Thursday, February 4, 2016

Portugal is against Brexit

Portugal wants Britain to stay in the European Union, but while the new Socialist government will listen to Prime Minister David Cameron’s requests for EU reforms, certain demands would be beyond the pale.
Our position is very simple,” said Portugal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augusto Santos Silva, this week. “We will do everything in our power so that the UK remains in the EU.”
However, the foreign minister rejected any accommodation that “called into question fundamental values” such as freedom of movement and non-discrimination.  
The Socialist government’s attitude to the possibility of a Brexit is much the same as that of the previous centre-right administration. The subject did not figure in debates during the run-up to the inconclusive October general election.
After meeting Cameron in Lisbon in September, former Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said he agreed that the EU needed modernising but that its core principles must be kept intact.
Ironically, it is conceivable that the EU could indirectly bring about the downfall of the minority Socialist government. Although the Socialists have started to introduce a raft of anti-austerity measures, the far-left parties on whom they depend for power are out of step on some fundamental European issues.
The Communist Party wants Portugal out of the EU altogether. The Left Bloc is less radical but still eurosceptical and aligned with Greece’s Syriza.
While Portugal and Britain have had an alliance spanning more than six centuries, they have some key differences on modern Europe. The most obvious is that unlike the UK, Portugal is a member of the Eurozone and of the Schengen open borders agreement. Most Portuguese believe their economic future lies within the single market.
Opinions on whether the UK should stay or go vary considerably among Portuguese citizens and also among British residents in this country.
Prime Minister Cameron has set out a draft deal encompassing “substantial change” that would include an ‘emergency brake’ on migrant benefits. Exit campaigners say it does not come close to what he had earlier promised.
The proposed reforms will be debated at a crunch EU summit later this month. Depending on the outcome, Britain’s ‘in / out’ referendum could be as early as this June.
Support for Brexit is growing in the UK, with 42% of those polled wanting to leave the union, according to the latest YouGov poll.
A separate study commissioned by the Daily Mail last Friday showed a surge in support for continued membership, with 54% wanting to stay in, 36% wanting to leave and 10% undecided.
British citizens living in Portugal are in two minds about the possibility of their homeland leaving, but those who have lived abroad for less than 15 years will be eligible to have their say in the upcoming referendum.
Expats are being strongly encouraged to register to vote. The British Ambassador to Lisbon, Kirsty Hayes, has been raising awareness of the Overseas Voters Registration campaign launched by the Electoral Commission in the UK. Ambassadors in other European countries have been doing the same. Registering online is a simple procedure (see below).
It is far from clear how a Brexit would impinge on life for the estimated 40,000 Brits in Portugal, the 115,000 in Germany, 200,000 in France, 290,000 in Ireland, 760,000 in Spain and plenty more elsewhere.
Among the imponderables wafting around: Would Portugal be obliged to treat existing or any new immigrants from the UK with the same restrictions that apply to non-EU citizens? 
And what of the rights of the estimated 107,0000 Portuguese-born residents of the UK?
Clarifications will hopefully emerge in the weeks and months of hot debate that lie ahead.

*   British expats who have lived abroad no more than 15 years can register to vote here: 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

