Friday, January 15, 2021

If possible, stay at home!

Instead of a return in the direction of a new normality we had all wished for at New Year, restrictions throughout mainland Portugal and the Azores have been tightened in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The mantra for the rest of this month is “stay at home.”

Acceptable reasons for leaving home include going to essential workplaces, medical facilities such a hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, schools or shops selling food.

The restrictions are not expected to hinder the vaccination programme. Banks and petrol stations will remain open. So will all educational establishments.

Places closed include: cafes, restaurants except those selling takeaways, non-food shops, hairdressing saloons and gyms. Facemasks, social distancing and avoiding large groups remain mandatory.

The number of Covid infections and deaths have accelerated to record levels since Christmas.

The new measures will be reviewed and may be lightened after Saturday 30th January.

Fines to be imposed on those breaking the current full lockdown rules have doubled.

A special dispensation will be allowed on 24th January for those voting in the presidential election.The voter turnout is likely to be low. The current president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, is expected to win a second term.

The impact of the new tight restrictions will cause financial hardship to many business owners and employees. Those in the Algarve are particularly angry, some protesting publicly and saying that the Algarve should not be in lockdown to the same degree as the areas elsewhere in the country where the virus infection and death rates have been higher.

All direct flights between Portugal and the UK have been stopped. The UK has banned arrivals from Portugal as well as most South American countries to help control the spread of a new strain of the virus. Portugal has been singled out in Europe because of its close travel links with Brazil. 

UK and Irish citizens, as well as third country nationals with UK residency rights, may still enter the UK, but will have to quarantine after arrival.

Sunday, January 3, 2021


Prime Minister António Costa

On assuming the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union on New Year’s Day, Portugal’s top political leaders sounded remarkably enthusiastic and positive about tackling the huge challenges facing the 27 member states over the next six months.

Prime Minister António Costa and Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva say their prime objectives will be to activate the Europe-wide mass Covid vaccination programme, as well as the €750 billion national recovery plan to alleviate the financial impacts of the pandemic.

The EU has been criticised for being rather slow to start the vaccination procedures while a new and more infectious strain of the coronavirus is spreading across the continent.

Portugal will be acting on this and other key matters in conjunction with the European Commission, presided over by Ursula von der Leyen.

This will be the fourth time Portugal has held the Council presidency, the first being in 1992, then again in 2000. The 2007 presidency was marked by the Lisbon Treaty that aimed to reform the Union.

From now until June, free universal vaccination for citizens in the 27 member states will be a priority. However, social restrictions, including the wearing of masks, are expected to continue for many months.

Portugal intends to focus very much on increasing solidarity between the member states. That will include activating social justice issues that have so far been divisive. Negotiations will look for common ground on the EU asylum and migration system. Some member states want to ban migrants of certain nationalities or cultures, if not close the EU to migrants altogether. Portugal is among those opposed to such limitations.

This controversy will be high on the agenda during an EU summit meeting in northern Portuguese city of Porto in May.

While maintaining as useful an agreement as possible with the UK following the post-Brexit trade deal signed on Christmas Eve, Portugal will seek to further balanced trade deals with other countries, especially India and China. Efforts will be made too to improve relations with the US that were negatively disrupted by President Trump.

Strengthening small and medium-sized businesses, which are fundamental to the EU economy, will be another primary focus under the Portuguese presidency.

EU budget arrangements were vetoed by Poland and Hungary during the last EU summit, but the €750 billion Covid recovery plan will be crucial for Portugal itself as well as for all the other member states.

The social and economic devastation caused by the pandemic has come hard on the heels of Portugal edging back to normality after the debt and bailout crisis.

The tourism sector, which is critical to the country’s income, has been brought to a virtual halt by the pandemic. Unemployment has increased to about 9%. Public debt has soared to a record 131% of GDP. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020


As Portugal prepares to take over the presidency of the Council of the European Union while the Brexit talks continue to drag on, Prime Minister António Costa says the political will still exists for a trade deal, but the remaining differences between the UK and the EU should not be underestimated.

Costa has warned against UK attempts to negotiate directly on the side with a few of the 27 EU national leaders.

He is hoping some sort of deal can be agreed in the coming days.

“For everyone the absence of a deal will be very bad, very bad particularly for neighbouring countries,” Costa said.

He added: “We are on the last dossier. I don’t want to underestimate its significance and its difficulty. We won’t do a deal at any price.”

Any deal will have to be approved by all of the EU’s member states. France in particular is thought likely to veto any deal in which Britain does not offer a compromise on fishing rights.

Costa criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s attempts to negotiate bilaterally with a few leaders.

He has emphasised that it was very important for all the 27 EU states to remain united under the negotiation leadership of Michel Barnier representing the EU Commission.

Barnier has reportedly said privately in Brussels that the tortuous trade talks could collapse, but for now “the patient is still alive”.

