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Opening address by Governor Carlos da Silva Costa, at the Investment, innovation and digitalisation conference: the Portuguese case

Address 1

It is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Investment, innovation and digitalisation conference: the Portuguese case. It is an honour for me to open this conference, for several reasons. For reasons of time, I will pick out just three:

The first is the fact that this Conference is co-organised with the European Investment Bank (EIB), where I had the privilege of holding office and which has just celebrated 60 years of existence as the European Union's financial arm. Since its creation in 1958, the EIB has taken on an invaluable role in supporting SMEs, which form the backbone of European business.

In the case of Portugal, from the first loans granted in 1976, the EIB has been a key player for the economic development of our country. Ever since, the EIB has increased and diversified its operations, supporting multiple projects across a wide variety of sectors, mobilising considerable volumes of resources and providing precious advice and technical support. More recently, in the context of the Investment Plan for Europe, it has helped promote economic growth and employment, namely by supporting innovation in key areas of the Portuguese economy, such as aeronautics, energy, health and education.

To illustrate, the EIB Group’s total financing in 2017 was equivalent to around 1% of Portugal’s GDP, just as in 2016.

The second reason relates to the topic of investment, innovation and digitalisation, which is gaining in importance, not only at Portuguese and European Union level, but worldwide.

We live in an increasingly globalised world, in which we are witnessing an ongoing mutation of innovation, the rapid rise of the digital sector and the intangible economy, and the appearance of new global players in the field of research and development (such as China). Heraclitus's saying has never been truer: “There is nothing permanent except change”.

For the European Union – and as a result, for each of its Member States – it is vital to take part in this global innovation and digitalisation race, or Europe will lose relevance on the international stage.

Investment in innovation and the capacity to take advantage of the digital economy’s potential are crucial to creating the conditions for productivity growth, which is indispensable to long-term economic growth.

Advances in technology promote the rise of firms in innovative sectors, with new ways of working and new skills. They also require profound transformations in the business models of the firms in the more traditional sectors. The capacity to innovate is an important lever of productivity and competitiveness among firms and the economy as a whole.

Productivity is related, among other aspects, with the absorption of knowledge and technological progress, human resources competences, the nature and dynamic of organisations’ collective intelligence and the quality of firms’ management.

And so it is fundamental that Portuguese firms evolve towards higher levels of the value chain, towards incorporation of knowledge and leveraging and profiting from the benefits of technological developments, including digitalisation.

In this respect, I was glad to read in the EIB Investment Survey 2018 in regard to Portugal that two in five Portuguese firms (40%) claim to have developed or introduced new products, processes or services as part of their investment activities, which is above the EU's average (34%). It is also important that 14% of firms declare that their innovation is new in the country or in the global market.

Lastly, the third reason is the fact that today’s Conference gathers in one place a set of institutional representatives, experts, operators, academics and management. I am sure this multi-faceted composition will:

  • Provide an up-to-date picture of the investment levels and motivations in Portugal and the challenges faced by Portuguese firms;
  • Set in motion informed and reasoned thinking and debate on innovation and the digital economy. This ultimately means a debate about the paths of development available to our country.

1 As prepared for delivery.