This week, we shine the spotlight on Portugal:
DOES RECOVERY SPELL REELECTION?
After years in the doldrums, the Portuguese economy is showing signs of picking up, with the country's GDP growing — albeit slowly — and unemployment figures reaching five-year lows, Diário Económico reports. According to official data from Portugal's National Statistical Institute INE, private and public consumption are up as well as investments, pushing the GDP 0.4% higher in the second quarter, up 1.5% compared to the same period the previous year. The country's long-lasting unemployment issue is also improving although it remains high, at 12.1% for July 2015, the lowest rate in nearly five years.
And with a general election just one month away, the good news comes at a crucial time for the governing center-right coalition, which has implemented harsh austerity measures under a 78-billion-euro bailout plan from the "troika" that ended a year ago. But it might not be enough for Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to keep his job after Oct. 8.
Recent polls published in Público suggest the governing coalition are trailing the Socialist Party, although the 37,6% of the vote the centre-left party, led by former Lisbon mayor António Costa, is projected to obtain is nowhere near enough to secure an absolute majority. Unlike other crisis-hit countries Greece and Spain, Portugal hasn't seen support for radical left parties soar, but that hasn't prevented a growing part of the population from becoming disillusioned with its political leaders.
PREPARING THE REFUGEES" ARRIVAL
As pressure mounts on the European Union with thousands of migrants entering its borders every day, Portugal is preparing to welcome its share of refugees (an estimated 1,500) in the best possible conditions and ease the burden on Italy and Greece.
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In an article published this week in Público, a reporter travelled to the small town of Penela, in the center of the country, where four families (three from Syria and one from Sudan — a total of 21 people) will be accommodated from Sept. 11. A local association funded in part by the government and the EU has already made plans to rent four apartments for the migrants and to place their children in schools and kindergartens, despite criticism from the locals who have been pointing out that some people in their midst also desperately need help.
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The town of Penela and its medieval castle — Photo: Carlos Luis M C da Cruz
To make the refugees' integration in the local community a success, the association has also organized Portuguese classes for men and women and is planning to teach them about Portuguese history and culture. "It's very important that both sides show openness to know and respect the others' culture," explained Natáliya Bekh, a sociologist who leads the program and who, incidentally, arrived in Portugal from Ukraine 12 years ago without speaking a word of Portuguese. "Even for their own self-esteem, it's very important that they learn to appreciate the country, that they feel proud for being here and, if it ever comes to that, that they take the Portuguese nationality."
NEIGHBOR DISPUTE TURNS DEADLY
It all started in a small town just south of Lisbon, with an old rottweiler that barked — too much, according to Rogério Coelho, 77, a retired construction worker. Last Saturday, Aug. 30, he lost it. He took out his hunting riffle and shot dead the dog's owner, a 50-year-old police officer. The killing, however, didn't stop there, Coelho kept shooting from a window in his house. In the end, the neighbor's 23-year-old son and a 25-year-old police officer were also killed.
Rogério Coelho then attempted to kill himself, but failed and was taken to hospital. Other neighbors and members of Coelho family later explained to Jornal de Notícias that there had been bad blood for years between the shooter and the owner of the dog, and that Coelho, who reportedly kept a "kill list" had repeatedly threatened to kill his neighbor. "We just never thought he'd actually do it."
BETTER PARENTAL LEAVE AMID "DEMOGRAPHIC STORM"
New legislation on parental leave came into force this week, granting 15 days of compulsory paternity leave in the first 30 days of a newborn child's life instead of 10 previously, Correio da Manhã reported. Both mother and father will also be able to share up to 150 consecutive days of parental leave simultaneously. And until the child is three years old, working parents will also be able to ask to work from home, provided this is compatible with their employers' activity. Finally, parents of children under 12 or suffering from a chronic disease or disability will be eligible to work part time without being penalized in their career's progress.
Not sure Cristiano Ronaldo will work part time to look after Cristiano Junior —
Photo: Marcio Machado/ZUMA
These reforms come amid what the Financial Times recently described as a "perfect demographic storm." Portugal indeed has the lowest fertility rate in Europe. Between 2010 and 2014, at the peak of the economic crisis, the country lost 198 inhabitants, 2% of its population. Deaths overcame births and emigration rose to levels unseen since the 1960s and the last years of the dictatorship.
PORTUGUESE WINES DECORATED IN CHINA
There's a lot more to Portuguese wine than just Port. Or Madeira. As a matter of fact, Portugal is the world's 12th biggest wine producer and ranks 9th in terms of global exports, an impressive achievement given the country's relatively small size. According to specialized magazine Revista de Vinhos, the most renowned wine competition in China has honored Portuguese producers with 54 gold and 21 double gold medals, its highest distinction.
As Diário Económico pointed out, the wine consumption per capita in China is low — about 1.5 liters annually — but it's now the world's biggest importer and Portugal is hoping to tap into more of the demand.
For all wine lovers out there, here's a comprehensive beginner's guide to Portuguese wine. Saúde!