Thursday, February 28, 2019

Britain is leaving, English is staying

One thing for sure amid the mass of political, economic and social unknowns as the United Kingdom prepares to leave the European Union is that its language is staying.
This is ironic, as the current chaos in Britain could have been avoided had the whole question of Brexit been explained and debated before and since the 2016 referendum – in plain, honest English. 
English is by far the most spoken language across the continent of Europe. Much more than French or German, it’s the lingua franca used by the highest institutions within the European Union.
This is expected to continue long after Brexit, even though English will remain the predominant official language in only one of the EU’s 27 member states – Ireland.
English is the most widely spoken language in the world as so many people in so many nations learn it as a second language. 
For example, all schoolchildren in Portugal, from primary and certainly secondary age, are taught English.
At least 28 per cent of Portuguese citizens speak English reasonably fluently, and with an accent more easily understood than that in some regions of the UK.
Fewer Spaniards speak English but far more northern Europeans have a good command of English. It’s spoken by 90 per cent of Dutch people, 86 per cent of Danes and Swedes, and about 56 per cent  of Germans. 
Just as variations of English have evolved in North America, India, the Caribbean and elsewhere, Portuguese dialects have been firmly established in Brazil and parts of Africa.
As a national language, more people speak Chinese or Spanish than English, but with 360 million native speakers and almost twice as many second language speakers, English is the most prevalent language on the planet.
Portuguese is the third most spoken European language in the world. Globally, as a consequence of its former days as a colonial power, it’s the sixth after Arabic and Hindi. Only five percent of the 215 million Portuguese speakers actually live in Portugal.
Nowhere is language static. The spread of English has been encouraged by the enlargement of the European Union and the movement of working people westward from Eastern European countries.  
Euro-English has been developing in top EU circles since the mid-1980s.
It regularly appears in important EU documents, with spellings and word usages not found in standard English dictionaries.
For example, “expertises” and 'informations” are used in the plural form in line with other European languages.
“Planification” is commonly used in EU documents when referring to planning. “Comitology” is a noun referring to the work of committees.
A European Commission English Style Guide recommends other preferences in official documents, including some distinctly American spellings.
Even after Brexit, English-speakers should not be complacent, however. The working language of the European Court of Justice is French.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Portugal poised for post-Brexit

Unfettered by pride in its six centuries-old alliance with England under the Treaty of Windsor, Portugal is standing by its continental European partners in their response to the UK’s shambolic moves to leave the EU at the end of next month.

·      To read the full article, please go to the following Portugal Resident  link:

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Can Faro get its stolen books back?

Renewed efforts are being made to recover the unique collection of books plundered from Faro by a British military force more than 400 years ago and kept ever since at the University of Oxford.

The Faro 1540 Association is at the heart of a request for the return of what it regards as an historical, cultural and symbolic treasure.

The association is devoted to the defence and promotion  of Faro’s environmental and cultural heritage.

The collection it wants returned is believed to consist of 91 volumes. It was stolen from the library of the Bishop of Faro in 1596 when a military force, led by Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, came ashore from a passing fleet and set the city ablaze.

The atrocity took place during the Anglo-Spanish War while Portugal was annexed and under Spanish rule.The books were taken from the library of Fernando Martins Mascarenhas, a highly-acclaimed Portuguese scholar and theologian, who resigned as Bishop of Faro to take up the post of Inquisitor General of Portugal.

Back in England, Devereux presented the books to his friend Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Faro books have remained in the Bodleian since its inauguration in 1602.

At its general assembly in December 2013, the Faro 1540 Association unanimously approved a motion requesting the return of the books.

The University of Oxford has shown no intention of giving up the collection. But it is now clear that the books are in good condition, securely stored and are catalogued online.

This has been confirmed to us by Sarah Wheale, head of the Bodleian’s Rare Books Department of Special Collections. “Readers can order any of the books themselves via our online ordering system and take photographs for their own research purposes”, she says. “If anyone wants to come and see any of our books there’s a simple same day process to obtain a readers card”. 

The president of the Faro 1540 Association, Paulo Oliveira Botelho, an archaeologist and historian, says that in order to promote dialogue about the return of the books, the association has been in contact not only with the University of Oxford, but also with the British Embassy in Lisbon, the Portuguese Secretary of State for Culture, the Regional Delegation of Culture, deputies representing the Algarve in the Portuguese parliament, the bishop of the Algarve and the president of the Faro Municipality.

The committee of Faro 1540 has decided that this year, in which the association celebrates its 10th anniversary, it will “re-raise the flag to undertake all possible efforts to recover this important cultural heritage and make this dream a reality”.

Botelho added: “We intend to appeal to the highest authorities of the British government, with the support of the important British community who reside in the Algarve and elsewhere in Portugal, in the name of the Treaty of Windsor, one of the oldest alliances in the world signed in May 1386, which has united us for 633 years.

