Where will Portugal’s next airport land?

Humberto Delgado Airport is an international airport serving the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. However, it has reached its maximum capacity, and the country must now consider the construction of a new airfield.

This is not a new discussion. Humberto Delgado Airport (Lisbon’s Airport) was first opened in 1942. In 1969, when Portugal wasn’t yet a democracy, the discussion surrounding the possibility of a new airport in Lisbon was first officially launched, when the Prime Minister at the time, Marcello Caetano, established a committee to develop an expansion project. However, reaching a solution was a lengthy procedure.

In 2008, the Sócrates government presented a project for an airport in Alcochete. This airport would cost approximately 4.9 billion euros and would entirely replace the existing Humberto Delgado Airport, in response to complaints of how this airport was too close to the city and causing excessive noise pollution. However, the project was suspended in 2010 due to the financial crisis.

The next government then started looking for a cheaper alternative: a smaller airport that would complement, not replace, the existing one. Thus, in 2011, the Montijo idea was born.

In January 2017, the current Socialist government introduced a project for the airport in Montijo. The new airfield would increase the number of aircraft movements per hour from 48, solely supported by the Lisbon airport, to 72 movements, taking both airports into account. It will also be able to draw 8 million passengers each year, providing the Portuguese capital with the capacity to annually receive roughly 40 million air travellers.

Image 1: The Montijo Airport Project

Image 1: The Montijo Airport Project

A study of environmental impact presented by ANA – the Portuguese authority responsible for managing the country’s airports – concluded that the establishment of an airport in Montijo would not have a large environmental impact, although it would induce some territorial changes in the future urban expansion of the area the planes will fly over. APA – the Portuguese Environmental Agency, involved in the elaboration of the study – concluded that a new airport does not constitute a serious threat to birdlife in the surrounding area and acknowledges that future actions may be undertaken in order to minimize those impacts. Also, the study states that birdstrikes (collisions between birds and aeroplanes) are not likely to happen.

For the 94,000 citizens living near the future airport, the study points out that the noise can induce severe exasperation to 12% of the citizens, 17% of them can suffer from moderate exasperation and it can cause sleeping disorders to 3% of the community.

The conclusions of the report didn’t seem to please all specialists. 11 of them presented a study which reveals that in 50 years-time, a significant portion of the landing track will be flooded due to rising sea levels. This study further states that greenhouse gas emissions have been underestimated by the former report. The environmental association ZERO also poses serious doubts in regard to the real impact that the new airport will have in the area’s wildlife, therefore demanding a new environmental evaluation using different techniques in order to better grasp the consequences that the project will have on those natural habitats.

Image 2: How rising sea levels are expected to affect the new airport

Image 2: How rising sea levels are expected to affect the new airport

In 2019, the government tried to sign a contract to start construction in Montijo in 2020, but it ran into some legal problems. A government decree from 2007 regarding the construction of airports in Portugal established, among other things, that no airport could be built without the consent of all municipalities affected by it – the ones where the airport was located, the ones the airspace of which would be affected and any others that would suffer environmental impacts.

This raised a problem when several city councils in the south bank refused to give permission to the construction of the airport, citing environmental reasons. The mayors of Moita and Seixal have since headed the campaign against the new airport in Montijo and in favour of the Alcochete solution. The mayors, both members of the Portuguese Communist Party (PCP), have been accused of rejecting the project for partisan reasons – the Communist Party has long defended the Alcochete alternative, instead of Montijo.


The Minister of Infrastructure, Pedro Nuno Santos, has already stated that the decree could be altered by the government to remove this impediment, but that change could be brought to a vote in Parliament if any party requests it – and the Communist Party is likely to.

Then, the government would have to find a majority in Parliament that would change the decree. The Communist Party, as mentioned above, is opposed to the Montijo solution, and so is the Left Bloc, which also favours Alcochete. The government would then need the support (or at least the abstention) of PSD, the main opposition party. But Rui Rio, leader of PSD, has already stated that his party will not change the law for a specific situation and that the government should follow the law, negotiating with the city councils that raised objections to the airport in Montijo.

Amidst this deadlock, many people have looked for alternatives to the airport in Montijo. Former Prime Minister José Sócrates, in an opinion article in Expresso, argued again for the Alcochete solution developed by his government. He points out that, according to European Union noise and nature conservation regulations, an international airport should not be built too close to a city or next to a protected environmental area. Sócrates further points out that, unlike Montijo, the Alcochete project is already prepared, the environmental impact has been studied, and permission from all city councils affected has been obtained.

