The glut of aid invited extravagance as Jardim, Madeira’s president, rode a wave of popularity that has made him one of Europe’s longest-serving political leaders. Plaques saying he inaugurated ocean swimming pools, libraries and health centers punctuate any trip around this balmy, semitropical island of deep gorges and thick forest.
The wisdom of Madeira’s lavish, EU-sponsored spending is now in question as it wobbles on the edge of its own fiscal cliff. White elephants include a €38 million harbor that sits empty, its entrance full of silt; a business park built on a misty, remote hillside for €2.5 million that lies barren; and a €670,000 oceanside helipad where, locals say, no helicopter has ever landed.
Jardim is unapologetic. On the sidelines of the recent inauguration of the 580-meter-(1,900-feet) cliff-top viewing point at Cabo Girao, he continued to preach the benefits of past EU policy and brushed off talk of financial folly.
‘‘In small territories different criteria have to be used, which in this case is to continue the (financial) support for the creation of infrastructure because that creates jobs,’’ he said.
European leaders, however, want to shift from what they see as unproductive economic policies. The new slogan for the 2014-20 budget period is ‘‘smart growth.’’ That will likely translate into stimulus packages for the EU’s 23 million small businesses and more skill training — a ‘‘more targeted investment and better use of funds,’’ Regional Policy Commissioner Hahn said.