Friday, March 29, 2024

Problems loom for the new parliament


It seems clear that instability looms for the centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD), which will try to rule in the new Portuguese government with a very small majority.

The government’s agenda is to be debated in parliament on the 11th and 12th April. This has been announced by the assembly speaker, Pedro Aguiar Branco, who was chosen this week, but only after three failed voting sessions when the 230 members elected on March 10 manage to agree.

The AD alliance led by the Portuguese Socialist Party (PSD) with its 80 seats, and the Socialist Party (PS) with 78,  eventually compromised by agreeing to a rotating speaker arrangement in which the PSD’s Sr Branco will be in office for two years and then replaced by a PS speaker.

The far-right Chega party, which quadrupled its seats since the last parliament to 50, has already been showing opposition that could prove to be paralysing for the two mainstream parties. Founder and leader of Chega, Andre Ventura, has been seeking a long-term deal with the AD, but the AD Prime Minister Luis Montenegro, has repeatedly rejected any such cooperation in return for far-right support.   

The new parliament faces massive challenges to bring stability to Portugal, which is regarded as Europe’s poorest nation despite strong growth since 2015 under repeated PS governments. The AD, perhaps with PS support, will have to try and improve low wage levels, the ongoing housing crisis, severe problems within the national health service, and the country’s ever-present corruption activities.

The new parliament is likely to be the most fragmented since the Carnation Revolution of 25th April 1974 when the coup by left-leaning military officers ended more than 40 years of dictatorship. The revolution turned Portugal’s focus from its colonial wars and fading worldwide empire to joining the many democracies on the European continent.  

Portugal now remains a peaceful country and a dedicated member of the European Union. It is not surprising, even though it has shocked many socialists, that the Chega (Enough) party has followed similar success among populist groups in several other European countries including Germany, Italy, Sweden, Poland and Spain, instigated among other things by the failure to properly control the influx of refugees.  

Chega appeals to many younger voters in Portugal as well as some of the older ones who have fond memories of the pre-revolution Salazar dictatorship days. They are dissatisfied with mainstream politicians and want the sort of basic changes that Andre Ventura, 41, is espousing.

He has been deeply critical of things ranging from road tolls to political cronyism, “50 years of corruption” and “50 years of taxes to support parasites.” He has called his party “the last hope.”

Let’s see.    

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Portugal election: counting completed

Prime Minister Montenegro

The more than 1.5 million Portuguese registered voters living abroad had the final say in the outcome of the March 10 parliamentary election.

The overall tally, concluded this week, showed 28.84% for the centre-right Democratic Alliance (AD) and 28% for the centre-left Socialist Party (PS).  The turnout was 59.8%.

With the counting finished, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa  has appointed Luis Montenegro, leader of the Democratic Alliance as prime minister and asked him to form a new government.  The Democratic Alliance consists of the Portuguese Democratic Party (PSD) and two smaller parties.

The surge in voting for the far-right Chega party means it will play an unprecedented third-place role in the forthcoming National Assembly. Of the 230 seats, a majority would require 116. The DA secured 80, the PS 78, and Chega 50. 

According to data published by the Statista research organisation, roughly 65,000 Portuguese registered voters live in the United States and 57,000 in Canada. These are significant numbers compared with most in Portugal’s worldwide diaspora, but  far fewer than in France (396,000), Brazil  (259,000), the United Kingdom (170,000), and Switzerland (150,300).

The preferred option within the total of 10.9 million registered voters at home and abroad would have been a right-wing coalition government, but Montenegro has dismissed any notion of close collaboration with Chega.  A left-wing coalition was the second favourite, with an AD- PS coalition trailing well behind.

While a million voters are delighted that Chega quadrupled its seats in the Assembly since the 2022 election, this is causing grave concern among centrist and left-wing voters and parliamentarians.

The concern hinges on allegations - right or wrong - that Chega’s founder, Andre Ventura, is xenophobic and a racist. In the past he has harshly criticised the 50,000 Roma and 65,000 Muslim communities in Portugal .

Evilana Dias,  a board member with Portugal’s Association of African Descendants has long worked to quell racism in Portugal, and  has told Ashifa Kassam, European affairs correspondent  for the Guardian newspaper: “We had no idea that there were so many racists in Portugal. It’s like they were hidden.”

Others say that Chega’s remarkable gain is due to decades of socio-economic failure under the centrist governments. An Algarve voter, probably typical of many who voted for Chega, told us: “I am most certainly not a racist. I voted for Chega because Andre Ventura is a very strong, honest leader who is determined to stop corruption and stabilise the many issues that have been so badly mishandled in this country for years. We desperately need positive change and stability with more support for the police, doctors and nurses among others. Only Ventura and Chega can deliver that.”  

Apart from concerns over deteriorating living standards, public opinion polls all showed a lack of enthusiasm for both the new leader of the PS, Pedro Nuno Santos, and his centre-right counterpart.  Under Ventura, the far-right has quadrupled the number of its seats since the last election in 2022. Portuguese citizens living abroad will be very familiar with far-right parties as they have a powerful say in European democracies, including France, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Spain.



Monday, March 11, 2024

Election result: slim centre-right win

This was Portugal’s most hotly contested legislative election since the ‘Carnation Revolution’ 50 years ago.

The outcome has been a slim victory for the centre-right Democratic Alliance over the incumbent centre-left Socialist Party. Both of the main centrist parties will likely jockey with small parties to gain the most seats in parliament, but the far-right made such gains to finish third that it will provide much stronger opposition than ever before. 

A low voter turnout had been expected because of dissatisfaction with politicians in general, but it was higher than the 45% registered for the last election in 2022.  The much respected former Prime Minister Antonio Costa said “it is fundamental that everyone votes.” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa also urged all eligible citizens to vote. By noon on Sunday, four hours after the polling stations opened, a quarter of the electorate had done so.  Even by 4 pm well over 50% had been to the ballot boxes.

The polls closed at 7pm on the mainland and an hour later in the Azores archipelago.  With the counting all but concluded, these were the main results:

PSD (AD) – 29.8%

PS – 28.7%

Chega – 18.2%

The key players: Luis Montenegro will be prime minister as leader of the Portuguese Democratic Party (PSD) supported by smaller parties in the Democratic Alliance (AD).

Pedro Nuno Santos of the Socialist Party (PS) has succeeded Antonio Costa who had been prime minister since 2015 with a strong majority before his resignation last November.

Andre Ventura, a former football pundit, has led the far-right Chega (Enough) party since its foundation five years ago. He will be a formidable foe to the centrists who claim he is xenophobic, racist and demagogic.

The challenges facing the new government include low wages, the deterioration in the national health system, the housing shortage and corruption.  It was an influence- peddling investigation that brought down the Socialist government in November and obliged President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to call for this snap election.

While plenty of problems are facing the new administration, Portugal will remain one of the most peaceful countries in the world, although probably the poorest in Europe amid the current global financial crisis.

The outcome of Portugal’s latest election will be viewed with considerable interest within the European Union, which is to hold its own parliamentary election in June. The current EU parliament will be hoping for a majority of moderate candidates, but there have been many shifts to far-right populist parties similar to Chega.  



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.