Barnier is also reported to have said: “There might now be a narrow path to an agreement visible – if negotiators can clear the remaining hurdles in the next few days.”

On 1st January 2021, Portugal will take over the presidency of the EU Council from Germany until the end of June, a period of crucial importance for decisions on climate change and Covid-19 as well as Brexit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020


Portuguese citizens, elderly and young, are at the fore-front of crucial efforts to tackle the greatest danger facing life on our planet: climate change.

Former Portuguese prime minister António Guterres, 71, now Secretary General of the United Nations, has placed climate change right at the very top of his agenda, warning that “the state of the planet is broken. Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.”

Meanwhile, six young Portuguese climate activists, aged between 8 and 21, have filed the first climate change lawsuit at the European court of human rights in Strasbourg, demanding that their future physical and mental wellbeing be considered by 33 countries that should make greater cuts to greenhouse gas emissions.

As record temperatures, severe drought and fast-warming seas confirm that emissions are still rising, UN Secretary General

António Guterres has starkly emphasaised the need for carbon neutrality. In his latest speech on the dire state of planet delivered at Columbia University in New York, Guterres said that while hunmanity was waging war on nature, "Nature always strikes back, and is doing so with gathering force and fury."

Referring to the latest report from the World Meteorological Organization, he reiterated that the last decade was the hottest on record. The declining ice sheet, the melting permafrost, devastating wildfires and hurricanes are just some of the consequences, he said.  Regarding the ongoing deforestation that is also fuelling climate change, Guterres pleaded: "Stop the plunder."  

Climate policies have failed to rise to the challenge, Guterres said, noting that emissions in 2020 have been 60% higher than in 1990. "We are heading for a temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100."Yet the secretary-general sees hope for 2021, saying it's time to "build a truly global coalition towards carbon neutrality.

The European Court of Human Rights has granted priority status to the lawsuit brought by the six young Portuguese climate activists. The Strasbourg judges want a swift response from the 33 countries involved in this unprecedented case.

The activists say it has given heart to their cause, which is to hold the 33 countries accountable for their allegedly inadequate efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The countries named are the 27 member states of the European Union, plus the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Norway, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.

The Portuguese activist group is being supported by a team of five London-based lawyers and the Global Legal Action Network, a international no-profit organization that challenges human rights violations. Their intention is to broker an amicable agreement in the case before it proceeds to litigation.

AP report that if the activists win their case, the countries would be legally bound to cut emissions in line with the requirements of the 2015 Paris climate accord. They would also have to address their role in overseas emissions, including by their multi-national companies.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Democracy and freedom in Portugal

Amid declining democratic freedoms across the world, international studies have placed Portugal very highly for its level of political rights and civil liberties.

The Freedom House research institute based in Washington D.C. ranks Portugal 10th globally – higher than such countries as the United Kingdom, Germany and the United States.

In its 2020 report, which has no bearing on temporary restrictions imposed because of the Covid pandemic, Freedom House states that “democracy and pluralism are under assault. Dictators are toiling to stamp out the last vestiges of domestic dissent and spread their harmful influence to new corners of the world”.

It accuses many freely elected leaders, including in India and the United States, the world’s largest democracies, of dramatically narrowing their concerns “to a blinkered interpretation of the national interest and being increasingly willing to break down institutional safeguards and disregard the rights of critics and minorities as they pursue their populist agendas”.

This is not happening in Portugal, which Freedom House gives a score of 96 out of a maximum 100. The top scorers are Norway, Finland and Sweden. The obvious non-democracies, such as North Korea and Saudi Arabia, have single-digit scores.

In line with other think tanks and analysts, Freedom House says liberties are generally protected in Portugal, which it describes as a stable parliamentary democracy with a multiparty political system and regular transfers of power between the two largest parties.

This country is currently led by a centre-right president and a centre-left prime minister who rule in a mutually respectful manner.

The Portuguese prime minister holds the most executive power, but the directly elected president has the power to delay legislation through a veto and dissolve the parliament to trigger an early election.

Political parties in this country operate and compete with equal opportunity. There is no legal vote threshold for representation in the parliament, meaning smaller parties can win a seat with little more than 1% of the overall vote. Three new parties emerged in the last parliamentary election.

Since it returned from a dictatorship to being a democracy in the 1970s, Portugal has established a strong pattern of peaceful power transfers through elections.
Both voters and politicians are free from undue interference by forces outside the political system.

Women and minority groups enjoy full political rights and participate in the political process.

Parties espousing racist, fascist, or regionalist values are constitutionally prohibited.

The autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira – two island groups in the Atlantic – have their own political structures with legislative and executive powers.

The judiciary in Portugal is independent, but staff shortages and inefficiency have contributed to a considerable backlog of pending trials.

