Portugal News

portuguese press review plus the odd insight

Archive for April 2011

A few thoughts on Portuguese soccer

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho have, in their own inimitable and separate ways, become too big for Portugal’s national game. But every cryptic utterance by Mr Mourinho and new version of his marionette CR7’s step-over routine get exhaustive coverage by Portugal’s media. Despite Portugal’s Liga Sagres being strictly second-tier in European terms, three Portuguese clubs contested the semi-finals of this season’s Europa League. FC Porto will almost certainly make the final in Dublin next month after spanking Villareal 5-nil at the Dragon Stadium.

Either Benfica or Braga will take on Porto in the Europa League showpiece final. Benfica are favourite to travel to Ireland in May after beating Braga 2-1 at Estadio da Luz in the first leg of their semi-final. Why are Portuguese clubs so successful outside of Champions League where they can’t match the financial resources of  Spanish, Italian, German and English teams? In my opinion it’s partly down to improving national coaches who are nearly all Portuguese these days. The main clubs were until relatively recently happy to appoint foreign coaches, with dubious success records, in periodic bids to restore former glory. Mourinho’s notable achievements have woken club owners up to the fact that national can mean quality rather than second-rate.

Another factor is players from Brazil and Latin America coming to Portugal to play and put themselves in a shop window. Most of Porto and Benfica’s key midfielders and hitmen hale from LatAm. Many of these players have a similar approach to bending the rules, or gamesmanship, to indigenous Portuguese colleagues so it’s easy to blend in. Just think Porto keeper Baia feigning fatal injury from a sniper’s rifle in the UEFA final against Celtic a few years ago!

Such things would never occur in the English Premiership, eh, boys?

Written by porkncheezer

April 29, 2011 at 11:14 am

Portugal’s nuke

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Publico runs an informative (for me at least) feature on Portugal’s only nuclear reactor, switched on 30 years ago for research at Sacavem, near Lisbon. The 1MW reactor, producing enough power to supply a very small village, was converted to use low enriched instead of highly enriched uranium in 2007 as part of a global drive to prevent criminals and terrorists getting material to make nuclear bombs.

Portugal’s reactor has been run for civilian purposes only and trained several generations of nuclear scientists. The country has never developed a nuclear power program, unlike neighbouring Spain, but came close to doing so in the early 1970s in the dying days of Salazar’s New State regime. A possible reason why successive Lisbon governments have never sanctioned the building of nuclear power plants is the still unresolved problem of a highly radioactive disused uranium mine in the Alentejo region.

Written by porkncheezer

April 28, 2011 at 10:42 am

No time to waste

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The IMF is proposing that Portuguese state workers have their 13th and 14th months of salary, usually paid at the end of June and November, paid in form of treasury bonds rather than cash to ease pressure on the country’s public accounts. A similar measure was imposed by the IMF in 1983 during its previous bail-out of Portugal.

Meanwhile, Diario Economico says the talks between the EU, IMF and Lisbon authorities on the EUR 80bn, or more, rescue package have moved from the Finance Ministry, looking out to the Tagus River in Praca do Comercio, to the European Commission building in the capital, behind the Sao Jorge cinema if you know Lisbon.

In an FT opinion piece, leading Portuguese financial analyst Jose Maria Brandao de Brito likens his country to Shakespeare’s Richard II, incarcerated in a tower, stripped of its sovereignty (financial) and wondering aloud how things got so bad. The small Iberian nation initially weathered the impact of the global financial crisis. But soon managed to get itself sidelined from capital markets because of its government’s inability to rein in a ballooning budget gap.

Portugal’s needs from the IMF and EU are different to those of Ireland and Greece, already in the eurozone bail-out clinic, because Portugal’s debt problems don’t come from a specific sources like Ireland’s banks and Greece’s calamatious public finances, notes de Brito. Lisbon needs a rescue package geared to ensure that the coming fiscal austerity and private sector deleveraging (reducing debt by selling assets) do not generate widespread insolvency.

The IMF and EU must devise a bail-out that rests on sustainable public finances, liquidity for the financial system and capital, if needed, and economic reform focused on boosting the country’s growth potential, argues de Brito, head of financial markets at BCP Millennium.

Tough times lie ahead for Portugal, concludes de Brito, but recovery with the assistance of fellow EU states is possible. Failure to restore financial stability to the country will only bring more misery and the sort of self-commiseration that haunted Richard II, who lamented: “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”

Written by porkncheezer

April 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm

TAM confirms interest in TAP

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Portuguese flag-flier TAP could be bought by TAM, the Brazilian airline, when the Lisbon government proceeds with the carrier’s planned privatization later this year, according to Diario Economico. TAM, in the process of merging with LAN of Chile, joins British Airways, Iberia, Qatar Airways and Lufthansa as a potential buyer  for TAP.

TAP faces financial collapse if not bought soon. The Portuguese airline, operating lucrative routes to Brazil and southern Africa, is also looking to sell its loss-making Groundforce handling unit and profitable Brazilian engineering and maintenance arm. TAP should have been privatized years ago under EU-wide liberalization of the sector.