In response to the main argument favouring Montijo over Alcochete – the idea that Alcochete is more expensive – Sócrates states that the initial phase of the Alcochete project (which would allow it to complement, not replace, the existing airport) is not significantly more expensive than Montijo. However, he bases these statements about costs on articles written by engineer Matias Ramos, which have never been refuted or confirmed by other sources.


Image 3: The Beja Airport

Image 3: The Beja Airport

Another airport alternative defended by some, would be to capacitate Beja Airport to serve Lisbon. Beja Airport has no regularly scheduled flights and is mostly used by the Maltese airline Hi Fi to store airplanes, so it is free to receive more flights to Lisbon. It is already fully built, and there are plans to connect it to Lisbon by highway, a car trip that would take around two hours.

Modernising the existing train line between Beja and Lisbon to allow the fastest trains operating in Portugal, the Alfa Pendular, to use it would require a significant investment, but it still wouldn’t be able to make the trip between Lisbon and Beja Airport in less than 85 minutes. This can be compared to the 50-minute train trip from the centre of London to Stansted Airport, for example.

Besides, critics point out that Beja Airport was built with the intention of attracting low cost airlines serving Lisbon and the Algarve, but it never succeeded, and it never had any regularly scheduled services.

Another proposed alternative would be to build an airport in Alverca, in a military aerodrome. This aerodrome served as Portugal’s first airport in the 1930’s, before Humberto Delgado Airport was built. However, adapting it to receive modern airplanes has never been studied, in terms of costs or environmental impact.

So, there seem to be several alternatives to solve the saturation of Lisbon Airport. Their costs, their environmental impact and political circumstances will determine where the new airport in Lisbon will be built, changing the face of the city and the region for decades to come.


Sources:

  • Público, Observador, RTP, Jornal de Negócios, Expresso, Diário de Notícias


Manuel Barbosa - Manuel Barbosa Nuno Teixeira de Sampayo - Nuno de Sampayo
Afonso Silveira Botelho - Afonso Silveira Botelho

Franco’s Exhumation: Long-buried past or revived ghost?

In 2007, the Spanish parliament approved the “Law of historical memory”, the final goal of which was to mitigate the symbolic presence and memory of the period in which Francisco Franco governed Spain. The proposal was presented by PSOE (Spanish socialist party), at the time when Zapatero was Spain’s Prime Minister. The law had some consequences in the following years, with the most recent one manifesting itself just a few months ago. In light of the law approved in 2007, some measures were applied: in 2008, the last Francisco Franco statue within  Spanish ground was removed from the community of Cantábria; in 2012, the children and grandchildren of people who had to flee from the Spanish dictatorship were conceded the right to claim Spanish citizenship (resulting in 442,000 new Spanish citizens); and, on the 24th of October  2019, the Spanish Dictator’s body was removed from its original gravesite.


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In June 2018, after PSOE’s victory in the general elections, the recently elected Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, promised the Spanish People to accomplish one of the most essential consequences of the Law of Historical Memory: to resurrect Franco’s body from Valle de los Caídos, making it one of the greatest goals of his governance. Francisco Franco’s body has been buried at the Valle de los Caídos memorial ever since his death in November 1975.

What is Valle de los Caídos, after all?


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Valle de los Caídos is a monument located near the city of Madrid. It was erected in 1959 at Franco’s demand in order to pay tribute and to bury nationalist fighters that died during the 3 year-long Spanish Civil War.  Nearly 34,000 bodies rest at this site. In 1975, in accordance with his  wishes, Franco’s body was also buried in the same place. Many criticized this deed, since Francisco Franco was not a victim of the Civil War and, therefore, his burial would contradict and distort the monument’s original purpose.


Why did it take so long since the 2007 law approval?

Only in September 2018 was the law of historical memory modified in such a way that made Franco’s body removal from Valle de los Caídos possible. The proposal, presented by Pedro Sánchez’s PSOE, was approved in the Spanish Parliament with 172 favourable votes and 164 votes against. In June 2019, the Government decided to unfold the parliament’s will, decision which was once again delayed due to a judicial fight that broke out between Francisco Franco’s family and the Spanish Government. In September, the Spanish Supreme Court of Justice decided in favour of the Spanish Government.


Where do other dictators lie?


