Treaty

Last month marked the 650th anniversary of the Treaty of Tagilde, which led to the formation of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance – the oldest alliance in the world still in force. Only a small stone memorial in Tagilde (Vizela), reminds us that more than six centuries ago the northern village in the Braga district was the site of a historic pact, signed at its church of São Salvador on July 10, 1372.

Its importance was underscored when the Portuguese prime minister António Costa recently met Boris Johnson to sign an agreement on foreign policy, education, security, and trade.

They inspected the original version of the treaty – which had been moved to Downing Street for the occasion by the National Archives – and commemorated the alliance that has not only survived world wars, the rise and fall of empires, and decolonization but also promoted pleasures such as port and tea.

It all started with an English claim for the throne of Castile, Portugal’s old foe.
That is not absurd as it sounds as England had large possessions in the southwest of France that bordered Castile.

The treaty was signed by King Ferdinand I of Portugal and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and third son of the English King Edward III. The document is written in the original Castilian language to reflect John’s claim to the Castilian throne.
The Anglo-Portuguese Alliance agreed that both England and Portugal would wage war against Castile on two fronts; the English on the north and the Portuguese on the west. In 1385, the Portuguese army, with help from English archers, defeated Castilian forces in the Battle of Aljubarrota.

More than three centuries later, Catherine of Braganza, daughter of King John IV of Portugal married King Charles II of England in 1662 to become queen.
She helped to popularise tea in England and supported the Methuen treaty in 1703, which bolstered the port trade. She is also said to have made popular orange marmalade and the use of the fork.

To end with, the alliance played an important role in World War II when Britain was given facilities in the Azores to help in the Battle of the Atlantic against German submarines. But it also survived difficult times such as the 1890 British Ultimatum, which forced the retreat of Portuguese forces from areas in Africa that had been claimed by Portugal but occupied by Britain.

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Oceans

That the sea unites, no longer separates’ – Fernando Pessoa

Nearly 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged into the sea without treatment, and plastic makes up 85% of marine litter. Today 11 to 12 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year. If nothing is done this number will double in 2030.


According to the scientific journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), more than 8 million tons of plastic are associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, of which a large amount ended up in the sea.





Between 1946 and 1993, the oceans were abused as a nuclear waste dump. The US government conceded to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) that up until 1970, the country had disposed of 90,000 barrels at different locations in the Pacific and North Atlantic. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the USSR admitted to IAEA that in Soviet times, around 1,9000,000 cubic meters of nuclear waste disappeared in the Arctic Sea and almost 150,000 cubic meters went into the Pacific Ocean and Baltic Sea.




Nobody was able to provide exact numbers for the amount of radioactive waste that was dumped. Protests by Greenpeace finally brought about change and in 1994 all countries that had previously used the oceans as a nuclear dump signed a moratorium that still stands today.


However, the metal barrels were not designed to ensure a permanent containment of radioactivity at depths of several thousand meters and there is proof of burst barrels and contamination of seawater.





Speaking at the opening of the 2nd UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon – hosted by Portugal and Kenya and attended by more than 7000 people from 142 countries – secretary general António Guterres said that ‘we cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean’ and that the ‘egoism of nations is hampering efforts to agree on a long-awaited treaty to protect the world’s oceans’. Of the 64% of the high seas that lie beyond territorial limits, only 1,2% are currently protected.




Portuguese PM António Costa committed to classifying 30% of the country’s marine areas by 2030 and to recognize the oceans as a source of decarbonization and energy autonomy. In this regard, he wants to reach a 10-gigawatt capacity for renewable ocean energies by 2030.
‘I hope – he said – this Lisbon Conference will be a milestone in humanity’s reunion with the oceans’.

One of the most salutary interventions, however, came from a Brazilian biologist, who stressed ‘the world’s seas are sick because society is sick’.


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Transition

‘Two-thirds of our electricity comes from renewable sources’

Portugal has ‘decarbonized’ from burning coal. In January 2021 the coal-fired power plant located in Sines was closed and the power plant in Pego (Abrantes) shut down in November. However, according to the tabloid Correio da Manhã, both companies continue to produce electricity from the burning of coal in Spain, from where it is imported into Portugal.


Two-thirds of the electricity in Portugal nowadays comes from renewable sources: hydroelectric(28%), wind (24%), solar (8%), and biomass (7%).

