Wednesday, June 28, 2023

WEDNESDAY BRIEFING


Mid-week headline news 

                              – June 28

 

Emergency robot response

The Ministry of internal Administration has announced plans to use the artificial intelligence service ChatGPT to answer 112 emergency calls in Portugal from 2025. Officials have said that using ChatGPT in this way would be entering uncharted waters, but hope it will optimise the work of the emergency service and make it more efficient. At present, it sometimes takes five to six minutes to get a human response to 112 calls.

Ever-present fire risks

The National Meteorological Institute issued a warning yesterday that the risk of wildfires in most of the Algarve was at the maximum level. As if the heat wave this week was not enough of a reminder, the prime minister warned that “we must be aware that fire is a risk and a risk that is present and will not disappear”. The 70 forested areas across Portugal most affected by rural fires need the establishment of an integrated land management scheme, according to the Minister of the Environment and climate action.  Meanwhile, smoke from fires un Canada has been passing at high altitude over Portugal and other parts of Western Europe. It is not having any effect at ground level in this country.

Rural police checks

As of yesterday, the GNR police have stepped up patrols and checks on farms and forestry plantations in order to prevent possible “human trafficking and theft, and promote the safe use of vehicles”, reports Luca News.

Overweight children

A new study has concluded that last year almost a third of six to eight-year-old children in Portugal were overweight. The number in the same cateogory described as ‘obese’ was 13.5%.  

Madeleine search fails

The analysis of mitems found next to the Arade reservoir during last month’s police search have shown no connection to the 16-year-old disappearance of Madeleine McCann. It was hoped evidence would be found to trace Madeleine’s body and implicate the so-called “prime suspect”, Christian B, who frequented the area in 2007. The German police who initiated the search have reported said they are “disappointed” that the items found “have not proven to be of any use”.

Climate-affected farmers

The European Commission has proposed to allocate €11 million in support for Portuguese farmers who have been affected by drought.  A total of €330 million is to be given to farmers across 22 EU member states affected by adverse climate conditions.

Combating drug traffickers

So far this year Portuguese police have seized almost the same quantity of illegal drugs as in the whole of 2022. This has led to the criminal investigation police (PJ) warning on Monday of the need for more resources to combat drug traffickers. On the same day as this announcement it was revealed that eight men were arrested and a tonne of cocaine seized from a sailboat that ended up sinking north of the Azores.

 

 

Sunday, June 25, 2023

SUNDAY BRIEFING

 

Weekend headline news 

                             – June 25

 

Strikes next week

The secretary-general of Portugal’s largest trade union federation has predicted a national day of strikes and demonstrations all across the country next Wednesday. Workers in various sectors are demanding wage increases.

Expanding  tourism

The inland areas of Portugal, which are much less well-known to visitors compared with Lisbon, Porto or the Algarve, “can and should be inspiring for the transformation of tourism”, declared the secretary of state for tourism, commerce and services on Friday.  There are already measures in place to make this come true, he added.

Capital of Culture

Portugal’s prime minister has said that the designation of √Čvora in the Alentejo as the European Capital of Culture 2027 is an opportunity for the development of the region and he country through investment in culture.

Gambling addicts

A surprisingly large number of Portuguese people are addicted to gambling. An official study has found that 55% of Portuguese citizens – the majority of them men – have admitted to being addicted to gambling. That’s an increase of 7.6% from a similar survey in 2017.

Other addictions

The prevalence of tobacco consumption in Portugal increased from 48.8% in 2017 to 51% in 2022, according to a report by Luca News. The consumption of alcohol increased from 49.1% to 56.4% over the same period, while the use of sedatives was 13%, down from 22% in 2021.

New tax idea

The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) has presented a bill to parliament proposing a reduction of personal income tax and VAT for families. At the same time the PCP wants more taxation on companies and a tax on transitions to tax havens.

New Fatima saint

Pope Francis has signed a decree to advance the beatification of Sister Lucia, the eldest of the three children said to have witnessed the apparitions at Fatima in 1917. The Church will now have to approve a miracle attributed to her before the process of sainthood can be completed.

In the papers

The Portugal News announces that from July only electric buses will be operating in the city of √Čvora.

The Portugal Resident reports that human trafficking is a “time bomb under Portugal’s feet”.

The Algarve Daily News has led with: a story about a man who killed his wife, stayed with her corpse all night and surrendered himself the next day.

