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

Friday, September 23, 2016

A change of focus....

More articles on current affairs and reviewing the news may follow on this site in due course but for now my main focus is on producing paintings and updating books.
Please have a look at

Two of my most recent oil on canvas paintings.....

The Eye of the Storm
100 x 100 cm

Shepherd’s Delight
60 x 80 cm

See more paintings and updated books on

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bid to conserve south coastal sites

Hopes are being expressed that the most spectacular stretch of coastal habitat left unspoilt along Portugal’s southernmost shore can be turned into a nature reserve rather than being blighted by two more resort urbanisations.
The area lends itself perfectly to ecotourism through conservation, but local homeowners who advocate this are concerned it may be too late.
The coastal stretch in question lies between the fishing hamlet of Benagil and the iconic headland of Nossa Senhora da Rocha, all within the municipality of Lagoa in the Algarve.
It encompasses Praia da Marinha, considered by the Michelin Guide and other travel organisations to be one of the top ten beaches in Europe and among the most beautiful coastal settings in the world.
Scholars and naturalists have long recognised the area to be of special geological and archaeological importance as well as of significance in terms of flora and fauna.
But the planning approval for the two adjoining projects code-named UP11 and UP12 would mean the destruction of large tracts of natural habitat rich in biodiversity. This would be to within a few hundred metres of the shoreline, considerably less in parts than the normally legislated 500 metres, it seems.
The plans envisage hotels, luxury villas, apartments and a golf course. Despite being the biggest private development programme ever proposed in the Lagoa municipality’s history, little has been divulged publicly since the projects were first approved more than eight years ago.
A small group of residents in one of the most directly affected communities has recently learned that it could be years, perhaps decades, before sufficient funds are available to allow detailed infrastructure planning and construction to proceed.
Officially, however, it is thought to be only a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ construction goes ahead. The promoters are thought to be seeking investors overseas, most likely in China and the United States.
One of the project-aproved sites, comprising 230 hectares, is currently being offered for sale at €115 million.
Despite previous claims to the contrary, it seems that no environmental impact studies have ever been carried out in the area - or perhaps were even required - not that environmental impact studies are ever entirely independent and impartial anyway.
Concerned local residents say that in an area of such unique geological importance, with biodiversity which can no longer be found elsewhere along the now heavily urbanised Algarve coast, it should be of the utmost importance that a proper impartial environmental assessment be sought by the government before irreparable damage is done.
The projects were accepted by the relevant authorities in Lisbon and Faro as well as Lagoa in the belief that they would create jobs and be of considerable economic benefit. Although it has never been explicitly explained who would benefit, the projects could be expected to generate profits for investors, national or international construction companies and resort operators, as well as taxes for the local municipality.
An unsightly backdrop to this, however, is that Lagoa and other Algarve municipalities feature half-built, multi-storey blocks long abandoned and derelict. They have been eye-sores for years and look like remaining so for years to come due to the lack of sustainable guarantees for the planning and approval of project funding.
The group of homeowners suggesting that the area be turned into a nature reserve point to the ever-growing, sustainable profitability of ecotourism. It has proved so in many parts of the world in recent decades.
Ecotourism has the advantage of attracting increasing numbers of visitors all year round by appealing to other than just the sun and sand holiday crowds or winter golfers. It is more adept at providing incomes for local communities than foreign investors and would represent an overall more sustainable long-term investment for the area, allowing the natural beauty, historic heritage and eco-diversity of this unique area to be fully conserved.
Those contemplating such a nature reserve in Lagoa have no illusions it will be easy to establish. They realise too it may be a race against the time.
Our research so far, however, indicates that the area may qualify for backing from the UNESCO World Heritage organisation, hence we are seeking help from experts in the field and supporters alike,” said a spokesperson for the group.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fatima ‘third secret’ still in dispute

