Cancer is the main cause of premature death in Portugal

Malignant tumors are the second cause of death in the country – after cardiovascular diseases (including strokes and heart attacks) – killing every year nearly 30,000 people.
This number corresponds to one-third of the country’s annual births, at a time when the Portuguese population is shrinking.

At the opening of World Cancer Day Rui Portugal, the deputy director general of the General Directorate of Health (DGS) declared that roughly 60,000 new cases of cancer are discovered every year. Most common are lung, colon, and prostate cancer in men and breast and colon cancer in women.

Increased life expectancy (at present 80,7 years in Portugal), exposure to carcinogens (tobacco, alcohol, air pollution) and unhealthy lifestyles explain the progressive increase in the number of new cases.

He therefore emphasized that the main public health policies for controlling cancer should focus on risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol consumption at the same time urging the population to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

National screening programs for the prevention of cancer are little effective. Although the number of people screened for colon cancer has increased compared to the pre-Covid years, screening coverage in the country is heterogeneous and mainly concentrated in urban centers. There are rural areas where screening practically doesn’t exist.

‘Adherence strategies also need to be improved. People need to be convinced to join’, says José Deniz, director of the National Program for Oncological Diseases.

The president of the Portuguese Society of Pneumology, António Morais, recalls that lung cancer is one of the main causes of death. And, although fewer people are smoking nowadays, 15% of the population still does.

‘Smoking cessation consultations were among the most lagging behind during the pandemic and continue to do so as a result of the lack of family doctors. It is necessary to take advantage of the window of opportunity when someone considers quitting smoking.’

Moreover, he emphasized, there is the problem of electronic cigarettes. ‘It is said to harm less because it doesn’t burn but the nicotine is still there, causing addiction. It is a hoax published to exhaustion, even knowing that tobacco advertising has been banned in Portugal.’

Prevention should start in school. ‘Children are also health agents’, says Maria de Belém Roseira, the former Minister of Health. ‘They must take home the advice their parents did not have or did not value’.

Enjoy the week            Aproveita a semana                (pic Público/Sapo)

‘Economy should serve people, not the opposite’

According to Eurostat minimum wages in the EU member states range from 399 euros per month in Bulgaria to 2,387 euros per month in Luxembourg. As of this year, the minimum wage in Portugal is 760 euros per month. In the case of salaries, the country also remains at the tail end of average salaries in the EU, ranking 17th out of 22 member states.

Last year more than 55% of workers received wages of less than 1,000 euros per month, a percentage that rises to 65% in the case of young people under 30 years of age, according to data from the Ministry of Labour, Solidarity, and Social Security.

The INE (Instituto Nacional de Estatística) latest report from December shows that the total average monthly gross earnings per worker increased last year by 3,6% to 1,411 euros. Activities related to agriculture and fishing paid the lowest (an average of 933 euros/month), whereas jobs in electricity and gas paid substantially better (an average of 3,621 euros/month).

Although the average gross monthly salary rose, the rise hides a real drop of 4% if the effect of inflation (on average 7,6% in 2022) is taken into account, according to ECO (Economia Online). Only top managers and representatives of the legislative power had salary increases above inflation (by 9,6%). In highly qualified professions –doctors, teachers, and scientists – salaries only rose 1%.

Portuguese emigrants with higher qualifications – representing a quarter of all citizens who left the country in the last decade – are able to receive salaries three times more abroad, according to the study ‘Exodus of skills and academic mobility from Portugal to Europe’ from the Institute of Sociology of the University of Porto. ‘One of the reasons for emigrating is precisely the low salary level in our country’, points out João Teixeira Lopes, one of the authors.

This accounts not only for nurses but also for doctors. Medical specialists in Portugal are among the least paid in the EU and the country is located in the 6th lowest position, just above Greece, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia. In Germany and Belgium they would easily earn three times more and in the Netherlands and Ireland even four times more.