“It’s time to heal the open wound in our relations and to take a further step in the strengthening of Luso-British relations.”

The renewed interest in the Faro book collection follows the recent request by the indigenous people of Chile’s Easter Island for the return of a unique Moai statue removed 150 years ago and now kept in the British Museum in London.

The sculpture was removed from the island by Richard Powell, captain of HMS Topaze, in 1868 and given to Queen Victoria, who donated it to the museum in 1869.

Closer to home and as Britain prepares to leave the European Union, Greece has reinvigorated its demand for the return of the 2,500-year-old Parthenon Marbles. Britain has long resisted campaigns for the return of what it calls the Elgin Marbles, along with treasures in the British Museum taken from other countries, including Egypt, Ethiopia and Nigeria  ─  often citing legislation that bans its museums from permanently disposing of any of their collections.

Earlier article on the Faro books:

Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex 

Friday, January 4, 2019

EU taking the lead on plastic waste

         To read this article, please click on to the following 
    Portugal Resident  link:

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

January in the good and bad old days

             The Julian calendar proposed by Julius Caesar took effect on 1 January 45BC when the place we now know as Portugal was under the control of the Roman Republic.
        On 10 January four years earlier, Julius Caesar had famously crossed the Rubicon and declared Alea iacta est (The die has been cast!). This resulted in the Great Roman Civil War, a politico-military struggle fought over a wide area, including the provinces of Hispania, as the Iberian Peninsula was then called.
       On 16 January 27BC, Augustus became emperor of the Roman Republic and went on to establish the Roman Empire. The complete Romanisation of Portugal took place over centuries and left a profound administrative and cultural legacy that remains to the present day.
       Various armies and cultures came and went in Portugal and Spain after the downfall of the Romans. The most influential and longest-lasting were the Moors, Muslims from North Africa, who overwhelmed the Germanic, so-called “barbarian”, Visigoths in 711. 
     A major turning point in the centuries of Moorish occupation in central Portugal started on 20 January 1064 when Ferdinand I of León-Castile began besieging the Muslim city of Coimbra.  The Moorish governor surrendered and was allowed to leave with his family, but 5,000 inhabitants were taken captive and deported.
     Seven hundred years of Moorish rule in the Iberian Peninsula ended on 2 January 1492 when Queen Isabel of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon finally conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. 
     Having set out from Lisbon with four ships in mid-1497 to find a sea route to the East Indies, the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama reached the mouth of the Zambezi River in January the following year, before eventually sailing around Africa's Cape of Good Hope to become the first European to open a sea passage to India. 
     Portuguese explorers landed at Guanabara Bay on the coast of South America on 1 January 1502 and named it Rio de Janeiro (River of January), now Brazil’s second largest city. 
     The Julian calendar had always miscalculated the length of the solar year by 11 minutes and so it had fallen out of sync with the seasons. Because of this, the Roman Emperor's system was replaced in 1562 by the Gregorian calendar. Named after Pope Gregory XIII, who was born in January 1502, this calendar is still the most commonly used in the world today. 
     Catholicism, along with the Catholic monarchs, was in full control in Portugal throughout the Middle Ages and into modern times. 
     Frequently there were serious disputes and friction at the top. For example, on 13 January 1759, the nobleman Dom Francisco Távora and his entire family were publicly executed in a field near Lisbon for allegedly trying to murder King Dom José I. The king and his court were on hand to watch the executions, even though the accusation of high treason had not been proven. It was thought to have been a political and economic conspiracy against the Távora family fabricated by the king’s right-hand man, the Marquis of Pombal.
     New Year’s Eve 1908 was the penultimate day in the life of the penultimate king of Portugal. Revolutionary gunmen assassinated 44-year-old Carlos I and his eldest son, Luis Filipe, as they rode in an open carriage through the streets of Lisbon.  
       A republican revolution forced Carlos’s younger son and heir, Manuel, to abdicate. Manuel and his mother fled to London via Gibraltar. They settled at Abercorn House in Richmond early in 1911. After marrying the German Princess Victoria Augusta of Hohenzollern in 1913, Manuel and his family settled at Fulwell Park in Twickenham.  
      Republicans had their differences too, of course, and it was in the city of Beja north of the Algarve  in the early hours of 1 January 1961 that an unsuccessful military attempt was made to topple the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar. The revolution proper would have to wait another 13 years.
     Under a democratically elected president, António Ramalho Eanes, rather than a monarch or dictator as head of state, Portugal joined the European Economic Community, forerunner of the European Union, on 1 January 1986.
Along with 10 other countries, Portugal began using the euro currency on 1 January 2002. The escudo disappeared fast, but unprecedented financial problems were soon to emerge. 
    Even the economist Aníbal Cavaco Silva, centre-right prime minister from 1985 to 1995, couldn’t have foreseen the severity of what lay ahead when he was elected president in January 2006. The downturn in the Portuguese economy that started in 2001 drastically worsened with the global credit crunch in 2008.
    In early 2010 the Socialist government was preparing a package of austerity measures, including cuts in public spending and tax increases, to reduce Portugal’s budget deficit. The country soon reached a record high unemployment rate of nearly 11%, a figure not seen for more than two decades.
    Amid the backdrop of hundreds of thousands of workers going on strike, the credit ratings agency Standard and Poor’s downgraded Portugal’s rating to junk status in January 2012.
    By January 2015, former Socialist premier José Socrates was in custody on suspicion of corruption, tax fraud and money laundering.
      By contrast, former Socialist prime minister António Guterres took office as United Nations Secretary-General to extraordinary acclaim on New Year’s Day 2017.  One of the few things the most powerful leaders across the bitterly divided world agree upon was that Guterres was the best man for the herculean job of curbing warfare, deprivation and poverty. 
       Among the few things we can be fairly sure of in the Algarve in January 2019 are mid-winter maximum temperatures of 16º and minimums of 8º, with a good amount of rain to water the gardens and countryside. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Azores initiative targets ocean waste