Freedom of the press throughout Portugal is constitutionally guaranteed. Internet access is not restricted, but most online media have become paid services and only one national news outlet remains totally open.

Journalists are granted a protected status similar to that of judges, lawyers, witnesses, and security personnel, which increases penalties for those who threaten, defame, or constrain them.

Reporters Without Borders has accused the football world of aggression towards the media and journalists, threatening reporters who questioned the practices of major clubs.

Portugal remains one of the few countries in Europe where defamation is still a criminal offence, and although prosecutions are uncommon, the European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly ruled against Portuguese authorities for their handling of both civil and criminal defamation cases against journalists.

In terms of religion, Portugal is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, but the constitution guarantees freedom of religion and forbids religious discrimination. The Religious Freedom Act provides benefits for religions that have been established in the country for at least 30 years or recognised internationally for at least 60 years.

Other groups are free to register as religious corporations and receive benefits such as tax-exempt status, or to practice their faith without registering.
Academic freedom is respected. Schools and universities operate without undue political or other interference.

Freedom of assembly is upheld by the authorities. Protests organised during 2019 addressed problems including climate change, housing prices and evictions, restoration of cuts made in the public sector during the bailout, and fascism.

Workers enjoy the right to organise, bargain collectively, and strike, though there are some limits on the right to strike in a wide range of sectors and industries that are medical operations.

Freedom of association is respected. National and international nongovernmental organisations, including human rights groups, operate in the country without interference.

There are no major restrictions on personal social freedoms. Portugal legalised same-sex marriage in 2010 and extended adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2015. A 2018 law eliminated the need for transgender people to obtain a medical certificate to formally change their gender or first name.

Domestic violence remains a problem despite government efforts aimed at prevention, education, and victim protection.

Perhaps the most serious concern Portugal has struggled with in recent years has been major corruption scandals involving high-ranking politicians, officials, and businesspeople.

Though many individuals have been duly prosecuted for corruption, the Council of Europe noted last year that Portugal’s efforts to fight corruption were unsatisfactory. Several laws to enhance accountability and transparency for public office holders, including ministers, had been approved but had not entered into force.

Other democratic concerns include poor or abusive conditions for prisoners and the persistent effects of racism, distrust of Romani people and xenophobia.

While there is obviously much room for improvement, Portugal is a worthy example of a country that greatly values democracy and a wide range of freedoms.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Portugal is a place of peace

The 2020 Global Peace Index just released reveals that Portugal remains one of the most peaceful countries in the world.

This latest, highly-respected index indicates that conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, only to be replaced with a new wave of tension and uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iceland is still the world’s most peaceful country, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined once again at the top of the peace list by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria and Denmark. Portugal maintains the number three position it had last year.  Canada is rated 6th, the United Kingdom 42nd and the United States 121st.

For the second year in a row, Afghanistan is named as the least peaceful country, followed by Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and Yemen.
This is the 14th edition of the annual report produced by the Sydney-based Institute for Economics and Peace, the world’s leading analyst of peacefulness. This report is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, ranking 163 independent countries and territories.
It covers 99.7 per cent of the world’s population, using 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators from highly respected international sources. It measures the state of peace across three domains: the level of Societal Safety and Security; the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict; and the degree of Militarisation.
The latest report includes an analysis of the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on peace.  It examines how the impact of the pandemic  -    in particular its economic consequences  -   will increase the risk of severe deteriorations over the next few years. It also examines which countries are best placed to recover from the pandemic shock.
The 2020 index shows that the level of peacefulness has deteriorated globally by just 0.34 per cent, but this is the ninth deterioration in the last twelve years, with 81 countries improving, and 80 recording deteriorations over the past year.
We now live in a world in which the conflicts and crises that emerged in the past decade have begun to abate, only to be replaced with a new wave of tension and uncertainty as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the report.
It also looks at the trends in civil unrest over the past decade and finds that there has been a sharp increase in civil unrest events since 2011. More than 96 countries experienced at least one violent demonstration in 2019.
Europe has had the largest number of protests, riots and strikes over the past decade, but sixty-five per cent of the civil unrest events in Europe have been non-violent.
Portugal has made huge strides in peacefulness since its international financial and bailout crisis in 2014 when it was ranked the world’s 18th most peaceful country.
Portigal now seems firmly entrenched in the world’s most peaceful top four. 

The 2020 Global Peace Index document can be consulted at:

Monday, May 11, 2020

Hunger instead of holidays

The Algarve Network for Families in Need:  insight into a charity whose efforts have recently become all the more vital 

In the shadows of the sunny Algarve, a place long likened to ‘paradise’ by foreign residents and visitors from abroad, thousands of Portuguese families are living hand to mouth or even in abject poverty. 

They stay remarkably quiet, probably because of feelings of depression, embarrassment or even shame.  There appears to be very little support from local authorities.