Allegations persist that the Vatican is continuing to cover up the truth about the ‘third secret’ said to have been disclosed by the Virgin Mary exclusively to three Portuguese children on 13th July 1917.
Ongoing reports of papal obfuscation and lies did not deter big numbers of pilgrims gathering at the Shrine of Fatima near Leiria for the 99th anniversary of the secret visions. The pilgrims have come from many countries, including such places as China, Indonesia and Costa Rica, as well as Italy, Ireland, the UK and the US.
Recently, however, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI felt moved to issue a formal denial of any wrong-doing over the third secret controversy.
The generally accepted belief is that apparitions of the Virgin Mary, popularly know as Our Lady of Fatima, were witnessed on the 13th of each month between May and October 1917.
The Vatican has described the apparitions as “undoubtedly the most prophetic of modern times”.
The main visionary, 10-year-old Lúcia Santos, became a cloistered nun and in 1941 wrote accounts of the secrets. The first two emphasised the horrors of hell, the threat of more world war, and the danger to humanity of Russia replacing Christianity with communist totalitarianism.
Sister Lúcia delayed writing about the third secret until ordered to do so by her local bishop. Her one-page letter dated January 1944 was kept by the bishop of Leiria in a sealed envelope until it was conveyed to the Vatican in 1957 for safe keeping in the Secret Archives of the Holy Office.
Critics claim that successive popes “suppressed” the information until the year 2000 when John Paul II deemed that its publication was appropriate. His secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, declared that the third secret was the Virgin Mary’s prophesy of the attempted assassination of John Paul on 13th May 1981.
The announcement was received by many Catholics with incredulity. An “interpretation” by another of John Paul’s top officials, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, only added to the international outcry. Traditionalist Catholics denounced it as part of the “heresy” that had infiltrated the papacy since the modernising Second Vatican Council in the 1960s.
Many Catholics have long believed that the third secret predicted a satanic takeover of the Catholic faith and that each pope since the Second Vatican Council has been the Antichrist.
Ratzinger succeeded John Paul as Benedict XVI but resigned, the first pope to do so in almost 600 years, in the midst of scandals over alleged corruption within the Vatican and widespread sex abuse perpetrated by priests.
The third secret cover-up allegations resurfaced as this year’s celebrations were getting underway at Fatima in mid-May.
A former German priest and professor of theology, Ingo Dollinger, was quoted as saying that his long-time friend Cardinal Ratzinger had confided that what the Vatican had published about the third secret was not complete.
According to Dollinger, Ratzinger told him that the published part of the third secret was authentic, but that the unpublished part referred to “a bad council and a bad Mass that was to come in the near future.”
Dollinger had said much the same thing about Ratzinger before. He was quoted nine years ago as saying his conversation with Ratzinger had been “burning in his mind.”
This all tallies with apocalyptic “crisis of faith” warnings that have been rife among traditionalist Catholics for decades.
As pope emeritus in the shadow of the present Pope Francis, Benedict has remained largely silent on all matters, but he obviously felt he must speak out about the latest Dollinger allegation.
A statement from the press office of the Holy See read: “Several articles have appeared recently, including declarations attributed to Professor Ingo Dollinger according to which Cardinal Ratzinger, after the publication of the third secret of Fatima (which took place in June 2000), had confided to him that the publication was not complete.
In this regard, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declares ‘never to have spoken with Professor Dollinger about Fatima’, clearly affirming that the remarks attributed to Professor Dollinger on the matter ‘are pure inventions, absolutely untrue’, and he confirms decisively that ‘the publication of the third secret of Fatima is complete’.”
The only thing that is really clear about this issue is that someone is not telling the truth.
Of course, exposing the truth can get people into trouble. A Vatican court last week convicted a priest and a public relations executive for their involvement in leaking secret documents to two journalists. The priest has been jailed.
The leaked documents allowed journalists to expose the workings of a Vatican commission set up in 2013 to advise Pope Francis on reforming the deeply flawed Roman Curia, the Vatican’s civil service that Francis once called “the leprosy of the papacy.”
Unfortunately, the leaks did not shed any further light on the third secret of Fatima.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Can the silly season get any sillier?