An organisation in Portugal’s Azores is pressing ahead with a joint innovative project aimed at substantially tackling the problem of plastic waste in the archipelago.
A pilot scheme by the Brussels-based NGO ‘Waste Free Oceans’ (WFO), which started in mid-October on São Miguel, the biggest of the Azores islands, is to continue into 2019 and could lead to a much wider, open-ended programme.
The initial project is looking into efficient ways of collecting, recycling and reusing recycled plastics.
Supported by the Azorean Government, ASEMA (Associação Sete Mares dos Açores), IMAR (Instituto do Mar, Universidade dos Açores), OMA (Observatório do Mar dos Açores) and the Thomsea company, the broad objective is to significantly contribute to the prevention and clearance of plastics pollution in the Atlantic Ocean.
The project is being conducted by volunteers in collaboration with the Swiss watch firm Baume, which is planning to use recycled plastic in the creation of a sustainable watch.
On the basis of the findings of the pilot phase, the joint partners intend to apply for longer-term funding to set up a formal ‘Fishing for Litter’ scheme.
The WFO project is using fishing trawlers and new Thomsea technology nets to collect all sorts of floating marine debris.
The project is also reducing shoreline waste by organising beach clean-ups and awareness-raising activities with the help of local organisations.
The WFO is using this first phase to acquire a better understanding of the waste issues on and off the coasts of the archipelago, which lies some 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) west of mainland Portugal.
The group has collected information from various stakeholders about the overall waste in the whole of the Atlantic.
It’s trying to raise awareness both among policy-makers and the public at large by collecting information that documents the impact of marine debris and, at the same time, to build the capacity of the project partners and to support the mobilisation of resources for a follow-up programme that could cover the whole Azores area.
Some of the statistics on global plastic waste have been well publicised, but are none-the-less still shocking:

- Ten million tonnes of plastic end up in the sea every year
- The amount is so great annually that it could circle the globe four times
- One million plastic bottles are sold every minute
- More than 80% of marine litter consists of plastic.

By 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
Bad as the problem is in the Atlantic, that’s not the worst affected area. The Mediterranean is massively polluted, and the highest levels of microplastics have been found in the South China Sea.
The European Commission has proposed new rules that target the ten single-use plastic products most often found on Europe's beaches and seas.
These products are the biggest part of the problem. Together they constitute 70% of all marine litter items found on our beaches.
While plastics are a convenient, adaptable, useful and economically valuable material, when not collected they accumulate in our oceans and on our beaches.
Plastic residues have now been found not only in many marine species but also in the human food chain.
The economic impact of plastic litter encompasses the lost economic value in the material as well as the costs of cleaning up and losses for tourism, fisheries and shipping.
The European Commission has proposed a comprehensive set of measures to address this problem. The Single-Use Plastics Directive is an integral part of the wider approach announced this year in the EU’s Plastics Strategy.
It builds on the successful reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags brought about by EU legislation in 2014, and on the newly revised EU waste legislation, which includes targets for the recycling of plastics.
Between now and 2020, an additional €100 million will be devoted to financing EU priority actions, including the development of smarter and more recyclable plastics materials, more efficient recycling processes and the removal of hazardous substances and contaminants from recycled plastics.
The Single-Use Plastics legislation currently being negotiated will be voted by the EU Parliament and is expected to become an EU Directive by May 2019.
Once voted upon, there will be a statutory period of 24 months when Portugal, like all other EU countries, will have to put the Directive into national legislation.
How Portugal and each of the member states meet the new EU rules will be up to themselves.
For sure the new rules will reduce single-use plastics on our supermarket shelves through a range of measures. Some of these items will be banned and substituted with cleaner alternatives so people can still use their favourite products.
Member states will have to implement measures to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups.
According to an EU Commission statement, the new legislation should offer the clarity and certainty needed for investment and innovation in the Single Market. And it will eliminate uncertainty for business in the face of national measures which some member states have already taken to ban certain single-use plastic items.
Producers will be obliged to help cover the costs of waste management and clean-up, as well as awareness-raising measures for food containers, packets and wrappers such as for crisps and sweets.  
The industry will also be given incentives to develop less polluting alternatives for these products.
Implementation of the EU proposals will aim to reduce littering by more than half for the ten single-use plastic items, avoiding environmental damage which would otherwise cost €22 billion by 2030.
It is also expected to avoid the emission of
3.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030.
Massive though the plastics problem is, positive progress is predicted in the Azores, the Portuguese mainland and globally next year, but, like global warming, it’s a problem of such great complexity that it’s going to take many years to master.