New president sweeps in

In contrast to the political mishmash created by the recent general election, Sunday’s presidential poll shooed in a clear winner who promises to be a force for stability.
The 20th President of the Portuguese Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, is expected to play a crucial role in calming the country’s current volatile situation. He could be pivotal in Portugal’s political future.
Although formerly a leader of the centre-right Social Democratic Party, he is regarded as a moderate and has described himself as being “on the left wing of the right.”
The two runners-up were António Sampaio da Novoa, a left-wing former university dean, and 39-year-old Marisa Matias who was backed by the Left Bloc. Former Socialist Party leader Maria de Belém came in a poor third.
At 67, Lisbon-born Rebelo de Sousa has been a government minister, a professor of law and a journalist. He enjoyed great popularity as an enternatining political pundit on national television.
He is reputed to read two books and sleep for only four or five hours a day. For fun he goes surfing in the waves off Guincho Beach, Cascais.
On moving into the Palácio de Belém, the official residence of the head of state, Rebelo de Sousa will assume largely symbolic and ceremonial duties. He will have no administrative role, but he is known to favour conciliation and consensus. His powers of persuasion in acting as a counterweight could become key.
Everything that helps to build political stability, common ground that safeguards governability is a priority.... now is not the time for divisions,” he said prior to the election.
The constitution allows the president exceptional powers in exceptional circumstances. He will be able to dissolve parliament, appoint prime ministers or call for a new general election if deemed necessary.
Few commentators think the present minority government under Socialist leader António Costa can survive a full four-year term because it relies on support from the radical Left Bloc and the Communist Party.
The president and the country will be watching carefully as the government struggles to curb the burden of austerity, which means lowering taxes, reversing public wage cuts, increasing the minimum wage, restoring public services and lifting the freeze on pensions..... all this while reducing the deficit, boosting consumption and investment, and complying with EU rules on fiscal discipline without the anti-EU far left pulling the plug on their support.
Costa says he is confident Brussels will approve Portugal’s 2016 draft budget presented last Thursday. It will now be analysed by the European Commission. Changes could be ordered before the government starts implementing the budget.
At the the World Economic Forum last week in Davos, Switzerland, the Socialist economy minister, Manuel Caldeira Cabral, said: “I don't think that the presidential election is going to bring any surprise or any problem to the government.” He added: “The centre-right wing candidate is quite moderate and it was quite sure that he is going to maintain the government and the legislature.”
That could be wishful thinking. Some commentators believe the government is bound to fail and that the president may have to step in and call an election during his first 12 months in office.
The new president succeeds Aníbal Cavaco Silva who served as conservative prime minister from 1985 to 1995 and for two consecutive terms as president from 2006. Now aged 76, Cavaco Silva says he is ready for a rest.
It’s just as well President Rebelo de Sousa doesn’t need a lot of sleep, but he can forget about his surf board for a while.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Charles Every, 100 years of age

Charles Every, thought to be the Algarve’s oldest foreign resident, celebrated his 100th birthday on 20 January.
 His granddaughter, Kelly, who lives in England, was also born on January 20. She gave birth to her first baby, a girl, just a few days early last week otherwise it might have been a triple birthday celebration within the family.
In addition to a congratulatory message from Her Majesty the Queen, tributes were paid at a surprise luncheon of the ‘Monday Club’ Charles founded five years ago to bring together long-term residents for monthly get-togethers in the Carvoeiro area. It has now been renamed the ‘One Hundred Club’.
In a cheerful, impromptu speech at the luncheon, Charles told his well-wishers: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about!”
The youngest son of the 11th Baronet Sir Edward Oswald Every, Charles was born in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. He was educated at Harrow, one of England’s most distinguished public schools, but he disliked it because “the people there were too snobbish.”
In 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II, he qualified from London University as an architect, but soon found himself in the British armed forces and on his way to serve in India.
Charles’ architectural and town planning career began in earnest after the war in West Suffolk. After a couple of years, in 1949, he was on the move again, this time to South Africa where he successfully pursued his professional career for the next 21 years.
On eventually deciding he wanted a home in Europe, he started looking in Greece and worked his way westward.
If I’d gone any further I would have fallen into the sea,” he says.
The Algarve was his final destination. He fell in love with Carvoeiro in 1967, bought his current home on the outskirts of the village in 1970 and has lived there ever since.
His daughter Vanessa and son-in-law Terry de Beer moved from South Africa to join him almost 14 years ago. The family links with South Africa are intact through his grandson Ryan and two great-grandchildren.
Having long enjoyed landscape gardening, Charles developed a particular passion for cultivating water lilies. Gardening and garden ponds continue to occupy much of his daily life.
Asked to what he owed his longevity, the astute and quick-witted centenarian mentioned “moderation,” but added that it probably had more to do with family genes - “and good luck.”

