Monday, March 27, 2017

Expats in UK and EU equally worried

As the formal process of removing Britain from the European Union gets underway this week, two parallel surveys highlighting expatriate concerns show consensus between respondents regardless of their nationality and whether they are living in the UK or in the remainder of the EU.
Overall, 80% of the 1,900 respondents in the surveys conducted by the interactive platform agreed that Brexit posed “a threat” for the UK.
When asked if Brexit had affected their daily life, 38% of British expatriates said it had already had a “significant” impact, while 22% said that so far it had made only a “slight” change.
The same questions put to EU expatriates living in the UK yielded similar results.
The nature of the questions in the surveys allowed respondents to express emotions. According to researchers, “an alarming number” acknowledged that the decision to leave the EU was impacting on their mental health.
Respondents spoke of stress and depression due to the unpredictable nature of the Brexit negotiations, and anxiety over how the outcome may affect their careers and the education of their children.
Around 12% of expatriates living in the UK reported experiencing or witnessing some form of racism. A further 8% revealed that they now feel unwelcome as a result of the ‘leave’ referendum.
Some people make nasty comments about me as an immigrant, accusing me of taking a job from the British,” said one respondent.
I had my car vandalised six times in the months before the vote. I was fired from my job afterwards,” said another.
They see us as second-class citizens,” insisted a futher EU national.
Some Britons abroad spoke of a change of attitude towards them, as well as a sense of embarrassment and fear over “rising nationalism in the UK.”
Beyond the survey, British government officials say they do not expect the status of expatriates to change during the negotiations over the next two years.
But Prime Minister Theresa May has made it clear that any long-term guarantees to EU nationals in Britain will depend on reciprocal arrangements with the EU member states.
There is much talk of possible complex deals but as of now no one knows if the negotiations will result in any sort of deal at all.
Former Portuguese prime minister and the previous president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso for one has warned that Brexit is on course to fail unless both Britain and the EU negotiate constructively and are willing to compromise.
Of the four million expatriates involved, it has to be said that the Brits in Portugal and Portuguese in the UK would seem to be less vulnerable than most of the others.
Despite soothing words recently from British and Portuguese officials, there are many worrying uncertainties, though it is hoped that the centuries of close alliance between Portugal and Britain will come into play in the event of a critical breakdown in the Brexit deliberations. 


Friday, March 24, 2017

Sainthood for Fátima seers

Following the announcement that two of the visionaries of Fátima, Francisco and Jacinta Marto, are soon to be canonised, hopes have been expressed that the process be accelerated to elevate the third and principle visionary, Lúcia Santos, to sainthood.
The three shepherd children claimed to have witnessed apparitions of the Virgin Mary at Fátima in 1917.
The Marto siblings are likely to be canonised during Pope Francis’ pilgrimage to Fátima on 12th-13th May, the centenary of the first of six monthly Marian apparitions.
Although theVatican has yet to reveal the timing of the canonisation, it is now much anticipated following Pope Francis’ official recognition last week of the so-called ‘Miracle of the Sun’ at Fátima in October 1917.
The Vatican has said that Pope Francis signed the recognition decree during a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The cardinals and bishops who are members of the congregation must vote to recommend their canonisation and then the Pope would convene the cardinals resident in Rome for a consistory to approve the sainthood.
Portuguese newspapers reported in in 1917 that up to 70,000 people along with Francisco, Jacinta and their older cousin Lúcia watched a spectacular lunar display at the time the children had predicted a miracle.
The Marto siblings were beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Papal approval of a miracle is required to elevate beatification to canonisation.
Francisco Marto, born in 1908 and the second youngest of the Fátima seers, died in 1919, a victim of the 1918 influenza pandemic that swept through Europe.
Jacinta Marto, who was just seven years of age in 1917, fell seriously ill in 1919 and suffered considerably before dying after an operation in a Lisbon hospital in February the following year.
Lúcia Santos, who was ten at the time of the apparitions, died in 2005 at the age of 97. All three of the seers now rest together in the basilica in the Fátima sanctuary, which will welcome hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world this centenary year.
Pope Benedict XVI decided to speed up the beatification process for Sister Lúcia in 2008. The Congregation for the Causes of Saints announced that the pope had chosen to dispense with the mandatory five-year delay usually required after the death of a nominee.
The process of beatifying had previously been considerably speeded up for Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.
Three years to the day after the death of Sister Lucia, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins at a Mass in Coimbra where she lived from 1948 until 2005, announced that Benedict XVI had decided to dispense with the missing two years.
For some, especially traditionalist Catholics long critical of the handling by successive popes of the so-called third secret of Fátima, the canonisation of Lúcia is being unnecessarily delayed and cannot come quick enough.