Property prices in Portugal are skyrocketing whereas household incomes are left behind. Nowadays a Portuguese citizen needs the equivalent of 11,4 years of salary to be able to buy a 100 square meter house.

According to the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), the country appears above the middle of the table, ahead of countries such as the US (4.1 years), Norway (7.8 years), and the UK (11 years) but behind Switzerland (12.6 years), Luxembourg (15.8 years) and New Zealand (18.7 years).

The CNJP ( National Committee on Justice and Peace) warns that the salary of many Portuguese workers does not allow them to overcome poverty. ’Economy, business, and work should serve people, not the opposite.

Enjoy your week          aproveite a sua semana      (pic Ptnews/Sapo)

The largest gathering of young Catholics worldwide

According to the Census of 2021, 80% of Portuguese older than 15 years adhere to the Roman Catholic faith.
World Youth Day (WYD) is a major, religious encounter between young Catholics from all over the world and the Pope taking place for the first time this year in Portugal.

This biggest event ever is to be held from 1-6 August in Lisbon and the neighboring municipality of Loures. Around 1.5 million youngsters from 180 countries are expected. To date, more than 10,000 volunteers have been registered but 20 to 30 thousand are expected. During the event, police officers will see their holidays suspended.

The WYD occurs every two or three years in a city chosen by the Pope, lasts about a week, and is both a pilgrimage and a youth festival. The event is open to everyone between 14 and 30 years. The first WYD) took place in Buenos Aires (1987) and the last in Panama (2019).

The main ceremonies take place in the Tagus Park, north of Parque das Nações, along the Tagus river. Pope Francis will arrive on the 3rd and close the event on the 6th of August with the ‘missa do envio’ (farewell mass).

There will be an altar stage constructed at the Tagus costing about 3 million euros (after the event to be used for other shows and spectacles).
The four-meter high stage will have a capacity for 1250 people (including bishops, concelebrants, choir and orchestra, sign language interpreters, and technical staff) and covers an area of 3250 square meters.

Costs are estimated at 160 million euros. Lisbon City Council is willing to invest up to 35 million (including 21,5 million for the requalification of the Tagus Park), the Government 36,5 million, and Loures up to 10 million euros. The president of the Lisbon WYD Foundation and auxiliary bishop of Lisbon Américo Aguiar declared that the Church’s investment will be at least 80 million (30 million for feeding the participants) as the Church will be responsible for the costs of everything related to the reception of pilgrims. 

The economic return on the studies carried out in relation to Madrids WYD (2011) represented an economic benefit of around 350 million euros. ‘I assume that Portugal will have an economic return of the same magnitude’, declared José Sá Fernandes, the government coordinator of the event.

Given the expected influx of participants to the week-long Catholic jamboree prices for accommodation are already skyrocketing. Hotels in Lisbon are cited as charging over 4000 euros a week, apartments in Moscavide, Loures cost 5000 a week, an apartment in Fátima 8000 a week, and a three-bedroom apartment in the nearby Parque da Nações likely to cost 2500 euros a day!

The director of the National Department of Youth, father Filipe Diniz, believes the recent report on child sexual abuse by members of the clergy will not affect the event. In fact, he went so far as to suggest that participation in WYD could ‘increase religious vocation’.

Two tons of wheat produced in the Alentejo will be transformed by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Monastery in Lisbon into millions of hosts for the Eucharistic celebrations.

Most surprising, however, is that six months from the opening hardly any construction work has begun on site.

Enjoy the week            Aproveita a semana               (pic Público/Sapo)

Lisbon is more expensive than Barcelona, Madrid, or Milan

Portugal’s property market is booming but the damage inflicted on the social fabric of the big cities is profound. Unaffordable rents and purchase prices are hitting not just those on subsistence prices and pensions, but ordinary workers and their families.

The actual situation can be traced to the 2008 debt crisis after which the country was required to deregulate in order to entice foreign investment. In 2012 the former conservative government of Passos Coelho liberalized the real estate sector. Within five years rents in Lisbon skyrocketed.