The country’s current photovoltaic solar capacity of 1775 megawatts (MW) was increased by 700 MW last year, the biggest increase ever. In wind energy, 2021 was also an excellent year with 126 MW more wind power than in the previous year.


Portugal’s largest solar power plant was inaugurated in the mountainous terrain of the Serra do Caldeirão in Alcoutim (Eastern Algarve). The 660,000 panels generate enough electricity (220 megawatts) to power 200.000 homes.



Europe’s largest floating solar power plant in a hydroelectric dam – located in the Alqueva reservoir – will start operating next month. The 12,000 floating solar panels – with a size of four soccer fields – have a capacity of 5 MW.

In the Atlantic – 20 kilometres off the coast of Viana do Castelo – there are three giant wind turbines. One of them – 190 metres high – is the tallest in the world. They are set on floating platforms attached with 40 metres long chains to the seabed and in operation since 2020. The turbines are capable of supplying around 60.000 homes with electricity every year.


In March the government approved the acquisition of 10 electric ferries, connecting Lisbon with Seixal, Montijo, Cacilhas and Trafaria across the Tagus river. With these vessels, the shipping company saves around 5.3 million litres of diesel corresponding to an emission of 13 thousand tons of CO2.

The port of Sines will be the stage for a mega-investment of 1.3 billion euros in green hydrogen and ammonia to be produced from renewable sources. The hydrogen (H2) project will install an electrolysis capacity of 500 MW allowing an annual production of 70 thousand tons of green hydrogen. The ammonia project combines green hydrogen and nitrogen to produce green ammonia, an essential component for the fertilizer industry.


Portugal’s first lithium refinery will be sited in Setúbal. The production – with an initial capacity of 30,000 tonnes of lithium per year, enough to create batteries for 700,000 electric vehicles – will start by the end of 2025.

‘Energy powering of the plant will be green’ – stated the Portuguese Galp consortium – ‘minimising dependency on natural gas’. Nothing in GALP’s statement, however, refers to the fierce opposition in the Portuguese communities, that have been earmarked for lithium mining!



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Waste


Eurostat reports that the production of urban waste in the EU is increasing every year. Portuguese nationals each produce an average of 514 kgs of urban waste. That is just above the European average of 505 kgs but below major consumers like Denmark (845 kg) and Luxembourg (790 kg).


On the 17th of May – World Recycling Day – the country didn’t look good, say environmentalists pointing to an excessive failure in the recycling of waste.


In 2020 only 16,1% of municipal waste (8,9% from plastic, paper, glass, and metals; 7,2 % from organic material) was sent for recycling, a long way from the goal set, according to the environmental NGO Zero. This recycling rate even decreased compared to 2019 – when recycling reached 21% – and is far from the EU target of 55% set for 2025.


The same poor result is seen with electronic waste. Only 15 % was collected, less than a quarter of the target! The picture only improved a little for batteries – with 29% collected against a target of 45%.

Zero adds that the drop in the recycling rate ‘contradicts the official line that in a pandemic year there would have been widespread compliance with recycling practices’.

The NGO further believes that the continued focus on selective collection through Eco points (recycling points) – instead of door-to-door collection – explains the stagnation of the recycling rate throughout the years.
There are now a total of 70.000 Eco points compared to 45,000 in 2019.  


The good news, however, is the transformation of waste into hydrogen, which subsequently can be used for public transport and waste collection vehicles.

In November last year the municipality of Cascais – in cooperation with the Portuguese companies Floating Particle (‘technology’) and IPIAC (‘machinery’) started with the installation of a production unit capable of converting 50 tonnes of household waste into 5 tonnes of hydrogen per year.


By investing in this technology with two hundred thousand euros, the municipality is contributing locally to solving two urgent environmental problems.  The management of household waste (eliminating transport costs and the use of landfills) and the use of fossil fuel energies, which are highly polluting and – since the war in Ukraine – increasingly expensive.


The unit – called Stella – is located in the parish of Alcabideche and will only need household waste –plastic, paper, and organic material but not glass or metals – air and a small amount of water, being self-sufficient in terms of energy.


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Russiagate

‘This is almost wartime spying’

According to the Portuguese newspaper Expresso, Russians infiltrated the refugee support office of the communist-led municipality of Setúbal. Exhausted Ukrainians fleeing the war were welcomed in Russian and said to be asked questions like ‘where is your husband’ and ‘what is he doing in Ukraine’.