Britain’s oldest ally has been trying to make sense of the hullabaloo over the referendum, but it hasn’t been easy.
For example, last weekend Tony Blair said Britain might want to change its mind. And he was talking about Brexit, not the Chilcot report.
Many of the 17 million who voted for Brexit have already changed their minds, but that’s as much use to the 16 million who voted to remain as Tony Blair’s regrets over Iraq.
Back in February, it was “after a huge amount of heartache” that Boris Johnson finally made up his mind to stab his friend David Cameron in the back and campaign for ‘leave’. What he really had in mind was to take over the prime minister’s job.
After their Brexit victory, Michael Gove suddenly changed his mind about supporting Johnson for the Tory leadership and decided instead to betray Boris and run himself.
Andrea Leadsom used to think that leaving the EU would be “disastrous” for Britain. Then she changed her mind, campaigned for Brexit and now sees herself as the new Margaret Thatcher. There is at least one major difference. As even Mrs Leadsom may recall, the lady (the grocer’s daughter) was “not for turning”, i.e. changing her mind.
Theresa May campaigned for Britain to stay in. Now she is the most likely person to be tasked with formally leading Britain out.
For the sake of the party and Britain it must be May”, asserted the Daily Mail as the Tory leadership contest got underway this week. Before the referendum. one of the most vehement critics of ‘remain’ campaigners like Theresa May was none other than the Daily Mail.
Sinister plots were being hatched over on the other side. Jeremy Corbyn’s parliamentary colleagues want him to step down. The majority of the Labour Party voters want him to stay. But Corbyn is not for quitting or changing his mind, not just yet anyway.
The referendum ‘debate’ was steeped in scaremongering, misinformation and lies. It has produced distrust, division, depression, desperation, fears and tears. And for what? Britain is coming out but no one knows where is it going.
It’s a bit more than a mess. According to the media, “the Conservative Party is in flames,” the Labour Party is “tearing itself apart” and “imploding”. Brexit has been likened to a revolution, but no one is talking about carnations.
National votes on sovereignty could become fashionable so we’d better sort out the right plural: referendums or referenda? Millions of Brits, including expats, have petitioned for a second referendum on EC membership. Independence ballots could be in the offing in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Spain... and, yes, Portugal.
A fortnight after the UK referendum, Britain has no proper government. So what’s new? After two general elections since early last December, Spain still had no proper government either. Britain has Scottish separatists. Spain has Catalans.
Portugal is not exactly a pillar of political stability. It’s minority Socialist government is deeply pro-EU, but it depends on the support of the far-left who want little or nothing to do with Brussels.
The government was“saddened” by Brexit and doesn’t want a Portexit, but it does want less austerity. The IMF wants more. Portugal has less than three weeks to correct its excessive deficit and avoid fiscal sanctions from the European Commission. If sanctions are imposed, the Left Bloc plans to demand a referendum on EU membership.
Whatever happens we have the bedrock of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance. But maybe it’s just as well the alliance is based on the Treaty of Windsor of 1386. The United Kingdom wasn’t around in those days. Portugal signed the treaty with England which the UK looks like becoming once again.
Unfortunately the alliance is not infallible. If only there had been a referendum in 1588 the Portuguese probably would have voted against remaining in their union with Spain. The Spanish Armada that set sail from Lisbon to invade England would never have happened.
Rest assured there are not going to be any more attempted European takeovers. Blighty has balls. The Little Englanders have their country back.
Fantasy and fiasco to the fore. Probably plenty more to come. It’s high summer, the “silly season”. And it’s measuring up to be the silliest imaginable.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chaos and confusion reign in the UK

