Multi-lingual, with a background working on European issues, the latest British ambassador to Portugal is mother-of-two Jill Gallard, from Northern Ireland. Taking up her appointment as the 2nd female ambassador ever to have been appointed to Portugal, Ms Gallard said “I look forward to further developing the deep relationship between the UK and Portugal - the oldest alliance in the world - and to promoting our close partnership, both in the bilateral political and commercial context and in multilateral fora such as the EU, the UN and NATO.
Our people and businesses help to maintain these ties in every aspect of life in our two countries.” So, we asked Ms Gallard the following questions...
Do you believe the eurozone can continue to exist in its present form, given the depth and extent of the current financial and economic crisis?The UK Government has been following closely the situation within the Eurozone. We are conscious that the UK’s prosperity is intimately bound up with success in the Eurozone. 40% of our trade is with Eurozone countries, and approximately 60% of our trade is with European countries. So what happens in the Eurozone has an impact on the 10 EU countries not in the Eurozone, as well as the 17 countries within it.
We welcomed the deal reached on 27 October by Heads of State and Government from across the EU, aimed at reaching a comprehensive solution to the debt crisis and restoring market confidence, and hope that the details of this deal are finalised and implemented as soon as possible.
How do you see Portugal faring in the next few years?
Like the UK, Portugal is currently focussed on consolidating its public finances, modernising its economy and improving growth and competitiveness. We think this is important for both our countries, in order to guarantee future prosperity.
Portugal remains an important partner for the UK, not only within the EU, but also bilaterally, and within NATO and the UN.
The Coalition Governments in both Portugal and the UK share a similar pragmatic approach about the need for the EU to focus on finding solutions to the problems our citizens face. That means better growth and creating more jobs.
We believe in the advantages of a diverse globalised world and a low carbon economy, we are working together in Afghanistan and other international defence missions, we share a centuries old alliance and naval tradition, and we are currently both members of the UN Security Council.
Portugal remains one of the top destinations for British tourists, and we had a bilateral trade turnover of around €2.5bn last year.
In 2010 Portugal was the UK’s 28th largest market for exports of goods and 11th largest in the EU. During my time in Portugal I am determined to further expand bilateral cooperation at all levels, in particular making the most of the many business partnership opportunities between UK and Portuguese companies.
The UK is hosting the London 2012 Olympics next summer, and Portugal has in recent years hosted highly successful international events (eg the Euro 2004 football, and Expo 1998).
I think there is great potential for sharing expertise between our two countries as we look for economic opportunities outside our own countries, particularly given Portugal’s position as an important platform towards the Lusophone world, especially Brazil and Angola.
Do you feel the EU Commission is doing the best it can to bring the eurozone crisis under control?
The UK Government has on various occasions voiced concern about the need for an urgent solution to the Eurozone sovereign debt crisis, as the crisis in the Eurozone is having an impact on all our economies.
We believe that a sustainable solution must involve all EU Member States, and that is why the British Government insists that the UK should not be excluded from the consultations among European leaders in seeking a sustainable solution for the future of the EU.
The UK Government is determined to be a positive participant in the EU, whilst respecting the competences of the different European institutions.
The UK will be firm in the defence of British interests, but we don't believe there is a contradiction between championing the interests of the UK in the EU, and seeking to play a constructive role in making the EU work better.
So, we’ll be working together with the EU Commission on trade, on the Single Market, and on economic growth, in order to deliver real benefits for the people of the UK and of other EU Member States.
Do you feel the Portuguese Government's state budget for 2012 may have gone too far? Will it help the country, or set it back even further?
We have been impressed by the determination of the Portuguese Government in addressing its budget deficit crisis and the underlying causes of Portugal’s fiscal imbalance. The British Minister for Europe, David Lidington, said this too during his official visit to Portugal in September.
The process of fiscal consolidation requires difficult austerity measures and this will not be an easy process - either in Portugal or in the UK. However, it is important that both our countries look at the current crisis as an opportunity to reform our public sector and take forward the agenda for economic growth and revival of the job market.