The two Russian nationals are Yulia Khashina and her husband Igor Khashin. Yulia is employed by the town council, her husband not. Yet it is Igor who appears to have been registering personal details of around 160 refugees on the computer in the office.


SIC television news revealed that Edinstvo (the Immigrants association of Eastern European countries) – headed by Igor Khashin – has benefitted 90,000 euros from the town council of Setubal over the last three years.


Early in April, Igor Khashin was also one of the names highlighted by Inna Ohnivets – the Ukrainian ambassador in Portugal – who alerted the media of the risk of espionage in allowing Russians receiving refugees who – in Igor Khashin’s case – are known to have close links to the Russian embassy.


According to Expresso, the 47-year-old Khashin has represented Portugal in Moscow at a world congress of Russian compatriots, where he signed a declaration agreeing with the annexation of Crimea and considering Ukraine’s Maidan revolution to be a coup d’etat.


The town council and its communist mayor Andre Martins, however, deny any irregularity in the registration of personal documents or that confidentiality is broken. Nevertheless, the council removed its Russian employee Yulia from processing incoming refugees until the controversy has been unequivocally settled and called for a full investigation by the Ministry of Interior.


The problem with this story is, that it is set against the PCP’s
(Portuguese Communist Party) support of Russia and its strong negative feelings towards Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.


Pavlo Sadokha – president of the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal – told CNN Portugal that the infiltration of pro-Putin Russians in NGOs, that support Ukranian war refugees, is not confined to Setúbal; similar reports are also coming out of Aveiro, Montijo, Gondomar, and Albufeira.


This controversy seems to be much more serious than the Russia-related data protection fiasco uncovered in Lisbon last year for which the Lisbon City Council was fined 1.2 million euros. At that time the council had been supplying the Russian embassy – targeted by demonstrations – with the names and contacts of the three dissidents behind the events.


‘In that case, the issue was administrative failing (albeit very serious)’ – says SIC political commentator Luis Marques Mendes – ‘this time it is almost wartime spying’.


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May5

The language in which the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner José Saramago wrote, the Cape Verdean Cesária Évora sang, the Brazilian Chico Barque used to sing and the Mozambican Mia Couto continues to write.

In 2019, UNESCO officially proclaimed May 5th as ‘World Portuguese Language Day. With more than 260 million speakers over five continents (200 million in Brazil only), Portuguese ranks fifth – after Chinese, English, Spanish, and Hindustani – among world languages in number of native speakers.


It is also the fifth most used language on the Internet and the fourth most used on Facebook.
Portuguese can still be heard on the streets in Goa (India), Malacca (Malaysia), and Macau (China) as a reminder of the Portuguese Discoveries in the 15th century.
Someone who speaks Portuguese is called a Lusophone.


Spoken by 3,7% of the world population, Portuguese is the official language of the nine member countries of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP) – comprising Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, São Tomé Príncipe and Timor East – an intergovernmental organization created in 1996.

Mainly due to the expected population growth in Africa, the United Nations estimates that in less than 30 years, the Portuguese language is to be spoken by some 400 million speakers worldwide. 


Originating from Latin – from which it involved into Galician-Portuguese – the language that would become Portuguese, began to be spoken in the Northwest Iberian Peninsula around the 6th century. From the 11th century onwards it expanded with the Christian reconquest to the South, at the same time influenced by Arabic from which many words derive. Especially the ones beginning with ‘al’ – like aldeia (village), alfândega (customs), or almofada (pillow).

The testament of the country’s third king Dom Afonso II – dated June 17, 1214 – is considered to be the oldest written text in Portuguese.
It marks the beginning of the period of ancient Portuguese that would last until the publication in 1572 of the first book in modern Portuguese, The Lusiads, Portugal’s national epic by Luis Camões.


Unlike English, Portuguese is binary, meaning that it only contains masculine and feminine gender in its words. Adjectives vary in gender, as do the articles that precede them.
The verb conjugation in Portuguese is usually classified as irregular, and for each person, a different verb conjugation is used.


The Portuguese of Brazil differs from that of Portugal. At the initiative of Brazil the last orthographic reform – aiming to unify the way of writing in all CPLP countries – was made mandatory in 2010, as the simplified spelling was still far from being applied everywhere, especially in Portugal.  



