Thursday, May 30, 2013

How many more 'terrible years' ahead?

The “two terrible years” anticipated by Pedro Passos Coelho on taking office as Portugal’s Prime Minister on 5th June 2011 are almost up. That will not be the end of it, of course. There is no end in sight to the economic suffering Passos Coelho said the nation would have to endure before returning to growth and regaining the confidence of international investors.
“A very rigorous programme of austerity and structural reforms” was the only remedy, he said while setting about implementing the tough €78bn rescue programme agreed with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.
Passos Coelho won a decisive election victory two years ago. Neither the voters nor economists doubted his commitment to the formidable task ahead. But two years on, what has been achieved?
Unemployment has shot up and is now approaching 18%. Among under 25-year-olds it is 40%. Businesses all across the country have been forced to close. That includes almost half the nation’s restaurants and cafés, according to estimates.
 The Financial Times last weekend highlighted the fact that “austerity is hitting family-run businesses hard, stretching the country’s safety net and threatening social stability.”
 The FT’s correspondent in Lisbon, Peter Wise, wrote:  “Few, if any, crisis-hit European countries have followed the austerity programme more assiduously than Portugal, and the public has largely backed the government’s deep cuts. But recent polls show they have reached their limit and want the programme to be altered, if not scrapped.”
Portugal has not requested any new easing of budget goals set out under its bailout, but its European partners may consider more flexibility if the long recession worsens while reforms remain on track, Reuters reported this week.
On a visit to Lisbon, the chairman of the euro zone finance ministers, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, said it was important for Portugal to stick to its recently revised budget targets and to carry out structural reforms.
“There is a great appreciation in the Eurogroup on how Portugal is tackling challenges, with the economy doing worse than expected. If, on the basis of effort, compliance and reaching structural targets, more time is necessary due to economic setbacks, more time will be considered.”
Passos Coelho’s firm stance is  believed to be helping to rehabilitate Portugal in the eyes of international investors but at home he is facing plummeting popularity in opinion polls, opposition calls for an early election, and more strikes and street protests in the weeks ahead. More alarmingly, the genie is out of the bottle over the euro.
Two years ago, the notion of abandoning the euro single currency was seldom seriously discussed. It is now a hot topic. Lively public debate has been sparked by a new book Why We Should Leave the Euro – an immediate best-seller by a Lisbon economics professor, João Ferreira do Amaral.
The argument in favour boils down to this:  “We are now at a stage where it is becoming clear the austerity policy isn't working despite all our efforts. The next step is for us to realize the euro simply isn't sustainable for Portugal,” according to Ferreira do Amaral.
Whether Portugal leaves the euro may depend on what happens in the next year or two. Passos Coelho says the long-awaited recovery will arrive in 2014.
He underestimated with his prediction of “two terrible years”. If he gets it badly wrong on recovery, Portugal may be going back to the escudo.  

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Denmark wins in Sweden, UK 19th

After all the excitement and tension in Sweden, Bonnie Tyler probably can’t wait to get back to the serenity of her home in the Algarve.
The Eurovision Song Contest produced some good performances last night but in the end the annual event lived up to its delightfully daft reputation again.
Unsurprisingly, the most votes went to Sweden’s neighbour, Denmark. The bookies had been giving the UK odds of 50/1 compared with the favourite Denmark at 4/6 to win, with the closest competition coming from Norway and Ukraine.
Despite enjoying 80 million record sales in a glittering career spanning more than 30 years, Tyler admitted on the eve of the contest that she was very nervous about representing Britain before an audience said to number 120 million. “This is one of the most nerve-wracking things I have ever done,” she said. She was remarkably upbeat afterwards.

Here is a sample of how the BBC is reporting the result and Tyler’s reaction.....

Denmark has triumphed at this year's Eurovision Song Contest, held in the Swedish city of Malmo.
Emmelie de Forest, 20, had been the overwhelming favourite among the 26 entries, with her song Only Teardrops. Azerbaijan finished second.
The UK's Bonnie Tyler came 19th, an improvement on last year when Engelbert Humperdinck came second from last.
There was disappointment for Ireland's Ryan Dolan as he finished in last place with just five points.
De Forest won with 281 points and Azerbaijan's Farid Mammadov finished 47 points behind, followed by Ukraine in third and Norway in fourth.
UK entrant Tyler, 61, who is best known for her 1983 hit Total Eclipse of the Heart, had high hopes for her chances.
But the Welsh singer scored just 23 points for her performance of Believe In Me.
Speaking afterwards, Tyler said that despite her final score the experience had been “a night to remember”.
She said: “I got the feeling tonight that I got at the Grammy awards.
“I'm sure a lot of people will be disappointed on my behalf but I have really enjoyed my Eurovision experience.
“I did the best that I could do with a great song. I don't feel down and I'm ready to party.” 