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Many argue that no dictator should be buried in a prestigious place that promotes regime nostalgia. But where are other dictator’s tombs located? In Russia, for instance, Joseph Stalin’s tomb is located in the country’s most famous square, The Red Square, in a cemetery destined to the most influential and recognized Russian personalities. In Cuba, Fidel Castro’s mausoleum contains the dictator’s ashes. The mausoleum is located at Santa Ifigenia cemetery, a resting place for a few notable Cuban personalities. Mao Tse Tung had a building made just to accommodate his embalmed body and it is located precisely at the centre of the Tiananmen Square.


How was Franco’s exhumation perceived in Spain?

Both VOX and PP contested Franco’s exhumation, accusing PSOE of performing political campaign with a highly sensitive subject. Both parties also accused the government of trying to mask the severe problems affecting Spain, such as the separatist movements striking Catalonia. VOX went even further, accusing the government of “digging up hatreds”. The left parties, in contrast, hailed the government’s initiative.

“a very important step to fix a scandal that had been carried for 40 years of Spanish democracy”

— Pablo Iglesias, Podemos’ party leader

The fact is that Francisco Franco was the first dictator in world history to see a change to their burial place. While some support this for the sake of democracy and to respect the memory of those who were killed and oppressed during Spain’s dictatorship, many others also argue that no government has the power to decide upon one man’s body, independently of the circumstances and, especially, when it goes against the deceased’s family’s will. Critics also pose the following question: doesn’t this resemble an attempt to erase an indisputably important period of Spain’s History?


Sources:

  • Público

  • El País

  • Expresso

What Priests Should Confess: the financial schemes behind the Vatican doors

The Vatican, the world’s most powerful religious organization, has been known to spread its political influence across the globe throughout the centuries. As of recently, its involvement in several financial activities has been at the source of many fracturing scandals.

Their home in the Holy See is the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR), commonly known as Vatican Bank. By involving many different church officials and mobilizing hefty amounts of money, its analysis has become of increasing difficulty and controversy, causing many clashes with the Italian press to arise.

For the past years, the press has been adamant on bringing the Catholic Church into the confessionary. Despite their well-known soft spot for conspiracy theories, it is undeniable that the Italian press has become a key player in the disclosure of many of the Vatican’s scams. Their involvement in the Mafia’s money laundry schemes, the misuse of funds and donations and the embezzlement of the IOR’s money are among the most relevant situations of financial misconduct.

More specifically, in 2012, the Vatican spent $200 million to convert a former Harrods warehouse into luxury apartments.

This bizarre investment came out as a substitute for another peculiar project – the injection of those same funds in an Angolan offshore oil rig, then classified as unsafe. Given that 75% of the investment was sourced from a loan from the Vatican Bank itself, its Supervisory Board ended up noticing it and launched an internal investigation to clarify the situation. Despite dating back to 2012, this irregularity was only discovered in mid-October of this year. Since then, many have been wondering what led the Vatican to explore a project which deviated immensely from its institutional purpose, questioning the IOR’s legitimacy to undertake profit-making activities.

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This was one of the most striking financial scandals hitting the Holy See since the 1970s and 1980s, when the Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, as President of the Vatican Bank, engaged in perverse relationships with mobsters. Another bank, Banco Ambrosiano, was also involved in the scandal. Its mission statement claimed the goal of serving moral organizations, pious works and religious bodies set up for charitable aims. It’s main shareholder? The Vatican Bank.

Roberto Calvi, known by many as the “God’s Banker”, was chairman of the Banco Ambrosiano and had close ties with the Church. The Vatican, instrumentalizing its position as a sovereign state, was able to withhold transaction information from regulators and authorities.

This was deeply exploited by Calvi in the 1980s, who was responsible for moving the bank’s (and consequently, the Vatican’s) funds into offshore accounts, enabling Banco Ambrosiano and, therefore, the IOR to make a profit.

Ambrosiano ended up collapsing in 1982, after the authorities found a hole of around $3 billion in the bank’s finances. Roberto Calvi died hanging in London. Prosecutors believe this to have been a Mafia killing, linked to his money laundering activities via the bank.


In 2012, Father Ninni Treppiedi, priest in Alcamo, near Trapani, in the Mafia’s island stronghold of Sicily, was suspended after a series of questionable transactions of church funds and of vast sums of money passing through his personal bank accounts. Prosecutors highly suspected that this was the result of money laundering operations run by the Mafia Godfather, Matteo Messina Denaro. They investigated financial transactions that occurred between 2007 and 2009, amounting to around $1 million. Nevertheless, paperwork regarding the source of the money was said to be missing and the Vatican Bank did not want to release the records of the Father’s accounts. Ultimately, Treppiedi’s case was filed by the order of the Court of Trapani, but most people kept the suspicion about the connections with the Mafia.