The TAP aircraft in the video is an A-310 performing ‘acrobatics’ at an air show at Evora, Portugal, in 2007. The display, which inclued a high-speed, gear and flaps up low-level pass, was meticulously planned and executed by two of the airline’s most experienced pilots. I don’t think they had any pax in the back! Portuguese aviation magazine Take-Off later ran a four-page feature on the dramatic Airbus display.

Written by porkncheezer

April 25, 2011 at 11:33 am

Feliz Pascoa

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Cardinal Archbishop Jose Policarpo of Lisbon delivered an Easter day mass in the capital’s cathedral, telling worshipers that “faith can help us to live with some spirit of sacrifice” as most Portuguese see increasing deterioration in their standard of living. The Lusa news agency spoke to some of faithful leaving the church.

 “Religion isn’t like an aspirin”, said one, Tomas Fernandez. “It’s much more than this and in these times of crisis having faith is an advantage. People worry a lot about having and doing and more important things get forgotten a bit. The Archbishop reminded us of this”.

Even as the senior Portuguese prelate sermonised, IMF and EU officials continued talks just a few blocks away with senior Lisbon Finance Ministry officials on the €80bn rescue package being readied for the debt-ridden country. Portugal will be obliged to implement more austerity measures and also liberalize its state-dependent economy to get the bail-out already given to Ireland and Greece.

 Jose Policarpo was born in 1936 and proclaimed a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001. Policarpo was reportedly a long-shot candidate to replace JP II and viewed in some circles as capable of building bridges between Latin American and European Catholic Cardinals. He has come under fire from some Catholics for his apparent tacit support for Portugal’s legalization of abortion in 2007, or a least not throwing his full weight behind the “no” campaign, and same sex unions a year later.

Written by porkncheezer

April 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

Portugal’s next leader?

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Expresso this week runs a keen eye over Portugal’s probable next prime minister. Pedro Passos Coelho, leader of the PSD centre-right opposition party, is ahead in opinion polls for June elections. His party joined forces with other Portuguese opposition groups to block Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates’ latest raft of austerity measures. The government then resigned and polls are set for June 5.

So what makes Mr Passos Coelho tick? Well, the forty-six year old is the youngest of four siblings and, therefore, highly driven, and spent most of his childhood in Angola, returning to Portugal after the former colony gained its independence in 1975. He spent most of his youth in remoter regions of northern Portugal, which has endowed him with an inner calm gleaned,  to a certain degree, from living cheek by jowl with salt of the earth country folk, according to Expresso. A largely absent father made him self-reliant and bookish and still prone to signing snippets of Grand Opera after listening to Maria Callas records in his rural isolation, says one childhood chum. He’s also said to like singing fado.

He rose rapidly through the PSD ranks to become leader of its youth wing and was appointed as adviser to a government department on youth affairs in the 1980s. Passos Coelho was also the brains behind the popular Cartao Jovem discount scheme for students and young people which is still going strong. He has three children, all daughters from two marriages and No 2 spouse used to sing in Girl Band Doce.

Passos Colelho’s friends and acquaintances also give Expresso accounts of his frugality and penny-pinching tendencies. He drives an old banger that is too small to transport all his family members, some of whom have to catch a train to holiday with the rest of the clan. He remains cool in a crisis and is unlikely to get emotional during political debate with his adversaries, the same inner-circle of admirers say.

This purported sang froid will soon be put to the test during Portugal’s pre-poll hustings coming to a street or shopping centre near you very soon. Maybe Mr P.C. will make a personal call on you. He could even woo your vote with a song. Portugal’s opposition chief has no government experience and his Socialist opponents will not shy away from exploiting this lacuna in the forthcoming campaign. The PSD opposition is currently ahead in polls but things could still be tight after votes are counted. Portugal’s next administration could well be a coalition.

Written by porkncheezer

April 23, 2011 at 8:41 am

Posted in politics

El botellon portugues

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Daily newspaper Publico reported recently on “botellon”, the phenomenon of young people drinking mainly beer at night in groups from largish bottles. El botellon, or big bottle, is a Spanish tradition and facing increasing crackdowns there. In recent years it’s become the way Lisbon youngsters start a night out. If you’re anywhere near the Bairro Alto on a Friday evening you’ll see them in groups ambling with plastic cups being topped up from litre bottles of beer, wine and often spirits. It’s all pretty civilised and peer-group controlled. Let’s face it, you have to be fairly organized to get hold of plastic beakers! Don’t forget too you can buy booze at 16 here and the law seems to be largely observed.

Most of the young street drinkers Publico talks to are essentially respectable but cash-strapped and can’t afford bar and club prices. Some are even in their late 20s and early 30s. Economic reasons largely explain Portugal’s botellon trend, Joao Goulao, head of Portugal’s Institute for Drugs and Drug Addiction tells Publico. Most of the youngsters concerned have no income and depend on pocket money from parents, adds the article.

Whatever your views on botellon it’s a group activity and not to be equated with the activities of solitary al fresco winos, or even sad souls who drink home alone. Hopefully the Lisbon City Council will start placing a few bottle banks in the areas where botellon is rife. Largo do Conde Barao, off Avenida 24 de Julho, has become the epicentre of the capital’s botellon craze, according to Publico.

Written by porkncheezer

April 21, 2011 at 3:16 pm

Posted in lisbon