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!