The liaison between the Church and the mobsters remains until today, albeit the Vatican’s efforts to trail a path of cleaning and rebranding, focusing on increasing transparency.

Indeed, in the last decade, the Holy See has been trying to put an end to corruption in the management of the bank’s funds, through concrete reforms.

“These are scandals and they do harm.”

— Pope Francis

Thus, they need to be handled with. Accordingly, the first step towards more transparency was given with the establishment of the Financial Intelligence Authority (AIF) and with the implementation of the first anti-money laundering rules, in compliance with the European Union’s standards. These actions took place in 2009, during the Papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Despite some progress being made in the end of the last decade, the greatest improvements have been achieved under the control of Pope Francis, who took charge in 2013. In that same year, following a scandal of money laundering, in the value of $20 million, by Nunzio Scarano, referred to as “Monsignor Cinquecento”, the responsible for overviewing Vatican’s property holdings and investments, a Pontification Commission was established in order to review the activities of the bank. As a result, later in that year, more than 1000 customer accounts were closed.


Afterwards, in 2014, Pope Francis delivered a blunt message – the IOR would only be allowed to continue its operations as long as it committed to self-reform. In this regard, as the Holy See’s ministries, the discateries, were not controlled by the AIF (despite managing plenty of money) the Pope created the Secretariat for the Economy to keep an eye on their activity. Further policies included the transition from an internal auditing system to an external one and the requirement that the employees at the Vatican Bank worked exclusively for that institution, avoiding potentially harmful situations, such as the one involving Marcinkus in the 1970s and 1980s.

In terms of international assessment, Moneyval, a monitoring body of the Council of Europe that aims at countering money laundering practices, has praised the Vatican for its course of action in recent years in this regard.

All in all, the Holy See seems committed to carve out a new image for the Catholic Church, closer to its founding principles. Nonetheless, the Italian press argues that the increasing disclosure of scandals is instead a proof of the inefficiency of the adopted measures. Only time will tell which side the truth is on. 


Sources:

  • Crux Now

  • European CEO

  • la Reppublica

  • Organized Crime and Corruption Report Project

  • Religion News Service

  • Reuters

  • The Economist

  • The Telegraph

  • U.S. Catholic

  • Wikipedia

Article Written By:


Ana Mota - Ana Mota Gonçalo Silva - Gonçalo Silva

A New Stage of Saudi-Iranian Confrontation

Ever since the Saddam Hussein regime fell in Iraq in 2003, Iran been slowly expanding its sphere of influence, which now encompasses much of what it is called Middle-East. In Lebanon, the Iranians have the proxy group Hezbollah, which functions as a party/parallel administrative entity/military group. In Syria, the Assad regime relies heavily on Iranian support, a help which has allowed the government to remain in power despite the civil war, and even allow them to recover lost ground. In Iraq, the Americans ousted Saddam, only for the shias (a sect of islam), which had been persecuted by him, to take power and begin their own authoritarian like rule. Finally, we have Yemen in which the Iranians are covertly funding and supplying weapons the Houthis rebels.

All these proxy groups rely heavily on Iran, which is seen as the Defensor of all the shias and uses that image as well as its resources to support such groups. This, in turn, gives Iran a tremendous amount of influence in the countries in which these proxies operate.

However, most of the sunni (the most popular sect of islam) countries in the region don’t see this growing Iranian influence with good eyes, as it jeopardizes their own influence and security (some of these countries have large shia minorities that would like to oust their sunni overlords).

As such, a coalition has been created to counter this growing Iranian influence, which is being spearheaded by Saudi Arabia. All this clash of interests and hostilities have effectively turned the Middle East for the ground of a Saudi-Iranian style cold war, in which the two sides never use direct confrontation, using instead proxy groups.

One big example of this is Yemen (where this article will be focused). In Yemen, the Saudis have been supporting the Yemeni government, and the Iranians, the shia affiliated Houthis rebels, which has resulted in a brutal civil war which has largely been overshadowed in the media. The civil war started in 2015. Divisions in the country had existed for decades, if not hundreds of years (Yemen, due to its mountainous configuration, has never been a very unified country, lacking the social cohesion and sense of national identity; people identify themselves more with the tribe or community rather than the country).