That same year the golden visa program was ushered in offering residency permits in exchange for real estate acquisitions worth 500,000 euros or more.
A separate ‘non-habitual residency scheme’ was also brought in, which gave foreign citizens, who spent half a year in the country, a 10-year tax break on income earned elsewhere. As interest from abroad began to grow, demand outstripped supply pushing house prices up and people with average income out.

Besides the golden visa program and the non-habitual residency scheme, the expansive growth of Airbnb-style short-term rentals (Alojamento Local) in the urban centers further reduced the housing supply.

Portugal is among the EU countries where housing prices almost doubled in the last decade. Between 2010 and 2022 sales prices went up by 80% while rents rose by 28%. In the eurozone increases during this period were respectively 50% and 18%. Even last year the prices of residential property in the country rose 19% , the biggest increase in 30 years.

Buying or renting a house in Lisbon these days is becoming even more expensive than in some of the main European cities. Last year the average price per square meter of houses for sale in the capital surpassed that of Madrid, Barcelona, and Milan and only in Paris and Milan is renting a house more expensive than in Lisbon.

Although the Socialist Government of António Costa recently approved a National Housing Program allocating nearly 3 billion euros – thanks to EU funding from Brussels – to reinforce the public housing stock until 2026, associations that fight for the right to housing consider that the program is not enough to solve the problem.

‘Moreover, we identified some gaps in the bill, from benefits for certain groups (rich foreigners who can buy at prices that Portuguese families cannot afford) to the exclusion of migrants and refugees’, declares Maria João Costa, on behalf of housing rights organization Habita.

For this year a slowdown in the rise of house prices is expected. According to Moody’s house prices may fall by up to 3% whereas S&P Global Ratings predicts that Portugal will be one of the European countries that will feel the most intensive fall in house prices (-4.4%) this year.

Enjoy the week                     Aproveite a semana            (pic Público/Sapo)

Has the golden visa program fulfilled its role?

The Golden Visa program in Portugal is very lucrative and at the same time much-criticized residency by-investment program for people from non-EU countries.

To obtain such a ‘golden’ permit one has to invest at least half a million euros in property, in exchange for permanent residency and unimpeded visa-free travel throughout the EU. Unlike Malta and Cyprus, Portugal doesn’t confer golden visa applicants with Portuguese citizenship i.e. passport.

Last October the Authorisation of Residence for Investment (ARI) – as the program is officially called – celebrated its 10th anniversary. The scheme is heavily criticized for some time. Both at home – for sending house prices and rents up, particularly in Lisbon – and by Brussels as it poses a risk to the security of the EU as a whole.

Since the creation of the program in 2012 a total of 11,535 residence permits have been granted, according to the Immigration and Border Service (SEF). Moreover, 18,808 residence permits have been issued to family members during those ten years.

The program has attracted 6.754 billion euros in investment by foreigners mainly from China (45%), Brazil (10%), Turkey (5%), the USA (5%), and South Africa (5%), with the bulk (over 90%) going into real estate.

Golden residence permits for foreigners in Portugal no longer make sense, according to the British journalist Oliver Bullough and author of the book ‘Butler to the World’ telling news agency Lusa: ’I can understand the golden visa program in the circumstances in which the country introduced the policy, after the financial crisis in 2012 but not why it continues because it attracts people who want to hide money or evade taxes.’

Portugal’s former Socialist Member of the European Parliament Ana Gomes, a strident voice against corruption in the country, also strongly condemns the policy. ‘Golden visas are a form of prostitution of the Schengen system that gives kleptocrats, criminals and money launderers a fast track into Europe’.

Although the Government changed the law for golden visas to redirect investments from the two largest cities (Lisbon and Porto) and the Algarve coast to rural areas early last year, the weight of foreigners on the residential market in Lisbon hasn’t decreased.

In 2022 there were 808 authorizations given for the purchase of properties. Only 61 (7,5%) were located in low-density areas and Lisbon alone concentrated almost half of the properties transacted.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa declared in November at Lisbon’s Web Summit that the country is likely to scrap its golden visa program as the 10-year-old scheme has fulfilled its role and may no longer be justified.