Seismic feelings of insecurity have swept across Britain and Europe as the complexities of the UK leaving the European Union start to sink in.
Since referendum day, shell-shock and disbelief have given way to impressions ranging from tragedy to farce. Chaos and confusion reign.
The President of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi was at the opening of a major ECB conference in Portugal when he said on Monday: “I have difficulty finding the words to describe what has happened. Probably the best is sadness.”
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa expressed a similar sentiment, but vocabularies in all 28 European countries have struggled to adequately convey reactions. It has already been proposed that English be banned as an official EC language as soon as Britain leaves.
Amid the collapse of the political landscape in the UK, chasms of disagreement among the country’s population and turmoil in the international financial markets, there has been some bitter acrimony in Brussels.
From the initial bewilderment over Brexit, it has emerged that nothing is going to change for Britons living, visiting or investing in the EU, or for EU nationals in the UK – at least not for the next two years.
The two-year period refers to the time it is expected to take for all countries concerned to negotiate and agree on the unprecedented terms of Britain’s exit, starting from when Britain formally says goodbye, probably in September.
Outgoing Prime Minister David Cameron wants Britain to be able to take its time in reaching a deal that hopefully gives the UK the best of both worlds: freedom of trade without free movement of people.
Some leaders in Brussels seem to want the UK out as soon as possible and without concessions. Even so, as explained by British Ambassador Kirsty Hayes in a Lisbon Embassy Facebook page video, so far nothing has changed for Brits in Portugal.
Both President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and Prime Minister António Costa have made it clear that Portugal is for staying in Europe despite a call from the Left Bloc for a referendum if Brussels decides to impose new sanctions.
Portugal is in the European Union, feels good in the European Union and wants to continue in the European Union,” said the president. “The Constitution says that any decision on a referendum is for the president to make and therefore this is an issue that does not arise at this point.”
Portugal’s governing Socialist party is firmly pro-EU, though it wants reform in the way the Union is run and especially on attitudes to austerity.
The 40,000 to 50,000 British community in Portugal is small compared with the estimated 800,000 living in Spain. (although only just over 283,000 are officially registered there).
Mariano Rajoy, whose right-of-centre party emerged with the most votes from last week’s second Spanish general election in six months, has said that for the time being expats will keep the same rights to live and work as before.
Even Boris Johnson has said as much. Britain’s leading Brexit campaigner declared this week that the UK would always be “part of Europe” and that the status of EU nationals living in the UK and Britons abroad would be protected under what he called a “fair, impartial and humane “immigration system.”
It ‘s anyone’s guess what will happen to the value of the pound in the coming weeks and months. Naturally this is of concern to expats with British pensions, and those planning to holiday on the continent or buy a home in the southern European sun.
Other than exchange rates, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) says tourists will see little change to their travel plans this summer.
A summer of discontent is now assured, but when things calm down it may be more or less business as usual in the tourist industry that is so vital to Portugal's prosperity. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit, but oldest alliance will remain

Portugal intends to do everything possible to ensure that the rights of the Portuguese citizens in the UK and of British nationals who live, visit or invest in Portugal are all guaranteed in the wake of Britain’s sensational decision to leave the European Union.
This reassurance came from Prime Minister António Costa following the shock result of Thursday’s referendum in the UK. While helping to steady individual fears, Prime Minister Costa also declared that “we have the oldest alliance in the world with the United Kingdom and it will carry on long after what will be the departure of the UK from the European Union.”
The Socialist prime minister spoke of the “inevitable turbulence” following the Brexit vote, but he sought to reassure financial markets by saying that Portugal’s fragile economic recovery will remain on track.
    Britain’s decision to leave had sent a strong signal that the EU needs to reflect on becoming more relevant and useful to the lives of ordinary people, said Costa.
What is needed is not more Europe or less Europe, but a “better Europe” that, for example, produced prosperity and a single currency facilitating trade rather than lifting up some economies and penalising others.
Initially at least, the referendum result is expected to impact negatively on Portugal’s tourist industry and property markets, which rely heavily on British holidaymakers and home buyers. Of special concern was the sudden devaluation of the pound.
Football manager José Mourinho’s income provided a particularly graphic indication of the fall in the pound’s value on Friday. It was pointed out that Mourinho could lose €700,000 in the 10 million pounds a year contract he signed last month with Manchester United.
The unprecedented decision of 52% of British voters to leave the European Union shattered political convention and confounded not only eve-of-referendum opinion pollsters, but even the betting markets. It has raised all sorts of uncertainties about what now happens in the UK and in the UK’s relations with the other 27 EU member states in the coming days, weeks and months.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, has said the other 27 members are keen to preserve their unity. Prime Minister David Cameron will have to explain Britain’s position to fellow heads of government attending next Tuesday’s European Council meeting. It is thought unlikely the UK can expect any concessions from the European Council, the body responsible for setting the EU's policy agenda.
Within hours of the outcome of the referendum, David Cameron announced his derision to resign as prime minister by October despite a letter from around 80 pro-Brexit Conservative MPs insisting it was his ‘duty’ to stay on whatever the result.
The Brexit result has left the United Kingdom divided and in disarray. Most of England and Wales voted for Brexit, but majorities in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. A constitutional crisis is looming. A second referendum on independence for Scotland now seems inevitable. Cross-border cooperation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland may be jeopardised.
The presumptive US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gave the thumbs up to the Brexit vote on a visit to his golf courses in Scotland on Friday. He echoed much of the rhetoric of the Brexit leaders.
Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence. Americans will have a chance to vote for trade, immigration and foreign policies that put our citizens first,” he said.
They will have the chance to reject today's rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people.”

