Billions in debt on the island of Jardim

Despite a tiny population of 250,000, the Portuguese holiday island of Madeira has a massive debt of €6 billion euros, a legacy of the long and eccentric rule of local President Alberto João Jardim.

Published on 16 April 2012 at 14:49

Tucked beneath towering cliffs on Madeira’s storm-battered west Atlantic coast, the €50 million Marina do Lugar de Baixo aimed to provide the perfect welcome for super-luxury yachts.

Unfortunately, thanks to the huge waves that have fractured the harbour wall three times since it was built in 2005, not even the more adventurous yachtsmen have often been tempted, never mind passing billionaires in floating palaces.

Today it lies abandoned, a chain blocking the road where an Oleg Deripaska or Roman Abramovic might have strode ashore, the white clubhouse empty as the Marie Celeste.

Just as spectacular as the ocean breakers off Lugar de Baixo, however, are the waves of European Union cash that have been splashed around Madeira, a Portuguese-owned island better known for sweet wine and winter sun.

While the marina was financed mainly by the semi-independent Madeiran local government, €3.5 million came from Brussels, which, like the other backers, did not heed warnings that a stretch of coast popular with hard-core surfers might be less ideal for yachters.

Similarly, at the nearby promenade and restaurant complex at Frente Mar Madalena, where a rusting plaque marks a €1.2 million EU grant, developers overlooked the risk of rockfalls from the cliffs. Until, that is, a boulder tore a hole through the restaurant’s roof two years ago, since when it too has been empty.

The real big hole though, is the one that such rampant, publicly-backed development has torn in the island’s finances, as it has transformed itself into a resort similar to the Canary Islands further south.

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