It will be clear, however, that the last word has not been said about a program that does make the country such easy money.

Enjoy the week                     Aproveite a semana               pic Publico/Sapo

‘Basically same place, same art, different name’

Lisbon’s Centro Cultural de Belém (CCB) – the city’s main cultural centre – is to open a new museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the MAC-CCB, in the space previously occupied by the Berardo Collection Museum.

Besides a different name, visitors won’t be noticing any change. ‘It will be possible to visit the art collection amassed by the Madeiran art impresario Joe Berardo just as it has always been’, according to Portugal’s minister of culture, Pedro Adão Silva.

The Portuguese state stepped in to safeguard access to Berardo’s vast art collection after three banks filed a lawsuit to recover debts from the businessman. The enormous collection – including works by Miró, Mondrian, and Francis Bacon – was valued in 2006 at 320 million but is worth more than twice now.

The story began in 2016 when the judicial police (PJ) started investigating an economic group financing operations with State bank CGD in 2006-2009 to a value of around 439 million euros. Berardo’s involvement in this group has been a focus for the media and the government ever since.

In 2021 he was arrested on suspicion of a multimillion fraud against State bank CGD, tax fraud and money laundering and is currently on the largest bail ever in the country (5 million). According to the PJ the group of which Berardo was a part, did not repay the loans to CGD and ‘resorted to mechanisms of renegotiation and debt-restructuring in order to avoid ever having to pay back the money’.

To date, the group has caused almost a billion euros in damages to three banks: CGD, Novo Banco, and Millennium (BCP). The impresario used the art collection as security for all three loans when in fact he doesn’t even own it.

Last year the Government started a process of the extinction of the Berardo Foundation, in better days reverted to its work in promoting arts until it became horribly clear that its patron, the 78-year-old Joe Berardo – once hailed as one of the richest men in the country and holding high honours –  was not running the foundation correctly.

In 1985 he was given the Order of the Infante by then-president Ramalho Eanes and in 2004 received the Grand Cross of the same order from president Jorge Sampaio. In the meantime, Manuela Ferreira Leite, former finance minister and president of the Council of National Orders, is working on the honours to be removed.

It is the first time the government has taken such a drastic step – i.e. extinguishing a private foundation – as the trust promoted activities outside its legal scope and used the funds for the benefit of the tycoons’ family.

MAC-CCB won’t just include the Berardo Collection but also the Elipse Collection, compiled by the corrupt BPP banker João Rendeiro, who fled the country and died last year in a South African jail.  

Enjoy the new year         Approveite o ano novo          (pics Publico/Sapo)

Consoada is free of meat, as required before Misa do Galo’

The Portuguese needed fish for religious reasons as meat consumption was forbidden during Lent and on the many fasting days in their Catholic calendar. These rules on fasting led to the tradition of eating bacalhau (cod) on Christmas Eve. The consoada is a humble meal. Salt-dried codfish – soaked for 2 to 3 days to remove most of the salt – is boiled with cabbage and potatoes, and sometimes eggs and chickpeas. Free of meat, as required before the Missa do Galo (Midnight Mass).

Portugal is the world champion in consuming cod, with 20 percent of all cod caught worldwide being eaten in the country. The fish isn’t native to Portuguese waters. The Vikings – who used to take air-dried cot on their sea voyages – probably introduced bacalhau in Portugal in search of salt. To preserve it longer the Basques went a step further by salting the fish before drying.

The preserved cod proved convenient for long intercontinental crossings to Asia and Brazil during the 16th and 17th centuries. Over the centuries, salt cod became one of the most affordable animal proteins and a popular staple food in a poor country, where it was known as the ‘meat of the poor’ and more recently ‘the faithful friend’ (o fiel amigo).

As cheap food for the masses, some of the best bacalhau recipes came out of recycling leftovers or the less prized parts of the fish, such as bacalhau à Brás (shredded cod with scrambled eggs and straw fries).