100 years of age this week

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Obama honours ex-Algarve fugitive

Sue Ellen Allen, who lived for years in the Algarve as a fugitive on the run from American justice, had the honour of sharing First Lady Michelle Obama's box in the House of Representatives during the president’s last State of the Union address.
A White House announcement on the eve of Tuesday’s address said that Allen and a small group of other special guests “personify President Obama’s time in office and most importantly, they represent who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous.”
It was in the Algarve in 2002 that Sue Ellen and her husband David Grammer, then using the aliases Susanna and Michael Grammiere, were exposed as fugitives. They had absconded seven years earlier, before being convicted in absentia of defrauding US investors of more than a million dollars.  
Former friends in the Algarve alleged that the Grammers had cheated them out of investments here too.
In the face of bitter accusations and threats to turn them in, the Grammers left their home in Silves and surrendered to the FBI in the American Embassy in Lisbon. Sue Ellen was undergoing treatment for cancer at the time.
With only two more chemo sessions to go, our cozy world, our three dogs and four cats, vegetable garden, fresh food and pillow-filled world collapsed,” she recalled in a memoir, The Slumber Party from Hell.
She served almost seven years as an inmate of Arizona’s state prison for women. After her release in 2009, she co-founded an organization called Gina’s Team to provide support for women prisoners and help them get back to community life and out of any more trouble with the law.
Gina’s Team was named after Allen’s cell mate, Gina Panetta, who died of leukaemia at the age of 25 while being treated in prison for breast cancer.
Gina’s death started the next part of my life. She gave me my passion and my purpose,” Allen wrote in her memoir.
It was Gina’s parents who helped her start her campaign. Now a widow, Allen regularly returns to the same prison she was incarcerated in to help prisoners plan a positive future.
In a message at the weekend from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, just before setting out for Washington, Allen said: “I will be sitting in the First Lady's box at the State of the Union message! It's an incredible honour to be there representing all the voiceless and faceless women who are still behind bars. I will take them with me in my heart. I’m also honoured that Gina's mother, Dianne Panetta, is joining me. It's the ultimate road trip.”
Obama has taken a special interest in prison life and last July became the first US president to visit a federal prison. In his State of the Union address he advocated criminal justice reform and reducing recidivism rates. The United States has more prisoners than any other country in the world.
By wanting to change the way prisons work, President Obama and Gina’s Team are very much on the same wavelength.
      Allen told BuzzFeed News: “People say, ‘Why should inmates have education? Why should they have anything?’ Well it’s not a privilege or a reward. It’s a necessity. It’s a necessity for them and for society because they’re all going to get out, and if we don’t prepare them and help them, they’re going to go back to their old life.”

Photo above by B. J. Boulter in 2002  as the Grammers prepared to leave the Algarve and give themselves up in the US Embassy, Lisbon. 

Below, Sue Ellen in Arizona as  a campaigner to help prisoners and for prison reform.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Madeleine case slips into its ninth year