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bonnie Tyler believes in the Algarve

 Portugal has dropped out of the Eurovision Song Contest this year, but the UK’s official contender, the legendary Bonnie Tyler, will be flying the flag for Portugal in spirit.
Portugal is like home to me,” says Tyler who will be singing Believe in Me during the contest in Malmo, Sweden, on Saturday night.
Public broadcasters in Portugal, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina have cited economic reasons for withdrawing, although the 39 participating countries will include debt-ridden Greece, Cyprus and Spain. It is the third time Portugal has been absent since it first took part in the contest in 1964.
Tyler’s fascination with this country – the Algarve in particular -  dates from her first visit in 1976. “I fell in love with the place straight away,” she says.
The Welsh songstress stayed with her then manager, Ronnie Scott, who had a recording studio in his villa at Vilamoura. It was there that she recorded her first album.
Two years later she and her property developer husband, Robert Sullivan, a black-belt European judo champion, bought a villa in Albufeira. Recently they have been staying in an apartment at a nearby marina while having the villa completely rebuilt.
Their summer pleasures include power boating, lunching on clams or prawns with piri-piri chicken and a nice bottle of white wine, and spending the afternoon lying on the beach. Had it not been for her demanding career, Bonnie says she would spend 99% of her time here.
 “I live a very un-showbizzy life. That red carpet stuff... avoid it like the plague, I do,” she told the Daily Mirror last week.
“I love the Algarve. I never get tired of it,” she said in a  interview with Sir Owen Gee on the Algarve’s Kiss FM radio station a few weeks ago.  She has been travelling the world as a professional singer for decades. “But when I come to the Algarve I really feel like I’m coming home.” (For more on this interview, click on the Kiss FM You Tube link below).  
Tyler’s original attraction to southern Portugal had nothing to do with another long-time Algarve homeowner and former Eurovision contender, Sir Cliff Richard, although they meet up from time to time when they are both here.
The Eurovision Song Contest may be the biggest challenge of Tyler’s long musical career as she will be performing in front of an estimated 120 million viewers.
The 61-year-old admitted to the Daily Mail that she doesn’t fancy her chances. “It’s a tricky one the Eurovision Song Contest because it’s not all about the music, is it?”
Cliff Richard singing Congratulations famously lost by just a single point in 1968 after locking himself in the toilet because he was so nervous about the voting. Reuters reported many years later that the dictator Franco had rigged the vote so that the Spanish entry won, thus ensuring the next competition would be held in Spain.
The rules have changed so that no such skulduggery is now possible, but still there is the farce of tactical voting between neighbouring countries.
Tyler has promised “to give this everything I've got.” But is she likely to win?  
“No, of course she won’t,” says Sandy Shaw, Britain’s first Eurovision winner (1967).  “She’s got a terrible song and deserves much better. I don’t know why they do this – why don’t they let the public choose? Bonnie’s a fantastic person and has a fabulous voice but if they don’t get to pick the song or the person it stops people feeling involved.” 
Win or lose, the warm, witty and down-to-earth Bonnie Tyler will leave the “mayhem” of Malmo behind and shortly be back ‘home’ and able to relax.
“As soon as I get off the plane in Faro, I switch off completely,” she says.

·        Bonnie at Kiss FM:
·        Believe in Me

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Carnival of Luxury boss blasts critics