 

 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

WEDNESDAY BRIEFING


Mid-week headline news – June 21


Heatwaves coming

Meteorologists are forecasting a heat wave to start tomorrow, Thursday, with temperatures rising to 40C or more in the interiors of the Algarve, the Alentejo and the Tagus Valley. It is expected to be hot, though, less so, across the rest of the country. The heat wave is expected to last for weeks.

Don’t waste water!

A national campaign to raise awareness about the need to save water has been launched in the Algarve region. Further droughts are predicted across the country as summer sets in. The levels of water in reservoirs have continued to drop despite recent rainfalls.

Solar farm concerns

Amnesty International Portugal has accused the government of a lack of transparency and an absence of dialogue with local inhabitants in the building of photovoltaic power plants in the Alentejo and the Algarve in a document that reveals concerns about the local economy, according to Luca News.

Alagoas Brancos latest

Portugal’s minister of the environment and climate action has been asked by a group of environmental organisations to intervene in the long and bitter dispute over a plan, backed by the Lagoa municipal authority, to allow a development to be built on the Alagoas Brancas wetland situated on the verge of the city. The minister has been asked to ensure immediate protection for this Algarve wetland, which is rich in plant and bird life.

Short-term lets

Restrictions on short-term lets of particular interest to holidaymakers are proving to be a highly contentious way of tackling the housing crisis for local residents.  The main opposition Social Democratic Party has proposed the elimination what it calls “the most damaging” aspects of the government’s initiative.

Lisbon Airport improvements

The government is finishing its assessment of proposals to improve operations at Lisbon Airport, the minister of infrastructure said this Wednesday morning.  A commitment to alleviate difficulties this summer has been guaranteed.

Worst port pollution

The ports of Lisbon and Funchal in Madeira are among the top 10 ports in Europe with the highest levels of pollution associated with cruise ships. This is according to a study released on Monday by the environmental association Zero.

Also, on the front pages

Other top stories in the major Portuguese newspapers so far this week include: Illegal immigration, betting scandals, a possible tax break for landlords, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s reaction to winning his 200th international cap.

 

 

Sunday, June 18, 2023

Portugal helps reduce AI risks



Artificial intelligence (AI) has become a global revolution and has brought us well into the dawn of a new era. It is at present hugely helpful in many respects, but very difficult to comprehend while almost certainly set to impose heavier and unpredictable risks as it becomes more advanced.

The deep complexities of AI will be discussed at the 1st International Conference on Explainable Artificial Intelligence, which will be held in Lisbon next month.

Much confusion and many myths surround AI, which is essentially a man-made technological machine. It got properly underway in the late 1950s and, unknown to most of us, it was developed so that by the mid-70s it enabled computers to store much more information.  AI machines were beginning to think in much the same way as their human creators, though without any emotion. All sorts of knowledge, fast problem-solving and the interpretation of spoken language became readily available to all with a mobile phone or an ordinary computer.

AI is now commonplace, a normal part of our everyday lives. It is central to our casual or in-depth searches for information. It is good at quickly finding solutions for problems that non-AI machines are incapable of coping with. Office workers access more information more quickly and thus sometimes reduce working hours or staff numbers. Companies also profit from AI’s ability to allow us to arrange travel plans, shop online, check the best medications for specific purposes, or simply apply for job offers or citizenship. Such advanced conceptions as safe AI cars with no need for a driver at the wheel are well on the way.

However, there are growing concerns about possible pragmatic and ethical matters. Leading experts have different views on how these risks may further develop and what can be done to control them. This emphasises the importance of next month’s conference in Lisbon (July 26-28), as well as a number of other AI conferences and workshops in Portugal, both this year and next. They will bring together various academic specialists from Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia. Hopefully, these and similar get-togethers across the world will help wise up the rest of us on the precautions we need to take now and in the future to better understand and update the changes of AI.

During Rishi Sunak’s recent visit to Washington he announced that the UK would host the first global summit on AI regulation later this year. At the recent G7 summit in Japan the group discussed and set in motion the creation of an intergovernmental forum called the “Hiroshima Process”.  Other major recent events have included an open letter with hundreds of signatures from some of the biggest names in technology and AI’s most distinguished academics.

In June 2019, the Portuguese government presented an ‘AI Portugal 2030’ strategy aimed at fostering the best public and private use of artificial intelligence throughout the next decade. Under Portugal’s presidency of the European Union in 2021, the focus was on the adoption of the first EU law to maintain transparency and respect for AI users’ rights.