Amended 27 March 2017

Lúcia, Francisco and Jacinta

Friday, February 24, 2017

Plan to counter expat Brexit confusion

     A database of channels for reliable information is being assembled and will be kept up-to-date over the coming months and years by a specialist team at Cambridge University to help British expatriates cope with concerns about how Britain leaving the European Union may impact on their personal lives.
The researchers behind the project say one of their main aims is to insure that good information and advice “to prevent rash Brexit-induced decisions” by British students, families and retirees living on the continent reaches as many UK citizens abroad as possible.
They warn of a“milieu of rumour, speculation and tabloid bombast”, and also of “an information vacuum” surrounding Brexit that may be exacerbating expat insecurities, particularly among those aged over 65.
Lead researcher Dr Brendan Burchell from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology, said: “UK citizens abroad need to be empowered to make sound, informed decisions during Brexit negotiations on whether to remain in their adopted homelands or return to the UK.”
Dr Burchell added: “At the moment there is a missing link: there is no database of the conduits through which high quality information can be communicated that targets specific countries or sub-groups of UK migrants. This is what we aim to build over the coming weeks.”
The database will cover the legal status and rights of expats, including access to welfare, health and pensions, as Britain leaves the EU.
The research information will be shared with government agencies and select organisations in such a way to avoid “exploitation” by commercial and lobby organisations.
Dr Burchell notes that the interests of UK nationals potentially returning to the country from the EU have been given little consideration in Brexit debates since the June referendum.
Without access to well-grounded information that updates throughout the Brexit process, the current void will be increasingly filled with dangerous speculation and even so-called ‘fake news’ from partisan groups or those that would seek to prey upon the anxiety of UK over-65s to make quick money through lowball property sales or investment scams.”
An economist working on the project, Professor Maura Sheehan, thinks that Brexit concerns could lead to a panic domino effect in certain expatriate communities.
Housing markets in areas along the Mediterranean coast could collapse as retirees try to sell up, but with no new UK expats looking to buy. Life savings could get swept away in the confusion,” she warns.
Meanwhile there is no slack in UK social infrastructure for ageing expats returning en masse with expectations of support. The NHS has yet to emerge from its current crisis, there is a desperate shortage of housing, and social care is badly underfunded.
The idea that we could see socially isolated baby-boomer expats back in the UK with health conditions, financial woes and even ending in destitution as a result of bad decisions based on misinformation should not simply be written off as so-called ‘remoaner’ hysteria.”