Saturday, June 4, 2016

The Week – Too much and too little

You may have missed World Digestive Health Day organised on 29 May each year by the World Gastroenterology Organisation, but more than 43,000 food bank volunteers turned up at supermarkets across Portugal on that day to collect food for distribution among 426,000 of the nation’s hungry.
Since then, other statistics have emerged from various sources showing that obesity is increasing at an alarming rate while sardines are becoming bewilderingly scarce.
One in three children between the ages of six and nine in Europe are either overweight or obese, according to a new report by United European Gastroenterology (UEG).The prevalence of overweight children in Europe is higher than in any other continent. The UEG’s Professor Herbert Tilg said: “The economic burden of treating adult obesity is just too great for the European region and priorities need to change quickly.”
The same report warns that an estimated 41 million children under the age of five worldwide are now obese. If current trends continue, this figure is likely to almost double by 2025.
Surprisingly, an internal report last year reckoned that within the European Union the rate of obesity in Portugal was exceeded only by that of Malta.
It may not be of huge significance, but sales of foodstuffs in Portugal’s retail sector in April increased by 1.3% on the month of March and that saw year-on-year growth surge from 3.9% in March to 5.2% in April, according to the Portuguese National Institute of Statistics (INE).
Meanwhile, average life expectancy from birth in Portugal is now just over 81 years, with men living to more than 76 and women making it to 83. A new report from the INE reveals that the average life expectancy has risen by more than two and a half years in the past decade. Portuguese women live six years longer on average, but the gap is narrowing.
People are growing older, but fewer are being born. Portugal has one of Europe’s lowest fertility rates. The average number of children for every woman of child-bearing age fell from three in 1970 to one in 2013, according to the OECD.
Questions arise as to whether the widely lauded Mediterranean diet has anything to do with any of this. Statistics on the subject are scant but it is said that a Mediterranean diet helps arouse sexual desires, if any help is needed that is. The two top stimulants are believed to be those Portuguese staple drinks, red wine and coffee. In moderate amounts of course.
Red wine and coffee are definitely here to stay but concerns are deepening about the future of sardines. Mackerel are by far the most caught and sold fish in Portugal nowadays. Due to fishing quotas, the 13,729 tons of sardines traded at fish auction last year was the lowest amount since such statistical records were first collected.
The national fishing fleet captured a total of 140,800 tonnes of fish (including 46.400 tonnes of mackerel). That was up by 21,000 tonnes on 2014. The 2015 haul fetched €261 million at auction, 5,4% higher than in 2014, but the average price of landed fish, €1.81€ per kg, was the lowest since 2012.
The average price of sardines at auction (€2.19 per kg) was the highest in the last twenty years. Further quota cuts this year are expected to send sardine prices soaring further.
Bom apetite!