This week, the European Parliament produced a landmark draft law that is the world’s most far-reaching attempt to address the potentially harmful effects of artificial intelligence. If passed, the law will be an example to leaders around the world of how to extensively control AI, or in the words of the New York Times, “to put guardrails on the rapidly expanding technology.”

Among other things, the EU’s draft AI Act would ban or severely restrict the use of technology in biometric surveillance such as facial recognition software, while requiring makers of AI systems such as ChatGPT to disclose all their AI-generated data content.

The draft EU law is not expected to be passed until later this year. Meanwhile, the risks already presenting themselves involve consumer data privacy, disinformation, and biased programming, as well as inadequate legal regulations. Many companies simply disregard data privacy as there are insufficient national and international regulations on this. AI is only as correct and unbiased as the data fed into it by human programmers.   

Future issues could include AI robots being programmed to cause different sorts of serious damage. The technologies could be used to provide benefits to one side or the other in major international disputes or warfare.

Much of the control of AI will be down to the expertise and management of the younger generation, which is why the AI Portugal 2030 initiative is so important. It seeks to support how students and young graduates grapple with the complexities of this subject.

As to the notion that AI robots may eventually take over the world, thia is far from science fiction.  Many scientists, including the renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, believe it to be very possible.

 


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

WEDNESDAY BRIEFING


Mid-week headline news 

                              – June 14

 

Portugal-UK anniversary

King Charles III and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will meet in London tomorrow, Thursday, to lead celebrations for the 650th anniversary of the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance.  This treaty of friendship, peace and cooperation was signed in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral by England’s King Edward III and Portugal’s King Fernando and Queen Leonor on June 16, 1373. It is the world’s oldest existing diplomatic alliance and still involves such things as bilateral trade and cultural events. Celebrations in Portugal will continue into next year with a project between the English National Ballet Company and dance schools in Braga.

Wildfire warnings

The rural area in the Algarve municipality of Tavira has been named this week as at “very high” risk, while Sao Bras de Alportel is at “high risk” of wildfires. This is according to the Institute of the Sea and the Atmosphere (IPMA). The institute placed 33 other municipalities in the districts of Faro, Beja, Setubal, Evora and Leira at a “moderate” danger level.

Canadian wildfire Help

Portugal has sent 140 operatives to help fight the forest fires that have long been out of control and caused devastation in Canada, particularly the western state of Alberta. The Portuguese team left today on a commercial flight from Lisbon. 

More Chinese tourists

A search engine dedicated to Portugal is seeking to encourage more people in China to visit this country. The program, all in the Chinese language, highlights 750 points of interest, including tourist attractions, special entertainment, shopping, gastronomy and hotel facilities. About 385,000 Chinese citizens visited Portugal in 2019, the year before the COVID pandemic, the permanent representative of Turismo de Portugal in China told the Lusa news.

Drop in Golden visas

“US citizens Abandon Portugal” is the headline of a Schegen Visa report that points out that Golden Visa demand has dropped 37% following the government’s decision to terminate the scheme.  He figure of 37% was provided by the international advisory firm Get Golden Visa.

No end to Maddie case

The German prosecutor in charge of investigating the so-called “prime suspect” in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann has admitted his inquiries could go on until after Christian Bruckner has been released from prison for a rape conviction. No firm evidence has been reported from the recent search by Portuguese, German and British police next to the Arade reservoir frequented by Bruckner in 2007 around the time Madeleine went missing. 

Bringing back bees 

Several indicatives have just been launched in the Braganca district in the north-east of Portugal to preserve bees and recover previous standards of honey production. Beekeepers say droughts have been the cause of a drop of 80% in honey production, the worst decline in 40 years. 

 


Sunday, June 11, 2023

Americans pouring into Portugal






Portugal has emerged as a highly appealing destination for US citizens wishing to relocate abroad. 

 

More and more North Americans have been coming here over the past three years, some to take advantage of the Golden Visa program, others to study, work or live in retirement.

 

The Americans are generally made welcome by local communities and this adds greatly to the fact that Portugal is physically and economically one of the most popular countries for immigrants in the whole of Europe.

 

“The country’s breath-taking landscapes, rich history, affordable living costs and high quality of life make it an attractive option for those seeking a change of scenery,” says Marla Barret, a specialist US adviser on Golden Visas.

 

“According to SchengenVisaInfo.com, US investors who planned to make investments in Portugal before November last year faced high costs. However, considering the strength of the US currency they can now purchase prime real estate in Portugal and get a Golden Visa.”