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Poor


‘Portugal is becoming a country of minimum wages’

Joana Gonçalves is 47 years old and works for 20 years as an operating assistant at the same hospital. Last year she earned 665 euros per month, just as much as the minimum wage. Deducting € 103,08 for Social Security and adding a food allowance of € 81.09, her net salary was 643,01 euros. Fifteen years ago Ana earned € 580, while the minimum wage was 430 euros. In the meantime, salaries have been frozen as a result of austerity measures while minimum wages increased. Her daughter Maria had to drop out of university because Joana had no longer money to support her. Maria is now cleaning in a supermarket.


Minimum wages in the EU member states range from € 332 per month in Bulgaria to  € 2257 euros in Luxembourg. Since the Socialist Government of António Costa seized power in 2015, the minimum wage has increased by 40% to € 705 this year. Average salaries, however, have only increased 10% during the same period.




‘This neglect to update the salaries of more qualified workers has caused strong distortions in the country. Nowadays more and more workers receive a salary very close to the minimum wage’, says economist Eugénio Rosa, advisor to the Confederation of Portuguese Workers (CGTP). ‘Portugal is transforming into a country of minimum wages’.


The IEFP (Institute of Employment and Professional Training) proves the point. Of the 150 job vacancies on its site – aimed at civil engineers, electro technicians, mechanics, etc – the majority of salaries offered vary between €750 and €1000.


‘But it’s anything but easy to get out of this trap’, explains Fernando Alexandre, professor at the School of Economics from the University of Minho in Braga.


‘Not only is our minimum wage one of the lowest in Europe, our country was last year one of the EU countries with the lowest Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, the country’s wealth-producing capacity per worker. Only Bulgaria was doing worse’.  


To make matters worse, the pandemic has condemned hundreds of thousands of Portuguese into poverty. These ‘new poor’ are almost all people who already earned a minimum wage – or even less – before the pandemic. Workers in the tourism sector, restaurants, and hospitality were most hit by the restrictions to contain the pandemic. Women – especially the elderly – are among the most affected.


The bottom line is that today one in five Portuguese is at risk of poverty. In children, the risk is even greater (22%). Food banks have become indispensable. There are more than 2000 institutions – parishes and councils identifying the populations’ needs – which have partnerships with the 21 food banks that are feeding approximately 450.000 persons (4% of the population).



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Youngsters

One in three is simply not happy

Although the number of students in higher education has expanded over the last decades, strong social inequalities – in terms of access and dropout rates – persist in Portugal. Even after graduation, the poorest students continue to face a greater risk of unemployment.


These are the main conclusions of the study National and international students in access to higher education carried out by the Belmiro de Azevedo Foundation and published in the daily Público.


Students from a poor socio-economic background are at a disadvantage in accessing higher education and are more likely to attend a polytechnic than a university.

Another alarming finding was that the less favoured the socio-economic context of the students is, the higher the dropout rate. Lack of money is the principal reason here.
Contributions of families to the cost of studies are high in Portugal (32% vs 14% in the average EU member state).


In addition, grants are only awarded to students whose per capita family income is close to the minimum wage. This places many low-income students in a situation of non-eligibility for grants. In fact, last year more than 70% of scholarship applications were not approved.


Another survey amongst youngsters – entitled Young people in Portugal – carried out by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation and published in the newspaper Expresso, highlights the persistence of low wages and precariousness among Portuguese youth aged 16-34.



Despite the fact that many young people have reached high levels of education, they are profoundly disappointed in finding a secure job with a decent salary. Almost three out of four, receive less than 950 euros per month. A third intend to emigrate. Most still live with their parents and half of those who work, have unstable contracts.
Of the 14% who are unemployed, one in three lost their job during the pandemic.


Psychological well-being is another area on which this survey focuses, with almost one out of four respondents confessing they have been prescribed anxiolytics or antidepressants. Over 15% admit to taking sleeping pills and two out of three feel under considerable social pressure to be successful in their studies or at work.




More than 40% confess to having suffered bullying and/or violence at school, work, or in intimate relationships. Most of these victims are women, a third are men. Roughly half of the Portuguese youngsters consider life to be below their expectations. A third simply say they are not happy!



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Flag


Historically, flags were used for identification in battles.
The oldest national flag is Denmark’s 13th-century flag with its white cross on a red background. The legend goes that it was sent from Heaven to help the army during the Battle of Lyndanisse in 1219.
It inspired the cross design of the other Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.


