Before the pandemic, the Portuguese economy grew at a faster pace than the eurozone and the country ranked 28 on the list of wealthiest nations, despite its low rates in advanced education (50% of the population has only primary education; the highest percentage in Europe!) and average income (807 euro/month).

When the Chinese president Xi Jinping visited Portugal 18 months ago, the country willingly signed a multitude of cooperation agreements. At that time the socialist minority administration felt positive about the so-called ‘new Silk Route’.

In the meantime, its ‘golden visa program’ had opened the floodgates to Chinese buying up all sorts of property, banks, hotels and insurance companies.

But the tide has turned. The current public health crisis will drive a contraction in real GDP, and the long-lasting impact of the coronavirus on tourism will prevent a quick recovery in 2021.

An important economic lesson learnt, is to reduce dependence on imports from China. ‘This is the moment for Portugal to return to producing much of what we have been habitually importing’, Prime Minister António Costa declared.

To support the economy and prevent a debt crisis, Portugal can get 26.361 billion euros – 15.526 billion in grants and 10.835 billion in loans – from the European Economic Recovery Fund.

In order to access these funds, the country has to commit to the implementation of a reform plan program approved by the European Commission and the majority of the EU Council.

The government intends to use these assets to decarbonize the economy and reduce the imports of natural gas by developing an industry around hydrogen.
A European hub of ‘green energy’ (so-called because it is produced from renewable energy) close to Sines, one of the country’s major ports.

Sines is the perfect choice with its coal and oil-fired plants being disabled, and the network of existing gas pipelines 70% ready to distribute hydrogen. ‘Green hydrogen will be very cheap to produce and boost qualified employment’, says João Pedro MatosFernandes, the Minister for the Environment and Energetic transition  

Another strategy to overcome the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, is to transform the country into ‘a cluster of industrialisation’, explains Minister of Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva. ‘Portugal wants to be at Europe’s reindustrialisation forefront. We are talking here about textiles, clothing, shoes but also engineering, pharmaceuticals and agrifoods’.

He stressed that the country has important assets it can use like, qualified human resources, low wages, technology, quality of services and dominance in renewable energies.

Stay healthy        Fique saudavel            (pic Público/Sapo)

Happy Holidays


‘There is no planet B’

Portugal prepares to vote in Sunday’s general election.
With thousands of youngsters filling the streets at Lisbon’s Global Climate strike, one wonders how ‘green in fact its political parties are?

The centre-right Social Democrat party (PSD) recognizes ‘the state of emergency the planet is in’ but only presents measures enhancing the country’s ‘adaptation to climate change’ by limiting urban expansion in risk zones and favouring garden roofs. The PSD argues the energy sector to adapt but doesn’t specify how.

For the ruling Socialist party (PS) climate change adaptation is also needed. But that isn’t enough. The party defines concrete targets for 2030 and others for 2050, such as carbon neutrality. The PS wishes to reinforce the capacity of wind farms and – faced with extreme weather – extend forecasting and warning systems. Empowering farmers ‘to adopt good practices’ is also called for.

The Left Bloc (BE) is in favour of a Climate Law, an Energy Base Law and a Ministry of Climate Action. The far-left party advocates the end of fossil fuel car production by 2025 and coal-fired power generation by 2023, in the meantime accelerating solar production. It also intends to ban cars from city centres and strives for free public transport, favouring investment in ‘rail mode’.

The Unitary Democratic Coalition (CDU) – an electoral coalition between Communists and ecologist Greens – rejects green taxation, the concept of user pays and CO2 licensing. Instead, the railway network should be modernized with ‘high-speed connections’ from Lisbon to Porto and the Spanish border. It also advocates a Forest Policy based on traditional ecosystems.

The millennium Animal and Nature party (PAN) – founded in 2009 – wants vegetarian meals at state-sponsored events, prevention of any exploitation of hydrocarbons and the closure of all coal plants by 2023. Furthermore financial benefits for cycling to work, measures to reduce car traffic, restrictions on night air traffic and the suspension of the construction of a new airport.

For the rightwing Christen Democrats (CDS) a Climate Law for carbon neutrality is warranted. The party wishes to materialize an energy transition with transparency in the energy market’. Other objectives include ‘green’ entrepreneurship, full electrification and expansion of the railways.