The mystery of what happened to Madeleine McCann is slipping unsolved into its ninth year. Investigations seem set to continue at high cost but dubious worth.
The Metropolitan Police Service investigation codenamed Operation Grange has so far cost £10.5 million (the official figure), but has it come up with any substantive evidence to show what happened to Madeleine?  The Met is not saying.
We have not given a running commentary on the investigation, have not discussed ongoing lines of the investigation and the enquiry has not reached a conclusion,” a spokesperson reiterated at the weekend, adding that “there are still focused lines of investigation to be pursued.”
In a Christmas message expressing “new energy, new opportunities and new hope,” Kate and Gerry McCann thanked the Met for the “progress” made over the year, but they are reportedly poised to use the £750,000 left in their Find Madeleine fund to hire a new team of private detectives when the Operation Grange investigation ends.
The Met disclosed in October it was scaling down the Operation Grange team from 29 full-time officers to just four.
In its early review work starting in 2011, they collated more than 40,000 documents from UK and foreign law enforcement agencies as well as various private investigation companies. 
Some of this had to be translated into English, facts had to be cross-referred and diligently analysed in the search for new lines of inquiry before the review was turned into a full-scale investigation in mid-2012.
Since then the Operation Grange team say they have raised 7,154 actions and identified 560 lines of enquiry, taken 1,338 statements and collected 1,027 exhibits. More than 30 international requests have been sent to various countries asking for work to be undertaken on behalf of the Met. 
Officers have investigated more than 60 persons of interest, considered 650 sex offenders and looked into reports of 8,685 potential sightings of Madeleine around the world. 
That all seems clear enough, but to many sceptics who have followed the case closely it is all a show, a sham, a cover-up, a whitewash, a conspiracy to hide the truth. They allege the claim that Madeleine was abducted, which her parents have always been adamant about and which the police and mainstream press in the UK seem to accept, is a fabrication.
The Met, of course, will have none of it. Poring through a vast wealth of information and theories in the extraordinary circumstances of investigating a missing child years later in another country was always going to be an immense task and required a full team of 29 staff working on it, is the official view.
While there remain lines of enquiry to follow, the vast majority of the work by Operation Grange has been completed,” according to the Met.
The team now consists of a detective sergeant and three detective constables who have been working on the case for a long time. They will continue to be overseen by Detective Chief Inspector Nicola Wall. Officers will deploy to Portugal if required to do so.
The Met’s Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley has stated that every possible measure is being taken to find out what happened to Madeleine. 
We still have very definite lines to pursue which is why we are keeping a dedicated team of officers working on the case.
The Portuguese police remain the lead investigators and our team will continue to support their inquiry. They have extended every courtesy to Operation Grange and we maintain a close working relationship. I know they remain fully committed to investigating Madeleine's disappearance with support from the Metropolitan Police.” 
The willingness of Madeleine’s parents to go private again begs the question of how any latter-day team of private detectives could hope to solve a case that seems to have stumped not only Operation Grange, but two lengthy investigations by the Portuguese judicial police and expensive probes by three previous teams of private detectives?
An unnamed source quoted by in the British press shortly before Christmas said: “We don't know exactly when Operation Grange will end but while it continues it has the finest technology and analysts.”
The source added poignantly: “Private investigations are expensive and do not have anything like the range and capabilities available to the Yard.”
The Operation Grange inquiry may close in a few months by which time another landmark in this costly case will probably have been reached. A ruling could come at any time now on former detective Gonçalo Amaral’s appeal against the outcome of the civil action brought against him by Kate and Gerry McCann
The McCanns were awarded €500,000 plus interest in damages over his book, Maddie, the Truth of the Lie.
As to what really happened to Madeleine in Praia da Luz in May 2007, with the passing of each year we seem no closer to learning the whole truth.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Spain, like Portugal, leaning to the left

