Spain through the looking glass

The other crisis (Portugal)

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With German Chancellor Angela Merkel about to embark on her first official visit to Portugal, I thought it might be a good time to turn my gaze westwards.

It’s easy to forget when you live in self-obsessed Spain, but people in Portugal are doing it tough as well. OK, it’s true that the Portuguese have the sort of unemployment figures – 15.7 per cent compared with a whopping 25 per cent plus here in Never Never Land – that would probably make Spanish prime minster Mariano Rajoy nauseous with envy. But it’s not as if our Iberian neighbours are raking it in.

Indeed, a recent BBC report highlighted how difficult life on the other side of the Douro has become. The middle class are feeling the pinch as well with high debts and a lack of access to social welfare taking their toll.

Certainly, many people in Portugal will have been taken aback by a recent pronouncement on national television that “there is no poverty in the country [although] we are poorer”. (These words from the head of the country’s Food Bank Against Hunger Isabel Jonet were followed up with: “If we don’t have enough money to eat beef every day, we won’t eat beef every day.”)

But the fact is that the Portuguese, like the Spaniards, have now had to put up with five years of job losses, bank bailouts, rescues packages, austerity measures, demonstrations and general strikes. And, like the Spaniards, they have witnessed their socialist government – led by the wonderfully named José Sócrates – fall on its own sword.

Like many Spaniards, the people of Portugal are now also intensely frustrated – albeit it in a  distinctly Portuguese fashion (A Spanish friend of mine who travels often to Lisbon told me that the melancholy for which the Portuguese are famous has now become almost insufferable.)

Enter Kanzerlin Merkel to soothe the wearied brows. Or something along those lines.

Merkel, who has, of late, developed an almost Woody-Allenesque way of turning up in picturesque European capitals to do a job of work, will be arriving in Lisbon on November 12 to talk shop. Unfortunately, her timing is not optimal. Earlier this week, the European Commission filed an autumn report which spoke about the Portuguese economy in terms almost as gloomy as the recent weather in this part of the world.

While the EC predicts a stronger than expected rise in Portugal’s exports this year – up 4.5 per cent – they still foresee a 3 fall in GDP for 2012 and then a further 1 per cent dip in 2013.  The EC report also stressed the risk that weak domestic demand and push unemployment up to a peak of around 16 per cent.

The commission couldn’t resist pointing the finger of blame at Spain either, saying that the economic problems here had the potential to affect Portugal ‘through the trade, financial market and confidence channels’.

Given all of the above, it’s perhaps easy to understand why not everyone is laying out a red carpet for the German Chancellor. A nationwide general strike is planned for Monday and around 100 prominent Portuguese and interested foreigners have written an open letter to the Merkel telling her that she is most definitely not welcome.

“You should be considered persona non grata in Portuguese territory,” the letter’s authors told Merkel, “because you clearly come to interfere with the Portuguese State’s decisions without being democratically mandated by those who live here.

“The presence of many great businessman in your entourage is an outrage. Under the guise of “foreign investment”, you will bring a group of people that will come to plunder the ruins in which your policies have left the Portuguese economy, as well as those of Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain,” continued the letter writers.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese security forces are battening down the hatches as they prepare for possible crowd trouble during Merkel’s visit. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. I hope the fine people of Portugal find something more productive to do, or at least something more fun. I love Portugal by the way. If you’re thinking of going on holiday somewhere this year, go there. The people are great, the food’s terrific and the scenery is beautiful. And they could do with the tourist dollars too.


Lagos, southern Portugal


Written by georgemills25

November 9, 2012 at 10:34

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