 

Marla Barret (pictured below) continued: “Additionally, recent statistics from the Portuguese Immigration and Border Service (SEF) indicate that among a total of 649 successful applications for Golden Visas filed in the first half of this year, 124 (19%) were from US nationals, while only 105 were from Chinese citizens. This data demonstrates the significant interest US citizens have in Portugal’s Golden Visa program.”



 

The program only appeals to the very wealthy, those willing to invest a minimum of €500,000 in real estate. Among other things, the granting of a visa allows holders to travel for business or leisure activities throughout the European Union’s 26-nation Schengen area. Benefits are extended to financially dependent family members. Residency can lead to EU citizenship.

 

Golden Visa applications were frozen from February this year, but there has been no official announcement regarding the deadline to end applications. The Portuguese Prime Minister stated that new measures to the Golden Visa program would be terminated sometime in 2023, but according to SchengenVisaInfo.com”golden visas for entrepreneurs will remain available for those interested, which enables foreign entrepreneurs who want to develop a project in this field in Portugal to do so. These new visa applications are assessed by considering the economic, social, scientific, technological or cultural relevance of the investment”.

 

The Portuguese government’s February statement said it would be ending the Golden Visa scheme, but the legislative process has not quite finished. The scheme could, however, be wrapped up at the end of this month.

 

There have been criticisms of the scheme, including allegations that it has brought dirty money into the country. It is also thought to have inflated property and rent prices during a national housing crisis, which is why the government decided to end the scheme.

 

Meanwhile, Portugal is a much sought-after place to study, work or retire. This is because of its relatively stable and growing economy in addition to its well-developed, if currently far from perfect, education, healthcare and transport systems. This has allured many US expats, especially from California. Portugal and California have similar Mediterranean-type climates, though Portugal usually has even more sunshine and the winters here are milder.

 

For the first time ever, the number of foreigners living in Portugal has reached almost 700,000. That’s almost 7% of the total population. The latest study on the subject reported that this was positive as it provides an increase in the workforce without which many business sectors would collapse. And the country is far from over-populated; it is only eighteenth among the EU’s 27 states with foreign ex-pats.

 

The cost of properties in Portugal can vary significantly depending on the location one chooses. A decision on where to buy will largely depend on the specific purpose of the acquisition. For instance, retirees often gravitate towards the coastal towns in the Algarve or Cascais due to their desired lifestyle, whereas young professionals tend to favour more urban areas like Lisbon or Porto.

 

The price range for properties is diverse, offering options for different budgets and preferences. In general, coastal regions and popular tourist destinations tend to have higher property prices, particularly in much sought-after areas with beautiful beaches or stunning views. On the other hand, inland regions and less-populated areas can offer more affordable options.

 

Portugal is always open to those interested in relocating here, but one has to fulfil certain requirements to get a visa. The official Portugal Visa Application form is downloadable from the visa portal. The requirements for a normal visa are much the same as for a Golden Visa. What is needed is a valid passport, two passport-size photographs https://mybiometricphotos.com/visa-photo/portugal/ , proof of having obtained health insurance valid in Portugal https://visaguide.world/international-health-insurance/ and proof of having no previous criminal records and a certificate from any country where you have lived longer than one year. The certificate has to be issued by the relevant authorities within the previous three months and translated into Portuguese.

 

Applicants will also need a sworn statement that they will maintain their investment for a minimum period of five years, a payment receipt from the ARI portal, any documents related to their investment.

 

 

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

WEDNESDAY BRIEFING

 

Mid-week headline news 

                                 - June 7

 

Portugal Day in SA

It will be officially celebrated at home this coming Saturday, June 10, but Portugal Day commemorations are already underway in South Africa. They are being attended by Portugal’s president, prime minister, several MPs and other senior officials. The number of Portuguese citizens or descendants living in South Africa is estimated to be anywhere from 200,000 to 450,000.    

New residence permits

 Over 113,000 Portuguese-speaking immigrants have been granted residence permits in this country since the launch on March 13 of a special platform that aims to ease the procedure to acquire residency. Most of the beneficiaries are from Brazil (86.8%), according to the European Commission. The rest are mostly from Angola and San Tome.

Ukrainians leaving 

The number of Ukrainian refugees in Portugal who fled the war has continued to decline. It was announced on Monday that 4,000 have left in the last two months. The number still here, having been granted residence permits, is 56,528.

