Friday, June 10, 2011

State of the nation on Portugal Day

June 10, Portugal's National Day honouring Luís Camões, who wrote the epic poem Os Lusíadas in celebration of the glorious 15th and 16th century explorations and achievements that brought the country such fame and wealth. How things have changed.

Saved on the verge of bankruptcy by an international bailout, Portugal today is a member of that group of countries humiliatingly referred to by international bond and currency traders as PIGS.

But not much has changed since last Sunday's general election in that the country still does not have a working government to get on with the job of administering the sweeping reforms demanded by the bailout conditions.

Urged by President Aníbal Cavaco Silva to start the process of forming a government as a matter of urgency, the Social Democrat prime minister-in-waiting, Pedro Passos Coelho, got around to opening formal coalition talks with the right-wing CDS-PP party on Wednesday. Even so, it's not expected he will be able to swear in a new cabinet for almost another two weeks. The hope is he will make it before a European Council meeting on June 23-24.  

Tax hikes, spending cuts and structural reforms are expected to follow. So are more job losses, strikes and public demonstrations. Today, a 24-hour strike by the staff of the national rail company has forced the cancellation of all passenger and freight services. 

Meanwhile, noting that money isn't everything, the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has produced a survey suggesting that Portugal has made significant progress over the last few years in improving the living standards of its citizens.

In a 'Better Life Index' survey covering its 34 member states, the OECD places Portugal 9th in terms of the balance between work and private life. In this regard, Portugal is way better off than Britain, for example, but well below Denmark, which always tops these sorts of lists.

In terms of employment, nearly 66% of people aged 15 to 64 in Portugal have a paid job. They work 1,719 hours a year, close to the OECD average. 67% of mothers are employed after their children begin school, suggesting, according to the orgnisation, that women are able to successfully balance family and career.

In terms of the life expectancy (79.3 years), environmental pollution, safety from crime and housing, the Portuguese fair reasonably well, but household earnings are less than the OECD average.

As to the quality of its educational system, the average student scored 489 out of 600 in reading ability according to the latest PISA student-assessment programme, lower than the OECD average. Only 28% of adults aged 25 to 64 have earned the equivalent of a high-school diploma, the lowest rate in the OECD, which stands at 72%.

The sense of community and civic participation in this country is only moderate, with 83% of people believing they know someone they could rely on in a time of need, lower than the OECD average of 91%.  Public trust in government is also low.

Only 36% of Portuguese surveyed said they were satisfied with their life, well below the OECD average of 59%.

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