San Miguel Island in the Azores

Monday, July 16, 2018

The perils of microplastic

   While the is no doubt about the vast scale of the plastic pollution problem, it’s far from clear how places like the Algarve are going to cope with the crisis.
Marine plastic pollution, particularly microplastic material, is a serious but as yet not fully understood threat to nature and to human health. If it worsens, it will increasingly threaten the economic well-being of communities across the world such as ours that depend on tourism and fisheries.
The global scale of the problem has become obvious, but locally and regionally many people may still not be fully aware that our reputation for beautiful beaches and excellent seafood is at stake.
The lack of awareness may be due in part to the fact that much marine plastic pollution cannot be seen, as it exists in micro form.
The neighbouring Mediterranean, with its renowned holiday resorts, is one of the most polluted seas in the world.
A new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says plastic currently represents 95 per cent of the waste floating in the Mediterranean.
The record levels of pollution from microplastics are threatening marine species and human health, according to the WWF.
It says the concentration of microplastics is four times higher in the Mediterranean than the highest concentration in the Pacific Ocean.
Much of the plastic in the Mediterranean remains trapped there forever, though plenty must seep through the Straits of Gibraltar and along the southern coast of Portugal to add to the Pollution along the Atlantic shores.
Much of the plastic pollution in the sea and on the beaches of the Mediterranean starts out as waste material dumped in landfill sites in Turkey, Spain, Italy, France and North Africa.
The tourism and fisheries economic sectors are increasingly being affected, while themselves contributing to the pollution.
European fisheries are facing about €62 million of damage caused by huge reductions in fish catches and damage to boats.
More than eight billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since plastic was introduced in the 1950s. The amount of plastic produced in a year is roughly the same as the entire weight of humanity. Almost every piece of plastic ever made still exists in some shape or form.
Only a small percentage of plastic waste is recycled. It’s either dumped in landfills, incinerated or simply not collected. Since most plastic doesn’t biodegrade in any meaningful sense, all that plastic waste could exist for hundreds of years.
Wherever you look, the statistics on the source of plastic pollution are horrific.
One million plastic bottles are bought every minute around the world — and that number is expected to top half a trillion by 2021. Less than half of those bottles end up getting recycled.
Nearly 2 million single-use plastic bags are distributed worldwide every minute.
500 million plastic straws are used every day in America alone. That’s enough to circle the Earth three times.
About 580 billion cigarette butts are discarded annually in the European Union. Each butt takes about 10 years to disintegrate.
The WWF argues for stringent action, including the introduction of an international treaty with binding reduction measures and agreements about trade in plastic waste and criteria for recycling.
The national measures should include a 100 per cent recycling target, plus a ban on plastic bags and single-use plastics.
Legislation should also be passed to ban microplastics in personal care products.
The problem all along the European shores has already been compounded over many years. At long last, the European Commission has introduced the New Waste Package, which came into law on 4 July 2018 for all 28 EU member countries.
This contains substantially increased targets for collection and recycling of plastics which currently are polluting the world’s oceans.
On 28 May 2018, the EU Council and Parliament introduced the SUP (Single-Use Plastics) document, which proposes that each member state conduct awareness-raising educational campaigns about the disposal of all waste products such as plastic cups, straws and picnic utensils.
In September, the debate will begin and due to public pressure on plastic litter the EU proposal is expected to become legislation during the first half of 2019.
In other words, a comprehensive EU effort is under way, although the exact timing is still unknown.
Most experts reckon that overcoming the global plastics crisis will need an international commitment on the scale of the Paris agreement on climate change.
Meanwhile, the best we can each do as individuals is to cut down on our own use of plastic and help clean up the waste of others.