Friday, February 17, 2017

Brexit angst rising alarmingly

With the triggering of article 50 and the start of the formal process of leaving the European Union just weeks away, feelings of insecurity are mounting across the EU, including among the 50,000 or more British expatriates in Portugal and four times that number of Portuguese nationals in the UK.
At the time of the in / out referendum last June, the complexities of leaving the EU were far from clear. Since then, the confusion has reached new heights.
Residency rights for the 1.2 million British expatriates throughout mainland Europe, as well as the 2.8 million EU citizens all over Britain, will remain the same while the negotiations continue, probably for the next two years. But what then? Nobody knows.
A recent pan-European survey among British expatriates found a very high level of concern, mainly about losing their automatic rights to reside and work, freedom of movement, and continued access to healthcare and pension benefits.
Ongoing worries include the fall in the Pound and speculation that it could fall further. This is of particular concern to expatriates and foreign property owners relying on incomes or pensions in Sterling.
Worrying to immigrants in Britain, including in Portuguese communities, are the spiralling numbers of anti-foreigner hate crimes since the referendum reported by three-quarters of the police forces across the country.
Brexit belligerence in high political circles significantly heated up this week because of the British government’s refusal to assure EU nationals they will be permitted to stay in the country after Brexit.
The British Home Office’s stated position on the matter is that the government wants “to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the only circumstances in which that wouldn't be possible is if British citizens' rights in European member states were not protected in return.”
Doubts took a turn for the worse this week when an internal document prepared by the European parliament’s legal affairs committee was leaked. It warned that Britons abroad could face “a backlash”.
The document noted that the attitude of member states’ may be coloured by the fact that it is presently difficult for foreign citizens in Britain, even if married to UK nationals or born in the UK, to acquire permanent residency cards.
Since the referendum, there has been a massive increase in the number of EU citizens applying for permanent residency.
Those applying say they have to complete an 85-page form requiring many files of documentation, including tax statements dating back for five years, plus historical utility bills and a diary of all the occasions they have left the country since settling in the UK. Some applicants have reportedly received letters inviting them to prepare to leave the country after failing to tick a box on a form.
Opposition politicians in Britain have condemned Prime Minister Theresa May for failing to give an unequivocal guarantee that EU nationals can continue to stay in Britain.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of “playing political games with people’s lives”. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron says Prime Minister May has been caught “playing with fie”.
Caroline Lucas, a co-leader of the Green party, said any further delay in giving EU nationals a guaranteed right to stay would be “unforgivable”.
A Dutch MEP, Sophie in ´t Veld, who is leading a European parliament task force investigating the residency issue, said the UK government had acted “immorally” in failing to offer security to those who had made Britain their home.
The leaked legal affairs committee document hints at possible revenge as it will be down to each EU member state to decide whether British expatriates are allowed to carry on living as before within their adopted countries after Brexit.
The upshot of all this is that a great many people in the British Isles and in mainland Europe are faced with agonising uncertainty about their homes, their jobs and the future of their families.
With Portugal and Britain’s long history of bilateral friendship and co-operation, does it make any social or economic sense for either country to discourage compatible residency and working arrangements?
On a grander scale, does it really make sense to proceed with the so-called “will of the British people”? It is glaringly obvious that the “leave” voters did not fully understand what Brexit would involve – and still don’t.
With this in mind, former prime minister Tony Blair has controversially stepped into the fray. He is calling for a U-turn.
He said: “The people voted without knowledge of the true terms of Brexit. As these terms become clear, it is their right to change their mind. Our mission is to persuade them to do so.”

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The right man at the right time

    As we raise glasses to the notion of peace and goodwill on Earth, more realistic hopes are centred on Portugal’s António Guterres who takes office as United Nations Secretary-General on New Year’s Day. 
One of the few things top leaders across this bitterly divided world seem to agree on is that Guterres is the best man for the herculean task of curbing warfare, deprivation and poverty.
On accepting the world’s toughest diplomatic job, Guterres this month laid out his priorities.
My main goal is to play a contributing, non-partisan and positive role in solving regional and international crises, to relieve as much as it is possible the pains and sufferings of human beings across the globe.”
Given the on-going conflicts across the Middle East, the political turmoil in Europe and concerns everywhere about Donald Trump becoming President of the United States, Lisbon-born Guterres needs all the support he can get.
Among the first of the well-wishers was Russia’s Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin who said Guterres was obviously the best choice for the job. Promoting greater cooperation between Russia and the United States is one of Guterres’ key aims.
Chinese President Xi Jinping extended a warm welcome to Guterres on meeting him in Beijing and strongly praised the UN as “the most universal, representative and authoritive intergovernmental organisation.” Among other things, the president and Guterres were united in furthering the Paris agreement on climate change
Iran’s permanent chief representative at the UN, Gholamali Khoshroo, has assured Guterres that “the Islamic Republic of Iran will not spare any efforts in cooperating with the UN for spreading peace and stability in the region.”
Other ambassadors at the UN headquarters in New York have emphasised their hopes of a resumption of dialogue and de-escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan, and between the Israelis and Palestinians.
In discussions with Guterres in her capacity as Chairperson for Landlocked Developing Countries, Zambia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Dr Mwaba Kasese-Bota has urged the new UN chief to mobilise support and global partnerships towards addressing the special needs of the least advanced countries.
After a meeting with Guterres in the White House, outgoing President Barack Obama spoke of his confidence in the new secretary-general and praised his “extraordinary reputation.”
Although a familiar figure in high political and diplomatic circles, Guterres is still not well known among ordinary folk in the world at large.
A brilliant student, he graduated in Lisbon in 1971 in physics and electrical engineering. Having embarked on an academic career, he joined the Portuguese Socialist Party after the 1974 ‘Carnation Revolution’ and switched to full-time politics. He was Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002.
From 2005 he served for ten years as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, heading an organisation that towards the end of his tenure had a staff of more than 10,000 working in 126 countries, providing help to more than 60 million people in desperate need.
Guterres is recognised not only as a man of true grit, but also of great integrity and humility. Originally inspired by the “shock” he experienced as a student volunteer working in the slums of Lisbon, he said that as High Commissioner he felt “privileged”to have contributed to “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.”
Now aged 67 and a devout Catholic who speaks fluent English, French and Spanish, Guterres is heading into the unknown as a uniquely-placed bridge-builder and peacemaker.
The outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry perhaps summed it up best when he said of the new secretary-general: “he is the right man at the right time.”
This time last year a major news organisation ran the headline: “Europe's Year From Hell — and 2016 Could Be Even Worse.”
How right that was.
The same could be said today, not only about Europe but the whole world in 2017.
Let’s hope António Guterres can help prove us wrong.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Climate change: blowing hot and cold