Someone who has made the problem central to her life is Bernadette Abbott, an English sociologist. Before moving to the Algarve eight years ago, she had much experience involving justice and human rights, as well as social wok and social car management. Bernadette became a volunteer for Algarve Network for Families in Need.

The prevalence of economic hardship in the Algarve was bad enough in past years but, of course, it has escalated hugely since the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis.

One of the main problems for Portuguese families, she says, is that the minimum pay has been low and there has been no correlation between pay and the minimum amount it is possible to live on.

Too many people work without contracts and on minimum pay only during the tourist season. They are without work or incomes in the winter months.  For workers without a contract or, in the case of the self-employed, those who are without work through the winter and therefore have no green receipts, there is no eligibility for social security payments. 
“The Algarve has become far too dependent on summer tourism and little else. Winter is a nightmare for those on minimum pay in seasonal work,” says Bernadette.
“Families run up debts on rents, utilities and other essentials. They have to spend the whole of the summer repaying them. 
“Many who live in my village have been going out to work from six in the morning until midnight in summer. If there are two parents involved, these hours usually apply to both. Children are collected after school and their parents go back to work, leaving the children to do their homework alone.
“One family has told me that it takes until September to pay off their debts. Then they have about a month with some money before the nightmare starts again.”
Other problems include a lack of social housing at a reduced rent. Renting privately is usually expensive, even when it is possible to find a place available. There is no compensation in the form of housing benefits for those who have to rent in the private sector.  
Renting a place out of town may be cheaper, but it precludes many of those wishing to work in places such as hotels and restaurants because there is no public transport to take them home after 8 pm. 
“For a family in crisis there is very little family support,” says Bernadette. “Families have contacted me for food and when I ask if they have been to the local city hall, they will tell me that they have been given an appointment for maybe three months later.”
A very real worry for badly-off parents is asking children’s services for help. They fear that their child or children may be taken into care by an out-of-date and unnecessarily punitive system. 
“All this put together creates a system where people live basically from hand to mouth. They never have any reserves. So, if something breaks, or there is any additional expense, the finance does not exist for it,” says Bernadette.
“Families who are worn down by the daily drudge don’t question the system because they don’t believe anything will ever change.”

The arrival of coronavirus in Portugal coincided with the start of a new tourist season. Seasonal workers who had been out of work for months had been looking forward to getting back to their jobs and getting an income again to pay off their winter debts. Instead, they were shattered when that work disappeared.
 “Many families were left with no money, no food and no hope,” said Bernadette.  
“It was pure devastation. You could actually see people falling into depression.
“One lady told me she had a tin of tuna and 2kgs of potatoes and then nothing. 

“Others said they had to watch their babies in their cots so that if they caused any mess they could take them out because they had no nappies for them.

“Rent and bills just didn’t come into it. They were talking about sheer survival.”

While many are not eligible for social security payments, “these payments are totally inadequate anyway and you will see that this problem will go on for quite some time,” said Bernadette.

The problem has become so great that she and her fellow helpers are no longer able to help all families in need – only those most in need; in other words, those with nothing.

Bernadette’s appeals on Facebook both for volunteers and food donations reaped many positive responses. A generous donation from one man in Germany enabled them to keep going, but the network had to constantly top up. That meant expanding operations. 
In addition to the original hub Bernadette set up in Lagos, her network now has similar centres in Ferragudo, Messines, Guia/Boliqueime and Lagoa. 
The hubs are where food is stored, sorted and bagged ready for distribution. Lagos and Guia/Boliqueime are able to take chilled food as they have fridge/freezer facilities. 

Those in charge of each hub closely collaborate with volunteers with trolleys, operating a series of food collection points, mainly near supermarkets. Clothing and household items are now also being collected. Cash donations are most welcome too, but the network prefers cash donations to be made online the same way contributions are made to the bombeiros.  

Desperate families in need can come to the collection points for food if they live nearby, otherwise the food will be delivered to the family home.

The collection volunteers also encourage all the people they meet to watch out for any neighbours in need.

Algarve Network for Families in Need collection points

Pingo Doce        every Friday, 12 to 1.30 

Arade Pavilion           by arrangement

Retail Park        every Saturday, 1.30 to 2.20

Pingo Doce        fortnightly on Wednesdays, 11 to 12

Lidl                     every Saturday, 11 to 12

Baptista             every Saturday, 12.15 to 1.10


Intermarché               every Saturday, 12.15 to 1 .15

G.P. Surgery
              every Saturday, 11 to 12

Vila Sol Plaza, fortnightly on Saturdays; next May 16

Continente                  every Saturday, 11 to 12

The Algarve Network for Families in Need is looking for more hubs, more collection points, more volunteers and more contributions of all kinds to help the needy, especially in this current crisis. 

For more information:

Ready for delivery to needy families