However, the level of commitment of all six major parties is far too low, argues a group of independent citizens, analysing the elections programs. None of the parties mentions sufficient steps to reach the 96 goals (metas) defined in the Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality.
The PS – with 40 targets – comes first, which is not surprising given that the Roadmap is an initiative of the current socialist government. The CDU closes the peloton with only 13 targets covered. PAN proposes the most CO2 reduction measures and BE is the party that most concretises the actions to achieve carbon neutrality.

The polls suggest António Costa’s Socialist party will win but fall short of an absolute majority in parliament.
If the climate were to choose, it would be a coalition of the Socialist party and the Left Bloc or the PAN- which is less ideologically fixed.

Bom fim de semana                Enjoy your weekend            (pic. Público/Sapo)


Five years after the peak of its economic crisis, Portugal’s future looks bright. There is more confidence, more consumption and there are more young people in college.
In December the country succeeded in paying off the last installment of the 78 billion euro loan to the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The accelerated repayment saves the country 1.2 billion in interest costs.

The resident population consists of 10,3 million people, that is 2% of the population in all 28 EU member states. One-fifth of the Portuguese (2 million) lives abroad.
As a result of a very low birth rate and a negative migratory balance, the number of Portuguese is decreasing, despite the fact, that in the last decade nearly half a million ‘new citizens – mainly from Brazil and Cape Verde – have been added.

Thanks to the increased life expectancy – 81 years on average – the population is not only shrinking but also aging. There are nowadays much fewer children under 15 years (14%) than elderly over 65 years (21%).

The country’s workforce is relatively low skilled. The majority (54%) has no secondary or higher education, much more than in the rest of the EU (16%).
Special in this respect is, that more women than men are in the possession of a doctor’s (PhD) degree (55%), therewith ranking 5th in Europe.

Unemployment has – since the crisis – been halved to 6,7% but compared to northern European countries the minimum wage is still low ( 676 euros per month ).

Furthermore, the percentage of temporary contracts (22%) is relatively high ( 14% in the EU).

Remarkable is the low number of women working at the police force (7,5%), with its second to last position – just before Italy – in Europe.

In digital terms, the country is also lagging behind. Two-thirds of the companies have a website (77% in the EU) and three-quarters of the households are in the possession of an internet connection ( 87% in EU). That might also be the reason, that by far the most popular girl’s name – Maria – hasn’t changed since ages.

Bom fim de semana                                                    Enjoy the weekend




It is tempting to sigh once in a while ‘strange fellows, those Portuguese’, just like cartoon character Obelix did at the time of Julius Caesar when he used to grumble ‘ils sont fous, ces Romain’.

If you are what you eat (drink, smoke) or love (males, females, yourself), then countries certainly aren’t the same. There are after all innumerous appetites and lifestyles. For example, health club membership is twice as high in Spain and three times higher in Denmark.

Portugal, on the other hand, has the highest wine consumption in the world and its population devours the most fish in the EU.

Portuguese people take 4744 steps a day, far less than the Chinese in Hong Kong or even their Spanish neighbours. Two-thirds are not physically active, in particular, low-skilled women. Hence, more than half of the population is overweight and 7%  obese.

Portuguese adore cars – one in every two owns one – and use them every day. For everything: commuting, shopping, and outings. Unfortunately, these motorists hardly ever use public transport and are keen to make phone calls while driving.

Anti-smoking campaigns aren’t successful at all and overall smoking hasn’t declined in 30 years.
Strangely enough, highly educated women smoke most.

But do these people then only have bad habits?

Apparently not. Portuguese people love their culture and are– besides Fado, Football, and Fatima – fond of grilled sardines, Pessoa, Saramago, sunny weather and popular saints. They also work a lot – make much more hours a week than the Dutch and Germans – and enjoy fewer holidays than the average European.

Moreover, they serve piles of food to family and friends and it is impossible to leave a restaurant unsatisfied! These folks have an open mind, to their compatriots, and to the world. They are well informed and know how to enjoy Spanish tapas, Brazilian music, Japanese sushi, French cinema, German books, and Chinese medicine. Although they initially show a somewhat timid approach, they are very helpful and always there for you. Friendships aren’t superficial but for life.

The most stunning, however – at least according to the Observer – are the eyes of their men. Wherever you are in the world, you should look at their eyebrows. ‘If they are breath-taking, then the fellow must be Portuguese’.

