. Towards the end of last year a motorway finally linked the country's two principal cities, Lisbon and Oporto, part of the $1. …

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