‘Where 2 dogs fight for a bone, the 3rd runs away with it home’ – Dutch saying

A 50-year-old political system dominated by two main parties – the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Socialist Party (PS) – has come to an end as the far-right party Chega (Enough) picked up nearly one-fifth of the votes on anti-corruption, immigration and euroscepticism.

The Democratic Alliance (AD) – a centre-right coalition of the PSD and the Christian Democrats led by Luis Montenegro – technically won the elections with 29% of the votes. The margin, however, was only 1% with their main opponent, the centre-left PS. It is very unlikely that the two main parties will cut a deal, leaving the centre-right facing an unstable minority government.

The elections brought an end to the nine-year government of the Socialist Party of António Costa, who had to resign last November as a result of alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of large green investment projects. His Partido Socialista only took 28% of the votes, a dramatic fall since the comfortable victory in 2022 with 47% of the votes. After losing the election the current party leader Pedro Nuo Santos declared that the PS would lead the opposition

The far-left also fared badly with an increasingly weak Communist party (PCP) securing just four MPs and the anti-capitalist Left Bloc (BE), clasping to the five seats it has since 2022. The pro-EU party Livre was more lucky, going from one to four MPs.

The biggest win, however, went to the populist Chega party, led by former football commentator Andre Ventura. It became the 3rd political party in the country with 18% of the votes after obtaining a mere 7% of the votes in 2022.

Corruption ranks high among voters’ concerns and was a key focus of the far-right campaign. Besides the investigation into Costa’s administration that triggered this election, another former Socialist prime minister – José Sócrates – is going to stand trial again over allegations that he pocketed about 34m euros during his time in power from fraud and money laundering. But also the PSD is facing corruption allegations, with two prominent party politicians recently forced to resign amid a fraud investigation in Madeira.  

It is unclear what role the far-right party will play in the new government since AD’s party leader Montenegro has repeatedly declared that he refuses to cut a deal with the ‘racist, xenophobic and demagogic’ Chega leader Ventura. The question is now how much strength is left in that cordon sanitaire.

Chega’s success is the result of letting the social discontent grow on deteriorating living and working conditions. Costa’s majority government proved to be unable to meet the economic aftermath of Covid. Minimum wage increases unable to meet inflation, rent controls out of the question, and faltering performance in public education and the National Health Service (SNS).

In the westernmost nation of mainland Europe where incomes are the sixth lowest in the EU, over 10% of the population are living in food poverty and ‘non-habitual residents’ (i.e. expats) enjoy considerable tax exemptions, people are easy prey to an ultra-nationalist party that promises higher wages and public spending but lower taxes at the same time.

Have a nice week         Tenha uma semana boa         (pic Público/Sapo)

‘Those who care about their grandchildren plant cork oak trees – Portuguese saying

Cork has been around for thousands of years in the western Mediterranean. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used it for fishing gear, sandals, and sealing of jugs, jars, and barrels. As glass bottles gained popularity in the 18th century, cork became the preferred wine stopper because it is durable, waterproof, and pliable.

Nowadays cork is experiencing a revival as more industries are looking for sustainable alternatives to plastic and other materials derived from fossil fuels. The bark is used for flooring, furniture, clothes, footwear, bags, and hats and as an effective thermal and acoustic insulation in buildings and electric car batteries. It is resistant to water and oil and very durable, remaining virtually unchanged for many years.

The slow-growing cork oak tree – scientifically known as Quercus suber – is the source of this eco-friendly material. Portugal has one of the largest cork oak forests in the world, covering vast areas in the poor soil of the dry Alentejo province. The country is the world’s largest producer and cork its most exported product, reaching over 1 billion euros and being sold in over 130 countries.

But cork is more than a sustainable and fashionable material. In addition to providing employment, the forests absorb CO2. Unlike most trees, evergreen cork oaks are never cut down as they are protected by law. This means that their carbon storage capacity continues through the 200 years or more they live.

The bark can only be harvested between May and August by experienced workers who carefully strip the outer layer without damaging the trunk. The cork oak is unique in regenerating its bark. Once it is removed, the last number of that year is applied with white paint on the exposed trunk – a 4 means bark was harvested in 2014 – after which the tree will be ready for another harvest nine years later.

Although cork forests can help mitigate global warming and the thick bark protects the tree from fire, they are increasingly at risk as wildfires become more frequent and more intense. Especially in the first two years after the cork is extracted, the trees are vulnerable to wildfires as the trunk is without protection.

Recycled cork can also be used to make other products. More than 300.000 corks were needed to make a mosaic of Nobel laureate José Saramago, which was credited to the Guinness Book of Records in 2014. Meanwhile Green Cork – a recycling program started by the environmental organization Quercus – has recycled more than 100 million cork stoppers since 2009.

Enjoy the week                     Aproveite a semana               (pic WashPost)