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PORTUGAL - Diplomacy

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COTEC Europe 2022 explores how Portugal and its Mediterranean neighbors can have a booming post-industrial economy capitalizing on culture.

In May 2022, political leaders and business leaders came together in COTEC Europe 2022 in Braga, Portugal, to exchange ideas about business, innovation, and—quite interestingly—culture. In attendance were dignitaries such as the President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the King of Spain, and the President of Italy, among many businesses people from the Mediterranean region.

This was not the first meeting of its kind. COTEC Europe is a body dedicated to entrepreneurship and business innovation in Spain, Italy, and Portugal. The joint body was established in the early 1990s to create a space for a common dialog among the three Mediterranean nations, particularly given the similarities between their economies and the common challenges faced by Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese companies within the context of Europe. COTEC Portugal, Italy’s Fondazione COTEC, and Spain’s Fundación COTEC represent the three member states in the body.

COTEC tries to advance the economic realities of Southern Europe, which are not identical to the rest of EU. Since its launch, the summit has successfully created some synergy between the three member states, coming up with recipes for the empowerment of businesses, the expansion of innovative practices, and the regulation of community policies which are tailor-made for the economic climate of Southern Europe. First, COTEC annual meetings were held in Rome (2005), Madrid (2006), and Lisbon (2007), and have continued on the same rotational basis to this day.

It was once again Portugal’s turn to host the meeting in 2022. In keeping with the tradition of the event, a theme was selected: the meeting point between culture and innovation. “A participative relationship with the culture sector could mean a bigger retention and talent development for companies, as well as [the] customer’s preference and greater reputation and placement,” explained the holders of COTEC Europe 2022, adding that “the perception of culture as a factor that stimulates creativity and innovation may generate competitive differentiation, positive economic results, added value creation and social cohesion for companies.”
The tradition of giving annual summits a central talking point helps COTEC steer clear of discussing generalities, snd instead talk about the most important issues of the day that affect business. The first COTEC summit in 2005 was inaugurated with the theme of “innovation in Europe,” but the next six summits did not have a theme until 2012, when “innovation in SMEs” was announced as the big talking point of the summit. The 2021 edition of the event was entitled “Transition to the Intangible Economy in Europe.” This naming came after the cancellation of COTEC in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had also paved the way for a wave of intangible economic activities.

The 2022 summit marked the first time that culture was chosen as the connecting thread of the presentations. Every previous meeting had been concentrating on the economy, industrial matters, or business activities. However, with the maturation of the Southern European markets, culture is playing a greater role in the economy. The entertainment industry, which is by nature cultural, is currently a money-spinner in all three nations. Tourism and travel, meanwhile, contribute 17.1%, 13.3%, and 12.3% to the economies of Portugal, Italy, and Spain, respectively. And above all, the ongoing culture change in Europe is redefined the meaning of work, employment, and business. The 2022 summit in Braga tried to address all of these issues and more.

The event was affected by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with the three heads of state in attendance expressing their concerns about another act of military aggression in the continent. “While the fate of Europe is at stake, it seems more necessary than ever to have the courage to look to the future, to imagine how culture can be a vehicle for peace. For our countries, therefore, the theme chosen for this year’s meeting could not be more stimulating. Indeed, we have always considered culture to be an engine for growth, research and development,” said President Sergio Mattarella of Italy.

During the event, a number of round tables were held. In the round table “technology at the service of creativity,” a particularly cultural issue was brought up: the Spanish, Portuguese, and—to a lesser degree—Italian languages are spoken way beyond the Mediterranean region. Portuguese speakers in South America and Africa, for example, outnumber the Portuguese citizens by twenty to one. Concha Andreu, president of La Rioja region in Spain who pitched an initiative known as Valle de la Lengua, described Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, “languages of great potential that can also become an economic engine,” in areas such as education, tourism, and AI, among others. With some 200 million speakers in Latin America and Africa, the Portuguese language gives a strong cultural influence to Portugal in places beyond Europe. The country can leverage on this to find a target market for Portuguese businesses active in software, entertainment, and education. 

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