Eva Aydelman, the initiator and leading figure behind the Carnival of Luxury staged recently in the Arade Pavillion near Portimão, is angry about the controversy surrounding the event.
Mrs Aydelman says she has been subjected to malicious rumour and inaccurate press reports, and that she is “disgusted” by allegations of previous convictions for fraud committed in the UK.
The “ultimate lifestyle fair” as it was billed, did not live up to her expectations because of “jealousy, extortion, defamation and lies. My lawyer and I have proof of it, but it is for the courts and not for the so-called truth-loving press to decide,” she said.
She quoted the 20th century American writer Robert E. Howard: “Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”
So annoyed is she by her hostile critics that she intends submitting a case to the European Court of Human Rights because she does not feel she could get proper justice in this country.
Asked why she initiated a luxury event here at a time of financial crisis, Mrs Aydelman, an Israeli citizen born in the former USSR, said that on first coming to Portugal to look for investment property she fell in love with the Algarve.
“I just wanted to add some glitter to the world’s best kept secret. It was a dream. The beauty of the nature hypnotised me, but now when I look around all I can see is ugliness – dirt, actual and moral.”
So far she has paid off 90% of the bills arising from the carnival and is in the process of settling the rest, but she will end up well out of pocket. “Don’t get me wrong, the financial losses are painful, but the emotional suffering is the worst.”
Mrs Aydelman declined to say how much she had lost. To do so would only “provide satisfactions to all of you (the press) and become a new topic for public discussion.”
Having promised to contribute to charities before the event, she said that despite her losses she would honour that pledge.
“I still believe that good causes should not suffer because of people that don’t have the first clue about humility. And if the press would stop for a minute smearing my name and intentions, they would have heard the announcement I made (at the Carnival) during Sunday afternoon:  that charities would still get donations, maybe not as big as we hoped. For this they can thank the sensational and scandal-hungry press.”
Would she consider staging such an event in the Algarve or elsewhere in Portugal ever again? 
“At this specific moment I would like to make a time capsule with the message that not only my children, my grandchildren and my great-grand children should avoid this place more than the plague. But this is regarding my children or my descendants. In regards to myself, I don’t really know.”

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Luxury and hunger in Portimão

A pair of storks in their nest atop a tall brick chimney towering above what used to be a sardine factory and is now a major convention centre, looked down without expression as the grandly titled ‘Carnival of Luxury’ came to an ignominious end.
Designed to attract the rich and famous, it had been billed as the “ultimate lifestyle fair being hosted for the first time in Portugal.” It was supposed to be a celebration of “opulence, decadence, entertainment.” It turned out to be a flop.
The same pair of storks could gaze across to the opposite bank of the river Arade and the bankrupt town of Portimão, reputedly the most indebted municipality in the country, with its rows of abandoned shops. On the last day of the Carnival, the Portimão Soup Kitchen was serving meals to many hungry and homeless citizens.
It seemed repugnant to many that an exhibition of opulence should be staged in such a depressed location in one of Europe’s poorest countries at a time of crippling unemployment and austerity.
The Carnival of Luxury failed, say its critics, because the organisers, a company called Vida de Luxe based in Malta and Hong Kong, badly overestimated the number of companies wanting to exhibit their sumptuous wares and the number of visitors willing to pay an entrance fee of €50.
And then there were the exaggerations. Early on, the official website trumpeted that former US president Bill Clinton would be attending as a VIP guest. Not only had he not agreed to come, he had not even been formally asked, according to a reliable source. Right to the end, the website said the VIP guest list included John Roberts Jr, US Supreme Court Chief Justice. One of the sponsors admitted that no one that important showed up.
Apart from the organisers and the relatively small number of exhibitors, few were surprised that the event flopped. It seemed doomed from the start.
The opening gala dinner attracted less than a quarter of the hoped-for crowd of well-heeled bon vivants. Even though the €50 entrance fee for ordinary visitors was quickly dropped altogether, not many people showed any interest in looking around for free. One of the most prominent exhibitors, with half a million euros worth of exquisite silverware on show, said, “I had only two potential buyers and sold nothing.”
Exhibitors started packing up early. “Business Monday” was cancelled. The planned five-day spectacular closed amid humiliation and rancour after day four.
Meanwhile, the Portimão Soup Kitchen across the way continued to serve meals to people in desperate need. When a few International Christian Fellowship volunteers set up the kitchen three years ago, they began by feeding 12 to 14 people once a week. The need has greatly escalated and now 20 volunteers, backed by other outside helpers, feed up to 95 people three times a week.
The age of those benefiting from the service ranges from seven to seventy. Most of the people who come are Portuguese, but there are also migrant workers from the Ukraine, Moldavia, Romania, Czech Republic. Some are completely homeless and sleep rough in abandoned buildings or wherever they can find a place to shelter. Others have somewhere to stay but no money to buy food.
“If we had more funds and more volunteers we might be able to open another day of the week,” says Joy Borgan, one of the founders of the soup kitchen.
“Last Sunday someone came to the kitchen about an hour after we had closed and we were mopping the floor ready to lock up. He told us he had not eaten that day or the day before. Even though we had already fed almost 80 people and had been standing for several hours and were tired and ready to go home, how could we turn him away? How could we not continue to help people when there is such a need in Portimão?”

* If anyone would like to help or be involved with the Portimão Soup Kitchen in any way, please contact Joy Borgan on 91 735 8098 or 282 04 28 36, or email <>