Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Prince Charles and Camilla to visit Portugal at a time of turmoil

There was something surreal about yesterday's announcement from Clarence House in London that the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall are to pay an official visit to Portugal this month.

A delightful diversion for Portugal's upper echelons provided by their oldest ally?  An unintentional red rag to the hoi polloi in a debt-ridden republic at a time of political, economic and social turmoil? Maybe a bit of both.

This latest royal tour, which begins in Lisbon on 28th March, will also take Charles and Camilla to Spain and Morocco. Although it was probably arranged many months ago, the timing and objectives now seem unfortunate.

It's a ten-day freebie intended to fly the flag for Britain. To be fair, it wasn't the royal couple's idea. They are making the trip at the request of the British Government. The main themes are trade and investment promotion, as well as climate change and the construction of low carbon economies.

In Lisbon, the Duke and Duchess will celebrate long-standing co-operation between the Portuguese and British Navies, support British trade and investment opportunities and highlight the work of the sizeable resident British community. The President of Portugal, Aníbal Cavaco Silva, will host an official dinner in the capital. There will be a morning trip to the historic city of Évora in the Alentejo, north of the Algarve.

This will be Camilla's first official visit to Portugal. Charles has been here twice before. Both are much more familiar with Spain. Charles has been there 10 times already and after Lisbon he and Camilla will be received in Madrid by the Prince and Princess of Asturias. Later they will be wined and dined by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia, old chums of Charles.

In Morocco they will be the guests of King Mohammed VI who has recently announced constitutional reforms in the face of demonstrations broken up in Casablanca last weekend by riot police. Clarence House would not comment on security arrangements for the tour except to say they would be “closely monitored.”

To put things further into context, the announcement by Clarence House came just three days after the Socialist Government in Lisbon introduced more controversial austerity measures. They did so without informing President Cavavo Silva or the opposition Social Democrats beforehand.

The new measures include cuts in operational and administrative costs for the state-run health service. Labour costs and unemployment benefits are also to be reviewed at a time when unemployment is at a record level of more than 11%. Manuel Carvalho da Silva, head of Portugal's largest union, CGTP, said the new measures "will create an even more severe recession in a country that is already stricken by poverty.”

Portugal is now close to the brink of political collapse. An early general election seems inevitable and all the indications are that the Socialists will be replaced by the centre-right Social Democrats with an absolute majority in parliament.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of frustrated young people, the so-called Geração à Rasca, took to the streets of Lisbon, Oporto and elsewhere last weekend to air their feelings of hopelessness and protest about abysmal pay and job prospects. Today the Metro train system in Lisbon was brought to a total standstill because of a strike over pay cuts. Tomorrow, truckers protesting about rising diesel prices are expected to stymie filling-station supplies. In the Algarve, further disruptive protests are planned against the introduction of motorway tolls seen to be harmful to tourism and other local busineses.

In some ways, of course, nothing much has changed. There are the haves and the have-nots. The travails of the real world are still a far-cry from the niceties of royal receptions.


  1. With my no english:

    I understand very well Geração à Rasca= Youngs; Mothers, Fathers also .

    I no understand anymore this Country: mine !!

    I am glad with my 63 years old because i lived 8 months, very good, in 1974. Only 8 months !

    I am full to listen Socas and all around.

    Cheers and thank You.

  2. an excellent, spot-on observation from someone who clearly knows what's what!

  3. Firstly I would like to point out that the Prince of Wales should be treated as such and not as the Duke the Duchess' husband, you have your priorities wrong and should not be offensive of the Royal Family. Secondly, I am sure that this visit will not place Portugal further in the red, but may be taken as an opportunity by all to develop bigger and better business relationships between the two contries.

  4. Wow! I guess it depends on whether Portugal wants to lie in its own misery...in which case any visit from any country will be construed as interference and deemed insensitive. The UK economy is suffering and so are many people in the UK. I guess the real question is should there be a Royal Family anywhere?...and related to that, should there be poverty anywhere? To try and seperate these two questions is to fly into extreme positions...but then we humans just love that, don't we? Strip the emotion away and there is no problem about the Visit at all...particularly so on the Low Carbon front.