Bom fim de semana              Enjoy the weekend     (pic Lusa/SAPO/Público)


God created only water but man made wine – Victor Hugo

Portuguese drink the most wine worldwide, on average 1 litre per person per week.
Although no major producer, export – mainly to France, Brazil and the US – reached record levels last year. ‘Domestic consumption also increased substantially, due to a booming tourism industry,’ declares Jorge Monteiro, president of ViniPortugal.

Portugal’s wine culture developed in relative isolation for more than 2000 years. Many grape varieties – there are over 250 indigenous ones – do not grow elsewhere in the world.

The most famous wines are Port – a fortified and sweet wine from the Douro Valley, nowadays a Unesco world heritage site, Vinho Verde – a unique white wine from the Minho area, Dão – a quality wine, shown to age very well from growing in high altitude areas and the typical blends from the Alentejo region.

But would you still buy a bottle of wine with a label ‘alcohol causes cancer’ on it?
The Irish government – equating alcohol with tobacco – has recently passed a law (the Irish Alcohol Bill), that such a warning should be put on every bottle of wine, every can of beer and every flask of whiskey. As with cigarettes.
This kind of labeling is a thorn in the eye of the Portuguese wine industry, who fears a similar action in the EU.

‘To state that wine causes cancer is simply untrue’, says Georg Sandeman, chairman of the Portuguese Wine and Spirits Association (ACIBEV). ‘Northern countries want to impose their culture on us. In the north of Europe, people use to drink a lot in short periods of time (‘binge drinking’) and often without food. Here, wine is part of our culture, our gastronomy. Of course, excessive use should be reduced but not moderate consumption.’

The WHO, already since the 90’s, claims that alcohol raises the risk of cancer of the throat, esophagus, liver, and breast. More recent research shows that even moderate consumption is not without risk of cancer and cognitive decline.
In addition, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) warns, that alcohol is the third leading risk factor for disease and death after tobacco and hypertension in Europe.

The best advice, therefore, is to stick to the American Cancer Society’s guidelines. ‘If you don’t drink, don’t start and if you do drink, limit your consumption to one drink a day for women (who need more time to metabolize alcohol) and two for men’.

                ENJOY YOUR WEEKEND              (pic SAPO)





The most common chronic disease in Portugal is called ‘waiting list’

Patients have to wait 3 years to see a urologist in Vila Real or an ENT specialist in Leiria and 2 years to obtain an appointment with a cardiologist in Guarda. These extremes not only occur in the countryside, as the waiting list for a neurological consultation at Amadora Sintra – one of the biggest state hospitals in the country – exceeds more than a year.

Is it a wonder, that citizens – especially the ones who can afford it – turn to the private sector, where waiting periods – due to more specialists – are half as long as in the National Health Service (SNS).

The average waiting period for (non-acute) specialist care in Portugal is 4 months, varying from 6 months for an ophthalmologist to 6 weeks for an obstetrician. Patients who have to wait for more than five months have – by law – the right to be treated in the private sector. A costly buffer as the SNS, respectively the taxpayer must pay the bill.

‘The SNS is overstretched, needs more specialists, family doctors and in particular more funding. Specialists are overworked and underpaid, 750.000 citizens still have no family doctor and the government spends less on ‘health’ than the average EU member state’, says Miguel Guimarães, president of the Medical Association. ‘Last year we received a red cart from the Euro Health Consumer Index for our poor accessibility to (non-acute) specialist care and the yellow card for our lack of general practitioners.’

The excessive waiting lists are – according to the independent trade union of doctors Sindicato Independente dos Médicos – mainly the result of the fact that specialists in state hospitals have to spend too much – almost half – of their time to emergencies. The majority of the specialists working in the SNS is therefore unsatisfied. Many want to abandon the service and either go into private practice or leave the country, where working conditions are better and the pay higher.

‘Wages are indeed low, excess hours abundant and career prospects nil’, explains Maria Ferreira of the Public Health Department of the University of Porto, who conducted an investigation under 15.000 doctors in northern Portugal. ‘Half of the recently qualified doctors is thinking of leaving the country after finishing their specialization and over 1200 doctors have already left in the past 3 years.’

Although the right to healthcare is enshrined in the constitution, lack of accessibility affects poor people most as the private sector is no alternative to them. The only they can do is hope for the best and wait.

