Sponsorships to the Portuguese EU Council Presidency: response to Minister Augusto Santos Silva

Two weeks ago Climáximo joined Corporate Europe Observatory and foodwatch to launch an online campaign demanding an end to corporate sponsorships of the EU Council Presidency, focusing on the sponsorships of the current Portuguese presidency by Delta Cafés, sumol+compal and The Navigator Company. Our criticism of the sponsorships was mentioned in a Politico article, which was then reproduced in many national press and ended up provoking a response from the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, in Diário de Notícias on March 11.

The Minister says that the decision was to reduce sponsorship “to a minimum”. It is remarkable that the result of this reduction was the choice of The Navigator Company. This company is accused of land-grabbing in Mozambique and is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in Portugal: its Setúbal industrial complex ranked 5th on the list of infrastructures with the highest CO2 emissions in Portugal in 2017, according to data from the European Environment Agency. With the closure of the Sines and Pego coal-fired power plants and the Matosinhos refinery, The Navigator Company becomes the company with the highest greenhouse gas emissions in Portugal, according to the emissions inventory recently released by Climáximo and Greve Climática Estudantil (Fridays for Future in Portugal).

The Minister says that the sponsorships will not serve to change the Government’s policies. Actually here we agree. Government policies, like European Union policies, are always guided by the interests of private companies. In this sense, the Navigator logo on the booklets of the Portuguese EU Council Presidency is nothing more than a symbolic representation of this relationship, which is the usual mode of operation of the institutions of political power under capitalism.

The relationship between governments in Portugal and Navigator is long-standing and well known, with Navigator’s executives entering various governments and designing the country’s forestry policy for decades. The result of this policy is that 9% of the national territory is covered with eucalyptus (a world record), contributing to the worsening of forest fires, with devastating consequences in terms of loss of human life and carbon dioxide emissions.

The Minister also refers to Navigator’s statement to Politico, claiming that “it had not had politicians join the company as directors, nor had former directors joined the Portuguese government, since Navigator’s privatization in the early 2000s. This statement is very carefully constructed so that it is technically true, while also hiding the fact that the relationship between the Company and the Portuguese government continues to this day. The most recent example is Tiago Martins de Oliveira, who was responsible for the areas of Forest Protection (2008-2016) and Forest Innovation and Development (2016-2017) at The Navigator Company, and was later appointed President of the Mission Structure for the Installation of the Integrated Management System of Rural Fires, a position equivalent to Secretary of State, reporting directly to the Prime Minister of the XXI Constitutional Government, António Costa.

Finally, we would also like to express our agreement with the Minister, when he says that “it is worth reflecting” on the “relationship between companies and powers”. Any serious reflection will come to the conclusion that this relationship is directly responsible for the decades of inaction on the climate crisis and the failure of all international agreements to combat it. Banning sponsorships of the EU Council Presidency alone will not solve the problem, but it is the least we can do.

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