The proclamation at the end of last week’s United Nations climate change conference in Morocco was rather wordy, but the central point was clear: “Our climate is warming at an alarming and unprecedented rate and we have an urgent duty to respond.”
What is not clear is where do efforts to curb global warming go from here, now that Donald Trump has been elected leader of the free world?
Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa was among the delegates from almost 200 countries who gathered in Marrakesh to push ahead with the Paris Climate Agreement adopted at the end of last year.
The gist of the Paris agreement is a commitment to keeping the rise in global temperatures to below 2 ºC, and if possible 1.5ºC, above pre-industrial levels. This envisages a carbon-neutral world sometime this century, with the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity limited to the levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally.
The majority of scientists have long been saying that failure to move away from fossil fuels and restrain escalating temperatures is likely to have “catastrophic” consequences. In Portugal, for example, this is predicted to include rising sea levels that swamp coastal towns and desertification that cripples the tourist industry and agriculture.
Portugal has ratified the agreement along with most other countries and Prime Minister Costa has expressed solidarity with its aims and terms.
The latest Climate Change Performance Index compiled by German Watch and the European Climate Action Network puts Portugal in the top ten countries in the world fighting global warming.
The International Energy Agency, a Paris-based intergovernmental organisation established in the framework of the OECD, states in its 2016 review that in recent years “Portugal has continued to develop and reform its economic policy. This has meant rapid increases in renewable energy deployment, further market liberalisation in the electricity and natural gas sectors and greater emphasis on energy efficiency in policy making.”
Despite the accolades, activist groups in Portugal are continuing to press the present government to scrap prospecting licences granted by the previous administration and rule out any future offshore or onshore exploration for oil or gas.
Offshore concessions threaten normal activities along the entire coastline of mainland Portugal, say campaigners. Exploration on land also pose intolerable risks.
The campaigners argue that it simply makes no sense to continue to prospect for oil and gas if Portugal intends to meet the terms of the Paris agreement.
Although ratified by the majority of signatories, the Paris agreement, the culmination of 25 years of complex negotiations, seems now in jeopardy. Having described global warming as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, President-elect Donald Trump has named a long-time climate change sceptic and spokesperson for the fossil fuel industry, Myron Ebella, to take over as head of the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Trump promised that within 100 days of taking office he would cancel the Paris agreement and “stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programmes.”
Then on Tuesday this week he confounded everyone yet again. In conversation in the offices of the New York Times he conceded “some connectivity” between human activity and climate change.
Asked by journalists if he still intended to pull out of the Paris agreement, he said he had “an open mind to it.” and that he was “looking at it very closely.”
Should he go back to his original ‘promise’, it is hard to see how the Paris agreement could effectively work to its given timetable. America is second only to China among the planet’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters.
One positive that anti-fossil fuels campaigners take from all this is that Trump’s approval of coal mining and oil and gas extraction is backfiring. Increasing numbers of US citizens are reportedly joining environmental groups and there is speculation that Trump could inspire a whole new generation of climate activists.
The same will surely happen in Portugal if the government does not stop all fossil fuel prospecting in this country.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Full moon madness across the world