Most national flags portray the country’s history, beliefs, and strengths. They are used to show unity and pride, clearly evident during a state visit or international sports events.
 

The color red represents struggle, courage, and bloodshed whereas green depicts prosperity, hope, and agriculture. White signifies peace, purity, and harmony while blue is for good fortune, determination and liberation. Orange stands for sacrifice, courage, and selflessness, and yellow for wealth and energy. 


Portugal’s flag (Bandeira de Portugal) has evolved since the Kingdom of Portugal was formed in 1139.
After the Republican revolution in 1910, the royal colors blue and white and the crown – symbols of the monarchy – had to be substituted.




The painter Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro – brother of the famous ceramist Rafael Bordalo – was tasked with the new design. He chose the colors of the Portuguese Republican Party, representing the hope of the nation (green) and the blood of those defending it (red).



The country’s coat of arms in the center remained as it had been present on most of Portugal’s preceding flags. The five blue emblems on the shield – displayed as a Christian cross – are a reminder of the five Moorish kings (from Seville, Badajoz, Elvas, Evora, and Beja) defeated by Portugal’s first king Afonso Henriques in the 1139 Battle of Ourique.



The five white coins within each emblem represent Christ’s five crucifixion wounds. The seven castles around the emblems symbolize the enemy fortresses  King Afonso captured during the conquest of Portugal’s most southern part – the Algarve – in 1249.  



The flag of the Netherlands is the oldest tricolor. As a state flag, it first appeared around 1572 in orange, white, and blue as used by Prince William of Orange but from 1630 the red-white-blue version became the national symbol. The Dutch tricolor has inspired many flags most notably those of Russia, New York City (New Amsterdam), and Slavic states such as Slovakia, Serbia, and Slovenia.



The best-known flag in the world today is probably the Ukrainian blue and yellow bicolor. The blue on top represents the sky and the yellow stripe stands for fertile land. It was officially adopted as a state flag after World War I by the Ukrainian People’s Republic, outlawed when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union, and restored in September 1991, following Ukrainian independence.
The Uranian flag, not only stands for national pride and sovereignty but also for international solidarity with its people.



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Drought

Drought is the ‘new normal’ in Portugal


Portugal has been ravaged by extreme drought. Since October there has been hardly any precipitation and in February it rained only 7% of normal. Drought not only compromises agriculture and livestock but lack of vegetation will also lead to an increase in CO2, wildfires, poverty, and emigration.


The Government announced that 95% of the territory – i.e. over 260 municipalities – is in severe drought, 66% even in extreme drought. Lack of rain and global warming are the main culprits. Water-saving restrictions are expected.



Dams are only half full and hydroelectric power decreased by almost 30% in the first two months of this year – compared to the same period in 2021 – whereas wind energy went down by more than 20%. Forecasts do not point to recovery to normal water levels by the end of September. It is the worst year for renewable energies in the last decade, the newspaper Jornal de Notícias reported.


Dams and reservoirs in the Algarve have enough water for human consumption in the event it doesn’t rain for two years, stated Antonio Pina, president of the Algarve Municipalities Association. At the same time, the use of water for irrigation of green spaces, golf, and agriculture is going to be limited.


Local districts have already submitted applications of 14 million euro’s to Portugal’s Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRP) – created by the European Council  – to fight water deficits.


Periods of drought are common and cyclical in the country. The Drought Observatory from the IPMA (Portuguese Institute of Sea and Atmosphere) recorded 12 significant drought episodes – often extending more than one year – over the last 75 years and concludes that there is a greater incidence of drought from the mid-1990s onwards.


The National Irrigation Federation (Fenareg) confirms that drought episodes in the last 30 years have been more frequent and more intense and highlights that the regions south of the Tagus (Alentejo, Algarve) are the most affected.



Some of the episodes stand out for their duration and intensity. The six most severe and longest occurred in 1943-46 / 1980-81 / 1990-92 / 2004-2006 / 2011-2012, and 2015-2018.
The 2004-6 drought was the most extensive (100% affected territory) and intense (i.e. consecutive months of severe drought).



In order for the drought to decrease, precipitation between March and May has to be much higher than normal, a situation that only occurs once every five to seven years. The question remains therefore whether the country – despite some recovery in the rainfall this month- will experience in 2022 the worst drought ever after an unusually dry and warm winter.

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