But also pataniscas de bacalhau (cod fritters), pastéis de bacalhau (cod cakes), bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (with potatoes and eggs), bacalhau com natas (cod baked with cream) and arroz de bacalhau (salt cod in rice stew).

While working as an academic researcher António Oliveira Salazar, an economist by training and future leader of the Portuguese dictatorial regime, learned that cod shortage could have a tremendous impact on society. He prioritized a continual and affordable salt cod supply and cod fishing in Newfoundland became a protected industry during his dictatorship.

The so-called ‘cod campaign’, which ran from 1934 until 1967, continued even during the Second World War. The fishing boats were painted white and allowed to pass over the northern Atlantic. When protective fishing laws were changed in 1968, many Portuguese ships stopped their activity in Newfoundland. In the early 1990s, the Canadian cod banks collapsed due to overfishing. Most bacalhau nowadays is imported from Norway and Iceland.

Enjoy the festive season       Boas Festas         (pic Público/CeliaPedroso)

Migration is a right, not a privilege’ – António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

The socialist-led government of Antonio Costawants attracts more immigrants to compensate for a declining population due to an extremely low birth rate. It moreover stimulates highly-qualified Portuguese – who have emigrated – to return to the homeland with bonuses up to 7500 euros.

According to the latest census, Portugal had at the beginning of this year 10.3 million inhabitants. Over the last ten years, the country lost 2.1% of its population as a result of a negative balance between births and deaths.
Meanwhile the number of ex-pats –nowadays over 7% of the population – increased substantially in the last ten years. Among the foreigners residing in Portugal, 80% originate from countries outside the EU.

The INE (National Institute of Statistics) reported that a total of 27,000 Portuguese emigrants regressed to their home country last year. The highest number since 2008!
Family and climate prove to be the main reasons for emigrants in Europe to return, according to the study ‘Return expectations of Portuguese residents in the EU by the Emigration Observatory.
The most important reasons given for leaving Portugal in the past were low wages, lack of career advancement, and poor social benefits.

Portugal has the second-highest naturalization rate in the EU after Sweden.
The nationalization rate is the ratio of the number of persons who acquire citizenship of a country during a year over the number of non-national residents in that same country.
The highest rates were registered in Sweden(8.6 citizenships granted per 100 non-national residents), followed by Portugal (5.5%) and the Netherlands (4.8%).

Last year civil registry offices received almost 200,000 applications for a Portuguese passport, almost double as in previous years! According to the Immigration and Border Service (SEF), Portuguese nationality was granted in 134,000 cases, mainly to Brazilians and Sephardic Jews. The former Portuguese colonies – Cape Verde, Angola and Guinea-Bissau – completed the top 5.

The Ukrainian community is now the second largest foreign resident community in Portugal behind the Brazilian. Before the Russian invasion, official figures pointed to some 27,000 Ukrainians living in Portugal.
In the meantime, this number has doubled.

But not only has there been a substantial increase in the number of foreign residents and Portuguese returning to their patria, the number of Portuguese leaving the country also declined. 70% fewer Portuguese moved in 2020 to the UK, the country’s top spot emigration destination.
‘Never since the beginning of the century has the drop in the Portuguese emigration to the UK been that high’, says Rui Pena Pires of the Emigration Observatory. A clear effect of the Covid pandemic but also of (post)Brexit.

Enjoy the week                     Boa semana                 (pic Público/Sapo)

Portugal’s best-kept secret’

Despite the fact that Portugal is European champion in bicycle production, as to physical exercise the country is at the very bottom of the league table.

The Portuguese exercise the least in Europe. Almost three quarter (73%) say they never exercise or do any kind of sport – against 45% of the Europeans – according to the Eurobarometer of Sport and Physical Activity.

At the other extreme are the Finns with over 70% admitting to exercising or playing sports at least once a week, followed by Luxembourg (63%) and the Netherlands (60%).

