Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Outlook for Portugal's election

Two weeks of campaigning are well underway among the parties contesting Portugal’s early national election on March 10.

The centre-right Democratic Party (PSD) is predicted to replace the centre-left Socialist Party (PS), both having fought for dominance for decades.

The humiliated centre-left PS will likely finish second, and the far right-Chega party is expected to advance more than ever and become third.

While the moderate PSD may not be on the verge of implementing any fundamental changes, the PS involvement will probably shrink because of the corruption scandal that forced it out of power in November last year and made way for this snap election. The long-serving Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, is now retiring and still claiming he was not involved in any wrong-doing, but many voters seem fed up with the PS and have shifted to the right, if not the far right.

Portugal’s Chega party has similar populist views to those of the other far-right parties that have been doing well recently in a number of European countries.

In the European Parliamentary election in June, nine of the far-right populist groups –   including those in France, Italy, and the Netherlands are expected to gain much ground. Nine others – including those in Germany, Spain, and Portugal - are expected to do much better than ever before.

The PS corruption scandal that brought about the resignation of Prime Minister Costa caused much outrage, yet a little humour. The giant Swedish company, IKEA, posted advertisements in Portugal joking about the scandal. It was posted on an IKEA advertisement in Portugal showing one of its bookshelves, thus referring to the allegation that Costa’s former chief of staff had hidden money in a bookcase. 

There is no joking, however, about the on-going challenges facing the on-going challenges facing the Portuguese government in 2024, including the health service, housing, and cost of living crises, among others.

Portugal remains a relatively small, peaceful, and innocuous country that is doing its very best in a truly dire world. It will no doubt remain committed to proposing peace in Ukraine and the Middle East. But what if Donald Trump wins the national election in the United States in November? 




Friday, February 16, 2024

Donald Trump blasts Portugal and other members of the NATO alliance

The most alarming news this week for Portugal and the rest of Europe has been Donald Trump’s threat to abandon NATO because some members were “not paying their bills.” He said he told a NATO ally that he would encourage Russia “to do whatever the hell they want to ‘delinquent’ members.”

It sent shock waves across all member states.  As president of the United States from January 2017 t0 January 2021, Trump was scathing about members of the alliance. If reinstated to the White House as expected in this November’s national election, it is feared he may turn his bitter words into action.  At this stage, there are serious worries that his latest threat is more than electioneering hyperbole from a would-be dictator.

Incumbent President Joe Biden called Trump’s comments “appalling and dangerous.” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg warned that the threat put American and European soldiers “at increasing risk.”

In the aftermath of the Second World War, Portugal was one of the 12 founding countries of the Atlantic Alliance in 1949. Today there are   a total of 31 members of the alliance, Finland becoming the latest, by joining last year. However, only 11 of the 31 are paying their agreed share on defence, according to official estimates. These composed mostly of countries close to Russia and Ukraine. Portugal is among the 20 not paying enough.

The alliance set a target of 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) for each member. Poland is top of the list of spenders with 3.90% of its GDP on defence more than the United States which spends 3.49%.  The United Kingdom is also above the 2% threshold. The most notable members not reaching the target are France (1.90%), Germany (1.57%) and Norway (1. 67%). Portugal is closer to the bottom of the list with 1.48%. Canada has only managed 1.38% and Spain 1.26%.

Despite the defence spending below the 2% guideline, Jens Stoltenberg hit back at Trump, saying, “I expect that regardless of who wins the election, the U.S will remain a strong and committed ally.” He stressed that any attack on a NATO country would “be met with a united and forceful response.”  NATO is heavily involved in supporting Ukraine following Russia’s 2022 invasion, and is collaborating more with Indo-Pacific countries in view of China’s aggression in the region.

Portugal is perhaps one of NATO’s least vulnerable countries should it come to a spread of the conflict in Europe. Yet the geographical location of mainland Portugal, the Azores and Madeira has always offered a strategic, protective triangle for NATO. An increase in defence expenditure will no doubt be debated after next month’s legislative election in this country.      

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Desperate water shortage in Algarve

Everyone in the Algarve must greatly reduce their consumption of water in any way they possibly can to help in what is being described as the worst drought situation ever in the region.

The caretaker government is demanding cuts to farmland irrigation and urban environments including tourism-dependent hotels.  Ordinary householders, especially those with a swimming pool or a garden irrigation system, must also significantly reduce consumption. If they don’t, the authorities have no choice but to impose tighter restrictions and higher prices

Thursday's rain was most welcome, but it is not going to change the severe shortage that has worsened over the years because of climate change.  The reservoirs and groundwater supplies are extremely low and may not get any higher before the rainless summer sets in. On average the Algarve’s six reservoirs are currently only 25% full. Some have far less.