     Viewed from this relatively calm corner of the European continent, it seems as though the world is collapsing in an unprecedented period of political turmoil.
On Donald Trump’s election victory, top Portuguese model Sara Sampaio expressed the shock of many when she tweeted: “Brexit and now this! Wow the world has gone bananas.”
Okay, what’s going on is not funny but many people find it hard to get their heads around this combination of confusion and chaos.
The new superman of the western world and his counterpart in the east began by exchanging pleasantries rather than insults. The honeymoon between Trump and Putin is good news for Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. Bad news for ISIS. Bad news too for NATO of which Portugal is a founder member and in terms of military strength currently rated at 17th out of the active 26 allied countries.
Trump has declared that NATO is “obsolete.” Without mentioning the supposedly sacrosanct ‘attack on one is an attack on all’ pledge, or that NATO fully came to the aid of the US following the 9/11 attacks, Trump has said that America may refuse to help any of its NATO allies unless they “pay their bills” and “fulfil their obligations to us.”
A spokesman for the Russian president took the opportunity to suggest that Trump begin rebuilding bridges between the two superpowers by telling NATO forces to withdraw from the Russian border.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg immediately warned: “We face the greatest challenges to our security in a generation. This is no time to question the value of the partnership between Europe and the United States.”
Military bands proudly played 'Rule Britannia' on Remembrance Sunday ceremonies in Great Britain even though Britannia clearly no longer rules the waves. A flotilla of Russia warships had provided a provocativel reminder of that by sailing majestically through the English Channel en route to Syria on 21st October, the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Meanwhile, the partnership between the European Union and the United Kingdom continues to crumble with no coherent plan in sight. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has been accused of adding to the chaos.
During a recent spat with Johnson , an Italian economics minister, Carlo Calenda, said: “Somebody needs to tell us something, and it needs to be something that makes sense. You can’t say that it’s sensible to say we want access to the single market but no free circulation of people. It’s obvious that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
Post-Brexit Britain is suddenly looking out of step with its “closest ally” too, though stories emerged this week that Prime Minister May is planning a Trump “charm offensive.”
While the presidential transition process is said to be in chaos and anti-Trump protests continue across a bitterly divided America, anger over traditional politics, austerity, high levels of unemployment and mass immigration are bubbling up across Europe.
Next month’s presidential election in Austria could see Norbert Hofer installed as Western Europe's first freely elected far-right head of state since World War II.
Geret Wilders, leader of the anti-immigration and Eurosceptic Dutch Freedom Party who has been campaigning against the “Islamisation of the Netherlands”, may be able to form a government after the Dutch general election in March.
Marine Le Penn, the self-proclaimed ‘Madame Frexit’ and leader of France’s far-right National Front, stands a good chance of following in Trump’s footsteps and winning a sensational victory in the French presidential election next April and May.
All eyes will then turn to campaigning for September’s local elections and October’s national elections in Germany. Angela Merkel’s popularity has been punctured by her highly controversial immigration policy and she has yet to announce if she will stand for another term as chancellor. Her Christian Democrat party will be severely challenged by growing support from Germany’s anti-Muslim AfD party.
October’s general election in the Czech Republic is forecast to present a tough battle for Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka and his centre-left Social Democrats in the face of voter distrust and anti-EU protesters.
Ten shambolic months during which Spain was without a properly functioning administration were finally sorted at the end of last month when the conservative prime minister Mariano Rajoy was elected to a second term of office leading a minority government.
The first foreign leader to congratulate Rajoy in Madrid was another minority leader, Portugal’s socialist prime minister António Costa who relies on support from anti-EU and anti-NATO far left parties.
The two leaders seemed like the best of friendly neighbours and promised further bilateral summit meetings, the next in Portugal preceded by a cruise from Spain down the Duroro.
That this week’s meeting between Rajoy and Costa was held on Monday without a hint of madness when the supermoon was at its fullest perhaps augurs well for Iberia if not the rest of the world. 
  Supermoon over Monsaraz, Portugal.

In step left and right, Portuguese and Spanish prime ministers