Bom fim de semana               Have a great weekend                (photo’s Público)






85% of all waste found on beaches in the world is plastic.

Disposable cutlery (plastic plates, cups, forks, and knives) should be forbidden in the catering industry if it is up to Portugal’s left-wing parties.

A draft legislation thereupon was submitted in July 2017 and discussed in Parliament early this year. Heloísa Apolónia – MP of the Ecological and Green Party (PEV) – explains ‘our proposal is to ban the use of plastic disposables in restaurants and bars and to look for biodegradable substitutes within 3 years.’

The director of the Hotel and Restaurant branch organization AHRESP, Jose Manuel Esteves, is not happy with the proposition and has more confidence in recycling. ‘This idea doesn’t make sense at all. If there is one sector that is exemplary for a circular economy, then it is ours.  Besides, the main users of disposables are not restaurants but institutions, hospitals, and public festivals.’

António Fonseca, the president of the Association of Bars in the Historic Center of Porto (ABZHP) – that encourages the legalization of the use of alcohol in public places – believes that the plans are irresponsible in the light of the danger glassware can cause in nightlife.

The MP of the ruling socialist party (PS) Joao Torres agrees with the proposals but doubts if a timetable of 3 years is realistic. He is more in favor of a ‘gradual implementation to enable the industry to develop sustainable alternatives’. The socialist government has therefore set up a working group and intends to present a bill on the matter in May.

To mobilize the public opinion, the Party for Animals and Nature (PAN) has written an open letter to Al Gore – former US vice-president and author of the documentary Inconvenient Truth – to involve him in their campaign in the social media to reduce plastic cutlery in Portugal (#AlGoreReplytoPan).

‘We have written this letter given his engagement in the pollution of our oceans – where the ‘plastic soup’ has meanwhile reached a size that is equivalent to 17 times the surface of Portugal – declares Andre Silva, MP of PAN. ‘The problem is too big to wait because in 10 to 20 years there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans and microplastics (from cosmetics and cleaning agents) will not only have killed the fish but also entered our bodies via the food chain.’

The non-profit environment organization Quercus recently challenged the Portuguese not to use disposable plastic products for the next 40 days (#40diassemplastico), at least until Easter.

Bom fim de semana                                                  Have a great weekend







Bacon, Freud and a Century of Painting Life 

at Tate Britain, London

February 28 – August 27


“When it was the season aunt Emília used to sell roasted chestnuts outside the bar a little further down the street, on the corner of Rua Morais Soares and Rua dos Heróis de Quionga, got drunk on the proceeds, then could be found flat on her back on the bedroom floor with her skirts hitched up, singing loudly.”
(from: Small memories – José Saramago)

Portugal is a country of saints, giving rise to a good number of public holidays. November 1 is dedicated to All Saint’ Day (Todos-os-Santos) and November 11 to St. Martin (São Martinho) – the period in between is called Magusto, the traditional autumn festival. It is believed that the word ‘magusto’ comes from the Latin word ‘magnus ustus’, meaning ‘big fire’.

St. Martin’s Day is associated with the maturation of the year’s wine. It is a feast of Celtic roots that celebrates the end of summer and the start of winter.
The period is also quite popular, because of the usually good weather in this time of the year, called St. Martin’s Summer (Verão de São Martinho), that is tied to the legend of the saint.

Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier in the 4th century – later becoming bishop of Tours, in France – who cut his cape in half with his sword and gave it to a shivering beggar during a cold and rainy day. It is said that at that very moment the sun started shining again for three days.

Groups of friends and families celebrate these warm days in November outdoors and used to gather around a bonfire, where they roasted chestnuts directly in the fire drank água-pé (water-foot), jeropiga, new wine and danced and sang. It was customary for girls to bring the chestnuts and for boys to bring the wine.

Água-pé (water-foot) is a light alcoholic beverage made by adding water to crushed grapes – after the juice is pressed out for wine – and letting it ferment for several days. Jeropiga – a sweet and strong fortified wine – is obtained in a similar way by adding brandy(aguardente) to the mash (pomace) of grapes, instead of water.


É dia de São Martinho,                                                    It’s St.Martin’s Day,
comem-se castanhas, prova-se o vinho                       we’ll eat chestnuts and taste the wine

BOM FIM DE SEMANA                                                   ENJOY THE WEEKEND