Without immediate cuts in consumption “we would reach the end of 2024 without water for public supply,” says Portugal Environment Minister, Duarte Cordeiro. Agricultural irrigation will have to drop by an average of 25% on last year - and the cuts could rise to 50% in areas around the emptiest reservoirs.  Urban areas, including hotels and golf courses, face cuts of 15%. 

Local municipalities are being forced to reduce overall consumption by 15% and if they don’t do so quickly, less water will be available to them, meaning that householders will face higher prices and less water in their taps.

There is no such thing as “natural” weather anymore. It has all been complicated by man-made global greenhouse gas emissions. Portugal has long been regarded climatically as the California of Europe, but at the moment it could hardly be more different. So far this month California has been devastated by floods and landslides. No doubt things will be back to “normal” in the summer with similar heat waves and wildfires.

The European Copernicus Climate Change Service announced this Thursday that for the first time on record, global warming in Europe over a 12-month period has breached the critical 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. The world’s oceans have set a new record as the heat intensifies.

Scientists say there is still time to keep global warming below the crucial 2.o degree C threshold, but it will mean far greater and more immediate action to limit the emission of greenhouse gasses, especially by the most powerful countries such as the United States, China, Russia, India, and the United Kingdom. 

We are all fed up with “crises” in the world, but here is yet another, albeit a much more regional one.

As wonderful as it is to live in peaceful Portugal and the western Mediterranean, this is well known as one of the most vulnerable places in Europe to the most serious impacts of climate change.

Portugal is at the forefront of countries in the world addressing climate change by reducing fossil fuels, but it is a small country and it understands with the deepest concern how nations such as The United States, The United Kingdom,  China and  Russia remained more focused on the likes of war, financial, immigration and other domestic worries.

It’s not doomsday talk: coping successfully with global warming must be the world’s number one priority for human survival.




Thursday, February 1, 2024

A new cannabis farm in the Algarve


A Danish company has started producing large quantities of medical cannabis on a farm in the municipality of Lagoa.


It is being grown within strict legal and security rules for medicinal cannabis.


Scientists say medicinal cannabis can alleviate symptoms such as the pain associated with cancer and multiple sclerosis, and the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.  It can also stimulate appetite and prevent weight loss in people with HIV/AIDS, help treat certain rare forms of epilepsy, and even improve anxiety, insomnia, and sleep quality.


The Lagoa farm is inside a security perimeter of 8.7 hectares that must fulfil mandatory security requirements including video vigilance, an anti-intrusion system, and access control. The transportation of cannabis must also be carried out according to a set of rules including fully informing the local authorities. 


The sunny weather in the Algarve is perfect for growing cannabis. The sandy soil in the Lagoa farm is excellent because it allows good water drainage and a breathable environment for the roots of the plants. 


Unfortunately, the growers are now facing a very concerning period due to water availability. However, cannabis is not as water demanding as many other plants. The producers have a water-saving policy with which they collect water from their drainage system, guide it into a pond, and then use mainly drip irrigation. They are investing in the improvement of the irrigation system to be able to manage it and control it carefully, to guarantee there’s no water wastage.


There are two medicinal cannabis farms in the eastern Algarve, but for Lagoa, it all started recently with a Danish mother company, Schroll Medical, a group owned by brothers dedicated to the production of ornamental plants in both Denmark and Portugal. 


Sandra Sal, the company’s agronomist, explained that Schroll Flowers was mainly focused on hydrangeas. In 2018, after a friend with a serious health problem started to use CBD oil that improved her life quality in a way that allowed her to restart working, the brothers understood the positive influence medical cannabis could have in many patients’ lives. They came up with the idea of using their growing skill to produce medical cannabis and started taking all the necessary steps to start the project.


In 2018, the group acquired a company in Lagoa dedicated to organic herbs production. They called it Schroll Flavours and continued this activity, selling organic herbs to several countries in Europe. A year later, the group took the first steps of the cannabis project.


In 2023, after achieving the certificate that authorizes the cultivation of medical cannabis, and submitting the request for another certificate that provides the necessary permission to produce active pharmaceutical Ingredients Schroll Flavours left the production of organic herbs to concentrate 100% on cannabis production based on organic farming principles.


The plan is to have all-year-round production. However, because the intention is to produce in outdoor conditions and under organic farming principles, the growers will be more subject to the climate and environmental conditions than growers of other plants.


The Danish company aims to export to several countries in Europe from the middle of this year. 

During 2024, it hopes to produce several tones of the plant with a medical quality that allows it to be released as a starting material for all relevant plant-based cannabinoid products.