At the start of what is being hailed as “a new era” in Spanish politics, there is no clear indication as to who is going to be running the country, but a left-wing arrangement similar to that in Portugal is one of the strongest possibilities.
Given that none of the four major parties emerged from Sunday’s general election with anything close to a majority of seats in the legislature, the most rational coalition might be between Spain’s two most established rivals, the centre-right Popular Party (PP) and the centre-left Socialists.
As was the case in Portugal, Spain’s conservatives have said they are open to the notion of a grand coalition, but the Socialists are not, certainly if the PP leader, Mariano Rajoy, intends to remain as prime minister.
Commentators are pointing to collaboration between the Spanish Socialists and the radical Podemos as the more likely formula for a new administration, which would be similar to the set-up between the Socialists and far-left in Portugal, minus the Communist Party that is.
The Socialists and Podemos together would not have enough seats to form a majority and so would need the backing of some of the smaller, regional parties.
While the surge in popular support for the anti-austerity Podemos (‘We Can’) party has been spectacular, the other new party, Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’) fell short of expectations even though they still did well.
Ciudadanos could play a pivotal role in the formation of a new government, but being centrist and business-friendly they would be more at home with the right than the left, especially the far left.
The idealogical differences, amid accusations about high-level corruption and inefficiency, are such that is is hard to see how numbers can be successfully stacked up to form a plausible government.
Of the 350 seats in the legislature, the Popular Party won 123 (29% of the vote), the Socialists 90 (22%), Podemos 69 (21%) and Ciudadanos 40 (14 %).
As in Portugal after the October election, intense inter-party discussions are now likely to go on in Spain for weeks. If no viable solution is found, Spanish voters will be back at the polling booths in the next few months.
Meanwhile, unease over the country’s security and financial stability is inevitable just as everyone is hoping for a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Spain to follow in Portugal’s footsteps?

Not for the first time, Spain looks like following in the footsteps of its much smaller neighbour.
It’s not quite on the grand scale of the Spanish taking their cue from the Portuguese in the Age of Discoveries, or in switching from dictatorship to democracy in the 1970s.
However, the outcome of Sunday’s general election over the border may turn out to be as muddled as the recent political events in Portugal, giving rise to even greater worries within Europe about instability as Spain is the EU’s fourth biggest economy.
The pre-election polls in Spain showed not much separating the conservative Popular Party, the centre-left Socialists and the slightly right-of-centre Ciudadanos (‘Citizens’) party.
The recent rise of Ciudadanos to rival the two established patries has been spectacular. The surge in popularity of the new anti-austerity Podemos, follows that of Portugal’s Left Bloc and Greece’s Syriza.
To form a government straight away, one of the parties must win more than 50% of the seats in parliament in Sunday’s election.
As with the conservative coalition in Portugal before the 4th October election here, the PP in Spain are likely to gain the most votes but not a majority.
If so, King Filipe VI will enter the fray as did President Aníbal Cavaco Silva here. He will nominate a prime minister who will then seek the backing of at least 50% of the elected members of parliament.
This will involve horse-trading in which the party with the most votes might be able to drum up support from one of the others and emerge with a mandate to govern.
If such a backing does not materialise, the Spanish tradition is to have a second ballot among elected members of parliament within 48 hours.
Ciudadanos might not win the most votes at any stage but they could be pivotal. As a centrist party they might give conditional backing to either the conservatives or the socialists - or they might receive such backing.
A grand coalition between the conservatives and socialists is thought unlikely. Where, of if, Podemos could fit into any mix is anyone’s guess.
But the improbable is not impossible as demonstrated in Portugal where a trio of losing parties ended up determining the government.
The voter turnout in Spain may be higher than in Portugal because of the colourful choice of characters involved.
The PP’s Mariano Rajoy, 60, has been a surprisingly introverted prime minister who asked his deputy, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, to replace him in a televised debate with the other party leaders. On Wednesday he was punched in the face by a teenager at a campaign rally in his home region of Galicia.
The relaxed,, Pedro Sánchez, 43, is a tall and handsome former economics professor and basketball player who towers over his political opponents physically.
The gentlemanly leader of Ciudadanos, Albert Rivera, is only 36-years-old, a lawyer who first came to prominence by appearing on a campaign poster naked but for a leather jacket.
Pablo Iglesias of Podemos is a easy-going 37-year-old professor of political science who in a way epitomises the radical left by shunning quality suits and sporting a pony-tail hairstyle.
One way or another, it’s measuring up to be an unusual Christmas for politicians over the border. If things remain messy rather than merry, a second general election will have to be held two months into the new year.

The Socialist , Podemos and Ciudadanos leaders at a televised debate at which the Popular Party was represented by its deputy leader (far right).