How concerned is the British Government that Portugal may be following in the footsteps of Greece?
The UK Government remains confident that despite the difficulties, Portugal and the EU will be able to resolve the crisis and come through with an economy that is stronger and more sustainable.
However, this can only be achieved if we have a joined up approach in confronting our debts; strengthening the competitiveness of our economies; and unlocking global trade. This will be a key message that our Prime Minister, David Cameron, will take to this week’s G20 summit in Cannes.
The FCO mission for a "Better World, Better Britain" says the UK cannot have "environmental, physical and economic security" without promoting it overseas. How do you rate Portugal's "environmental, physical and economic security? And do you see it improving?
“Better World Better Britain” was the FCO mission statement under the previous Labour Government. The FCO priorities have been slightly adjusted under the new Coalition Government.
When William Hague became Foreign Secretary 18 months ago he set out 3 clear priorities for the FCO – to improve Britain’s prosperity, to ensure Britain’s security and to protect British nationals.
Here in Lisbon we as an Embassy focus on 2 of those priorities - prosperity and consular.
A major part of this Embassy’s work is finding ways to bring British and Portuguese companies together to boost our bilateral trade and increase inward investment in the UK.
On the consular side, we estimate there are about 80,000 British people living in Portugal, and we know there are about 1.6m British visitors per year, so our consular work is a very important part of what we do here – the Embassy and Consulate in Lisbon, the Consulate in Portimão and the Honorary Consulates in Porto, Faro, Funchal and Ponta Delgada.
Has there been an increase in the number of Portuguese people moving to UK?
The number of Portuguese nationals moving to the UK has remained steady over the last 4 years, although the first few months of this year show a slight increase.
According to the Department of Work and Pensions around 12,000 Portuguese have moved to the UK every year since 2007. The figure for the first quarter of this year is 4,520.
In terms of the overall Portuguese community in the UK, it is difficult to give a precise figure as nationals of EU Member States do not need to register with their consulates anymore.
The same happens with British nationals in Portugal. According to the latest UK population survey, there are currently 109,620 registered Portuguese nationals living in the UK.
However, Portuguese consular sources believe this figure to be much higher and estimate that there are around 500,000 Portuguese currently living in the UK.
A blogger once described you as looking "too young and fun-filled for the job" as ambassador here (See blog...). Have you encountered any difficulties because of you are a (happy looking) woman in a largely (poker-faced) male-dominated diplomatic world?
I am always happy to be described as “young and fun-filled”! I’ve never had any difficulties because of being a female diplomat. In many ways it’s an advantage because people are more likely to remember a female face in a sea of male faces. The British Embassy in Lisbon actually has more female employees than male. And the Foreign & Commonwealth Office devotes a lot of time to trying to recruit (and retain) more female staff.
Currently only 14% of British Ambassadors are women, but I find some environments (eg senior level contacts in the business world) can be more male-dominated than the diplomatic world.
Do you get a chance to read your sons a bedtime story regularly? And how are you coping as a working mother?
I think all parents, whether working mothers or fathers, and whatever kind of job they have, do a lot of juggling to be able to spend as much time with their children as they’d like.
I’m lucky that I can read my sons a bedtime story (or, more accurately, three bedtime stories, as they are a demanding audience!) most nights.
And I’m also lucky that my husband is very involved with our children. Our sons go to bed at British bed-time, about 7.30/8pm, so I can still do bedtime stories even when I have an official dinner/reception that evening.
Are you getting any time to enjoy Portugal?
Yes. It’s very important for diplomats not to spend all their time in the capital city. I’ve been here just over 3 months, and did an official visit to the Algarve (in October). I’m due to visit the Alentejo region, Porto and Aveiro this month. The nature of diplomatic work involves above all networking and people.
So I feel that I’ve already met a large cross-section of Portuguese society and the British community here. Portugal has so much to offer – climate, food, wine, culture, beautiful scenery, that I’m determined to see as much of it as possible in the 4 years here.