Portugal. According to Countryaah, the capital of Portugal is Lisbon. Portugal held its first referendum so far this summer. It was about a proposal for a freer abortion legislation, which meant that abortion before the tenth week of pregnancy would be allowed. Under the current law, abortion was only allowed if the woman’s health was in danger, if she had been raped or if birth defects were found. It was the Socialist Government that, with the support of the Communists, had tabled the bill in Parliament, but the right-wing opposition demanded a referendum because the matter is controversial in the largely Catholic country. The response of the Electoral Corps was no – 51.9% voted against the law. But the turnout was only 32%, which meant that the proposal went back to the politicians in Parliament because at least 50% must vote in order for a referendum to be binding.
It was just as bad in a referendum on a new regional division of the country. There, 48% went to the polls and 63% of them voted against the proposal. This was a setback for Socialist Prime Minister António Guterres as he had invested much of his prestige on the proposal. This meant that Portugal would be divided into eight regions with its own parliaments and governments instead of today’s 18 administrative districts. The intention was to bring politics closer to the citizens and contribute to developing the economically disadvantaged parts of the countryside. The opposition opposed the proposal because it feared that the new order would lead to increased bureaucracy.
Economic growth continued to increase and there was a risk that the economy would overheat. Inflation increased during the year by about 2.6% against the 2% which was the government’s target. In this case, the central bank should really raise interest rates, but instead it was lowered to conform to the other EU countries when Portugal replaces the escudo with the euro on 1 January 1999 with the countries that have joined the EMU.
In terms of culture, Portugal profiled internationally, partly when the author José Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature and partly with the last world exhibition of the century – Expo 98 – in Lisbon. The theme of the exhibition was the world ocean in memory of the Portuguese seafarer and discoverer Vasco da Gama.
Political and economic crises after 2000
Greater fluctuations in support for the two leading parties, frequent political crises and declining turnout reflected a growing distrust of politicians. This was seen in the context of a climate change in the Portuguese economy in the period following the turn of the century. On important indicators such as economic growth and budget balance, unemployment and income inequality, and the development of education and health care, the country fell from a top and a long down towards a bottom position in the EU context in a few years.
With its high share of traditional labor-intensive industry, Portugal was particularly affected by imports from China and other low-cost countries, while the EU subsidies benefited from were now turned against the new member countries. Natural disasters, linked to a prolonged drought period, compounded the problems – which have not been outweighed by a thriving tourism industry.
Relationship with the former colonies
Portugal’s foreign policy has been characterized by the country’s past as a colonial power. Before the regime change in 1974, Portugal was one of the last colonial powers and waged war in its colonies in Africa. The revolution in 1974 led to the colonies becoming independent. Portugal joined the EC in 1986 and has since been integrated into Western European cooperation also at foreign policy level.
Indonesia’s occupation of the former Portuguese territory of East Timor from 1975 to 1999 has long created a tense relationship between the two countries. Portugal played an important role in the international work that led to independence for East Timor. Portugal has also been an active partner in the peace processes in Angola and Mozambique. In 1996, Portugal, together with the former colonies (Angola, Brazil, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, Mozambique and São Tomé and Príncipe) formed an international organization of Portuguese-speaking countries to promote economic and political cooperation.
There have also been sparks in the relationship with Spain, but much was cleared of the way in 1996 through a bilateral cooperation agreement which includes drug trafficking, organized crime and illegal immigration. The formal transfer of Macau to China in 1999 marked the end of 442 years of Portuguese rule – and at the same time, the final punishment for Portugal as colonial power was set.