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

McCanns appealing to Supreme Court

      - Privacy versus freedom of expression -

The lawyer for Kate and Gerry McCann has filed an appeal in Portugal’s Supreme Court following last month’s Appellate Court decision in favour of Gonçalo Amaral.
This is the latest move in the long-running civil action over the former lead detective’s controversial book about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance in 2007.
The court last month overturned an earlier decision to award half a million euros in damages to the McCanns. The Supreme Court review is expected to focus mainly on legal aspects of the case rather than material issues.
The lifting of both the damages ruling and the ban on further publication of the book was seen as a highly significant decision within traditional areas of conflict: the right to honour and privacy on the one hand, and to freedom of expression and opinion on the other.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right enshrined in the Portuguese constitution that applies to every citizen, but it comes with certain constraints.
While everyone has a right to express and to publicise their thoughts in words, images or by any other means, the constitution also states that everyone has a right to a good name and reputation, and to the protection of the intimacy of private and family life.
The media have the right - indeed it is their social function - to spread news and give critical or non-critical opinions. It is important that they do so with respect for the truth and for the intangible rights of others, said the three appeal judges in this case last month.
Amaral in his book, The Truth of the Lie, not only included facts that were evidence in the inquiry into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, but aired his opinion that Madeleine was not abducted. He suggested that she died accidentally and that her parents covered this up by concealing her body and making up a false story.
The facts of the case in the form of evidence in police files had already been widely published in newspapers and on the Internet as a result of an initiative by the office of Portugal’s prosecutor general. Amaral had the legitimate right to describe and interpret these facts.
The allegation expressed in his book that the McCanns were involved in a cover-up was not new either. It was already in the public domain as it was contained in the police files and was the basis upon which the couple had been declared official suspects, arguidos, in the original investigation.
The judges indicated that the McCanns had voluntarily limited their rights to privacy by making themselves available to the national and international media to which they had easy access. In effect they opened the way for anyone to debate and express opinions about the case, including opinions that contradicted their own.
In essence, the appeal judges ruled that the McCanns' rights had not been infringed and that Amaral’s book was a lawful example of freedom of expression.
Many observers would argue that the lawsuit instigated by the McCanns seven years ago is turning out to be more harmful and costly to them than the defendants. It has inadvertently generated publicity of a kind they least wanted and boosted book sales, but they have instructed their Lisbon lawyer, Isabel Duarte, to continue to the highest level.
Even that may not be the end of this dispute. Amaral is considering turning tables and suing the McCanns for damages. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Week: Clean energy surging ahead

Portugal has demonstrated its leading role in clean energy by supplying the country’s entire electricity needs solely from renewal sources for a record four days in a row. It is being acclaimed internationally as a landmark in the shift from fossil fuels.
The country’s consumption was fully covered for 107 continuous hours with hydro-power plants, wind turbines, solar panels, biofuels and geothermal heat. No fossil fuels were involved.
This is a significant achievement for a European country, but what seems extraordinary today will be commonplace in Europe in just a few years,” said James Watson, the CEO of SolarPower Europe.
Last year, more than half of the Portugal’s electricity came from renewals, though this was down from 63% in 2014 due to drought and a drop in hydro output that normally accounts for about a third of naturally replenished sources.
The International Energy Agency says in its 2016 review that “Portugal should be commended for its achievements and its ambitions in large-scale deployment of renewable energy.”
The average levels of electricity generated from renewables in the 28 countries of the EU is much less than in Portugal, which is far ahead of many other countries including the United States.
Less than 13.5% of the domestically produced electricity in the US last year came from renewables, the rest mainly from coal and natural gas.

Hottest news ever
Amid widespread grumbles about how cold and wet it has been in Portugal this spring came news this week that April was the seventh month in a row to break global temperature records.
The latest figure smashed the previous record for April by the largest margin ever recorded, as did the figures for February and March. It now seems certain that 2016 will be the hottest year on record - and probably by the largest margin ever.
Some of this can be blamed on the warm El Niño in the Pacific Ocean. But it’s not the biggest El Niño blast on record. A combination of factors are heating things up, say scientists, who this week have been talking more than ever about a “climate emergency.”
All the more reason for speeding up the move from fossil fuels to renewals.

Drugs decriminalised
New research prudently supports Portugal’s controversial drugs decriminalisation policy, previously lauded by some as a “resounding success” and dismissed by others as a “disastrous failure.”
It is fifteen years since Portugal pioneered the decriminalisation strategy. While cannabis, heroin, cocaine and other drugs remain illegal, the personal use of all illicit drugs is deemed a matter for health officials rather than the judiciary – treatment instead of imprisonment.
A study by specialists in the UK and Australia found that reported drug use among the overall population in Portugal since decriminalisation in 2001 has decreased. So has the number of problematic drug users. There has also been a reduction in drug-related deaths and infectious diseases. On the other hand, cannabis use among adolescents has increased in line with several other European counties.
Prof Alex Stevens and Dr Caitlin Elizabeth Hughes have concluded that combining decriminalisation with expansion in prevention, treatment, harm reduction and reinsertion, “may indeed offer a model for other nations that wish to provide less punitive, more integrated and effective responses to drug use.”
At the end of the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs last month - the first in almost two decades - the rift was still wide between governments insisting on prohibitionist drug control and those seeking more humane reforms.