Yet more strike action

Disruptions in all Portuguese train services are expected to last until July 6. More airport disruptions could take place if SEF border staff continue strike actions on June 10-12, 17-19 and 24-26.

TAP airline privatisation 

The Portuguese state intends to keep a stake in TAP and will not offer all of its capital in the upcoming privatisation of the airline, says the minister of finance. The government is seeking an independent evaluation of TAP before its privatisation, which could be launched next month.

More hotel rooms

Another 130 hotels are expected to open in Portugal this year. This will add well over 15,000 rooms, according to the consultancy firm Lodging Econometrics. Only three other countries in Europe – the UK, Germany, and France – have more hotel rooms. Meanwhile, the housing crisis for Portuguese residents continues.

Solar vs biodiversity

A Spanish company is hoping to build a 145 hectare solar plant in the Eastern Algarve that protesters, who are seeking more supporters, say is a unique area of biodiversity, home to more than 300 species of flora and fauna and the direct infiltration for the Moncaarapacho/Peral aquifer.

Algarve water limits

All 16 local authorities in the Algarve are to ensure that urban water consumption does not exceed 2019 levels. If necessary, they are willing to go further, according to the president of the Algarve’s inter-municipal community.

Family doctors lacking

More than 1.7 million people in Portugal are now without a family doctor. The number rose by 4.7% between April and May this year. This is indicated on the transparency portal of the Portuguese national health service (SNS).

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Killer whales need to calm down

 

Humans have long been endangering killer whales, some of which have become a growing threat to sailboats, particularly off the coasts of Portugal and Spain.

There have already been at least 60 reported attacks in Iberian waters this year, according to a regional research group specialising in killer whales.

Reports of violent incidents began in 2020 leading Portugal's National Marine Agency to issue a statement warning sailors of the "curious behaviour" of some killer whales in that they were attracted to rudders and propellers. It advised crew members to switch-off engines if whales approached. This didn’t work.

A year later, Spanish authorities banned small boats from sailing near the coast of Cape Trafalgar following 50 encounters with killer whales, including 25 in which boats had to be towed to shore. That year, 2021, there were a total of 197 violent interactions. Last year there were 207.

The GT Orca Atlantica working group says that killer whales - also known as orcas - started deliberately attacking boats for a reason that is not altogether clear. Some scientists believe younger orcas began imitating the behaviour of an older, hostile female, which may have been traumatised following a collision with a boat or being trapped in fishing nets.

That traumatised orca may have been the one that started this behaviour of physical contact with the boats, Alfredo Lopez Fernandez has suggested. He is a biologist at the University of Aveiro in Portugal who has co-authored a study on orcas’ behaviour. He told Live Science he thought the behaviour was "defensive based on trauma" and was being imitated by other whales.

A skipper told the German magazine Yacht that two smaller whales appeared to copy the technique of a larger one when slamming into his vessel.

Six killer whales rammed a sailboat off the Straits of Gibraltar last month, breaking the rudder and piercing the hull. Coastguards rescued the people on board, but the boat sank. Rescue authorities have had to provide rapid-response crews and helicopters for such events.

Many damaged vessels can be saved and brought to shore, but some cannot be bailed out and unavoidably sink as another did off the coast of Portugal last November when its hull was cracked open by orcas. It is likely to go on and on without any truce or peace plan in sight.

Killer whales are beautiful mammals, the largest of the oceanic dolphin family. They have large mouths and many sharp, interlocking teeth designed not for chewing but ripping and tearing their fish diet. Orcas occur in oceans across the world growing to as much as nine metres (29.6 feet) in length and weighing up to 10,000 kilos (10 tonnes). Males can be up to twice as heavy as females.

 

Iberian orcas are smaller than those in the Pacific. They are an isolated sub-population, a pod of about 32 individuals. A study has found that inbreeding is hampering their population growth.

 

Those feeding on red tuna along the Iberian shores share the main characteristics of their cousins elsewhere. They are social animals living in close communities with their own culture and constantly communicating with one another in various vocal ways.

 

Humans have been harming if not killing orcas by polluting the seas with plastics, spilt oil and other contaminants. Fishing nets are another hazard. Boat engine noise is disruptive to their normal underwater hearing and communications.

 

Orcas attack boats that are often twice their size, but they do not show aggression to humans. While it is difficult to come up with a peace plan, the killing of killer whales is unthinkable as they have a reputation in mythology as being the “souls of humans' ', and, more importantly, they are protected under international, EU, Portuguese and Spanish law.