This low physical activity contrasts heavily with the country’s bicycle production. In 2021, 13.5 million bicycles were produced in the European Union, with Portugal leading the ranking (2.9 million). Other main bicycle producers in the EU are Romania (2.5 million) and Italy (1.9 million).

The international news channel BBC highlighted Portugal as being ‘Europe’s best-kept secret for cycling’. The bicycle industry – mainly producing for export – currently includes around 60 factories with almost 8,000 people employed. One of the advantages of domestic production is the possibility of offering EU customers much shorter supply chains than competing Asian manufacturers.

The pandemic has been the main driving force behind the industry’s continued growth. ‘Covid has brought new opportunities to the sector as it ended up encouraging healthier lifestyles across Europe, explains Gil Nadais, secretary-general of Portugal Bike Value, who expects the industry to grow between 20% and 30% this year.

Even with only a tiny fraction of the urban population using a bicycle for commuting, Fernando Chicarini, the owner of Lisbon’s oldest bicycle shop – Armazéns Airaf, founded in 1951 – is optimistic as his sales have soared 40% since the start of the pandemic.

However, one of the main problems in the country is that road safety in urban centers continues to be bad and the percentage of road fatalities in Portugal particularly high when compared to other European countries. A situation that has not significantly improved in recent years.

Those who pedal are mostly men of working age, able to face the busy car traffic. The number of women though is important because they are the ones who give the most attention to safety issues. In Lisbon, women represent a quarter of those who cycle on a daily basis, which corresponds to the EU average.

So, the challenge for the coming years will be to effectively get more Portuguese on a bike. Cycling – in addition to promoting general well-being – helps to reduce car use and air pollution. Moreover, regular cycling (45 km a week) almost halves the incidence of heart disease and cancer.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                          (pic Público/Sapo)

Environmental noise is linked to depression, anxiety, and heart disease

According to WHO, ambient noise is, after air pollution, the second biggest environmental cause of health problems. Prolonged exposure to noise provokes sleep disturbance, stress, headache, and concentration problems – eventually leading to chronic conditions such as depression, anxiety, and heart disease.

Last month the Government announced a temporary annulment of restrictions on night air traffic between 00.00 and 06.00, requested by the country’s air traffic control company between the 18th of October and 29th of November, in order to implement its new Top Sky control system. This means an extra 425 night flights in six weeks.

Environmental associations ZERO, Quercus and Geota strongly oppose this exceptional move and consider it illegitimate to sacrifice the population of Lisbon and Loures – approximately 150.000 citizens – with intolerable noise levels – of more than 65 decibels – at night.

The environmentalists state that not only is the current regime of night-time restrictions disrespected -with already 50% more night-time flights than legally established – but also that noise thresholds in the vicinity of the airport are constantly exceeded, making Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado one of the worst European airports to noise from air traffic.
Moreover, people living close to the airport are exposed to high concentrations of ultrafine nanoparticles giving rise to pulmonary problems in adults and cognitive problems in children.

For many years already, residents of downtown neighborhoods in Lisbon (i.e. Bairro Alto, Cais de Sodré, and Santos) are complaining about excessive noise in bars and on the streets.

A stricter policy from the municipality is warranted based on experiences from other European cities – such as Barcelona – where fines of up to 600 euros are given for anyone caught drinking alcohol on the streets. In the meantime, the City Council has created a noise hotline (Linha Ruido 808 910 555) to denounce rowdy gatherings, with calls going straight to the police.

Light pollution is a worldwide problem associated with a harmful impact on health (sleep disturbance) and ecosystems (migration of birds, disappearance of insects and bats). With regard to this, the tiny island of Corvo in the Azores will turn off the public lighting system at night to protect its endangered seabirds.

Portugal scores the worst in Europe regarding light pollution, both in terms of luminous flux per capita and per gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, the country uses on average four times more light than Germany or Switzerland!

But not only are we using more light, the transition to blue-white light emitted with the introduction of energy-efficient LED lamps, will further increase its negative impact on the environment.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                 (pic Público/Sapo)