Roundup winding down?
In March this year the President of the Portuguese Medical Association, José Manuel Silva, called for a worldwide ban on glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide ‘Roundup’.
Produced by the American Monsanto company, ‘Roundup’ has been used in vast quantities by farmers and gardeners for decades. The EU’s standing committee on plants, animals, food and feed had been due to rubber stamp its approval of glyphosate for a further 15 years, but several countries objected when the World Health Organization announced that glyphosate probably causes cancer.
After deliberating for two months, instead of giving a definitive yes or no the EC on Thursday further delayed its decision to re-license glyphosate. Meanwhile, Natural News reports that tests conducted in Portugal have detected disturbingly high levels of glyphosate in people with no professional exposure to glyphosate.

Friday, May 13, 2016

This Week: Troubling times for traders

The ‘debate’ over next month’s referendum on whether Britain should stay in or leave the European Union heated up so much this week that it is starting to look like civil war. It seems to be tearing apart the British Tory government and indeed the whole country. A wider worry in the event of a Brexit is the collateral damage in Portugal and other EU countries.
Brexit cheerleader Michael Gove says leaving would be “an empowering moment of patriotic renewal.”  The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, evoked fury in the Brexit camp on Thursday by saying that leaving might spark a recession. Then the IMF’s Christine Lagarde weighed in on Friday by saying she had “not seen anything that's positive”  about Brexit. Her remarks were dismissed by Brexit supporters as “nonsense.”
Lots of strong opinions continue to be aired, but in truth no one knows for sure what a Brexit would bring. No country has ever left the EU before.
Amidst all the internal rhetoric, scaremongering and false forecasts, a calm but concerned outlook emerged this week from the British Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in London.
Founded in 1911, the BPCC is an independent, non-profit organisation devoted to promoting commercial links between businesses in the United Kingdom and Portugal.
The UK is one of Portugal’s major export destinations, with almost €3 billion worth of goods going there every year. Few countries do more business with Portugal.
The BPCC reports that research conducted by international shippingexperts ParcelHero concludes that the impact of a Brexit on this market could be huge. It could have serious implications not only for Portuguese traders, but also consumers.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the EU to Portugal’s trade with the UK,”  writes Keegan Spindler, a member of the consumer research team.
The free movement of goods has allowed British companies to be competitive in the European market, and the cost of shipping in the EU is significantly lower than shipping to European countries that aren’t part of the Union, such as Switzerland or Iceland.
Our research suggests that by leaving the EU, the cost of goods imported to the UK from Portugal could change by as much as 30%. That price change comes from a variety of factors that include raised shipping costs, duties and taxes and handling costs.”
Such a price change would make Portuguese goods less attractive to British consumers and reduce Portuguese manufacturers’ abilities to compete on price in the UK market.
Most Portuguese small to medium enterprises are likely to look elsewhere for their customers if Britain leaves the EU, but those who don’t will have all new challenges to deal with, among them paperwork, customs clearance and duties and taxes. Furthermore, the United Kingdom will no longer be a competitive target for the logistics industry, which is likely to mean that shipping costs will rise significantly, according to the study.
The UK is expected to be separated from countries like Portugal by a lot more red tape, making it a much less attractive proposition for international businesses.
Our data suggests that the UK’s departure from the EU would likely force many SME’s who trade in the country to find new markets for their goods or be forced to quite literally pay the price. Similarly, a Brexit would see the cost of importing in to Portugal from the UK increase, and as Britain is one of Portugal’s biggest importers, it could be the consumers who end up paying the price.”
None of the above will apply, of course, if the Great British public decide on 23 June that voting for Michael Gove’s “empowering moment of patriotic renewal” would in fact be akin to a catastrophic moment of total madness.
Which way will it go? No one probably knows better than the betting bookmakers. Paddy Power’s latest odds:
*  2/5 in favour of remaining in.
*  15/8 in favour of exiting.