In very brief overview, the Houthis took over Sana’a, the capital, and large parts of the country, meaning the Yemeni government only controls the southern coastlines making Aden its new capital. Not even Saudi direct intervention with airstrikes, tanks and combat unites has pushed back the Houthis.

However, in the mist of this growing Iranian power, the greatest adversary to Iran is actually the US, which does not want a hegemonic power in the Middle East that could challenge its influence. Because of this, the Americans have mounted a coalition of countries that, even though they don’t see eye to eye, have the same objective: push back against Iran (it’s important to be noted that these countries don’t have any public affiliation nor official agreement).

In Syria and Southern Lebanon, the Israelis are countering Hezbollah and striking Iranian military assets, and in Yemen, the Saudis and the UAE are directly involved. Thus, the Iranian sphere of influence is not yet secure and has been attacked on all sides, which means Iran may seek alternative ways to beat back the coalition, and has identified the weakest link in it: Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is experiencing internal divisions following the reforms and actions of crown prince Salman. Moreover, the country has come rely almost exclusively on oil revenues to maintain the different factions content, and needs the expected funds of the Saudi Aramco (believed by many to be the most valuable not public company) projected IPO to  finance the economic reforms in the kingdom, which will completely restructure the society, and are absolutely necessary to ensure the survival of the Saudis in a post-oil economy.

With this in mind, in the 19th of September a drone strike or missile strike (no one really is sure of the used instruments) occurred against two separate crude oil refineries belonging to Saudi Aramco. The nature of the attacks means that no one can tell where the projectiles came from (giving large plausible deniability to the author). In the aftermath of the attacks, the Houthis rebels took credit for them, however, the strikes where carefully planned with exact precision and advanced weapons, capabilities not demonstrated in the past from the Houthis, which are not known to even possess projectiles capable of breaching Saudi air defences.

A more plausible author is Iran, which possesses all the required tools to conduct such an attack, and the obscure nature of these provide the necessary deniability.

The attacks have made the Saudis delay the IPO, in order to recover the damaged assets, as well as restore the investor confidence. Nonetheless, some loss of the last is inevitable, meaning the value of the IPO will decrease, as it has been exposed to just how vulnerable the assets are. With these attacks, the Iranians have damaged Saudi Arabia and exposed the biggest weakness in the American led coalition, and cornered the Trump administration. Trump cannot seat heddle, risking emboldening Iran and its proxys to carry out more of such attacks. However, Trump cannot risk a direct military confrontation in the mist of the election cycle either. A confrontation that could lead to a costly war where many lives would be taken, and risk the world’s oil supply, which could trigger the next recession.

So, the Americans are cornered, and are expected to resort to more economic sanctions and cyber-attacks, however, these will likely not have the necessary deterring effect. This all means that we are likely to see more of such attacks in the future, which will surely weaken Saudi Arabia and thereby allowing Iran to strengthen their sphere of influence.

All in all, these attacks mark a new strategy of countering its foes by Iran, and mean a new stage for the Saudi-Iran cold war where the Saudis continue to come short to their rival, which now smells blood and will likely take advantage of Saudis’ weaknesses, thereby ensuring the survival of its sphere of influence allowing Iran to be closer to their hegemonic desire.

Xi Jinping’s China or George Orwell’s 1984?

Since 1949, the Chinese Communist Party has been leading the fate of the Chinese Population. The Republic of China was firstly led by one of the bloodiest dictators the world has ever known, Mao Zedong, and it is currently under the power of President Xi Jinping. Many things have changed during 70 years of communist govern, but many argue that government undemocratic, oppressive and intrusive actions still take place. But how does the government manage to keep its influence near the population? What strategy has the government adopted to watch its inhabitants?

In 2010 the Chinese government started developing a nationwide social credit system that allowed the regime to closely monitor every move its community made. The System was first piloted in 2014.

“According to the government’s document, Planning Outline for the Construction of a Social Credit System (2014-2020), all of the social credit scores for its 1.4 billion citizens will be publicly available by 2020”

— Bernard Marr, for Forbes

How does it work?

Each citizen is initially assigned a total of 1000 points. The social credit score then varies according to the behaviour of the individual. Behaviour is monitored by government employees specifically hired to report the community members’ actions to local institutions. Monitoring is compounded by highly complex data analysis technology that, through street cameras, drones, AI – and even rumoured robotic birds – that aids in identifying not only each citizen, but instantly track, rate and record his or her actions. All of the technology required for the system has either been developed for it or was previously being used in private corporations to monitor its workers, despite there being no doubt the Chinese are still developing more capable supporting technologies. 

A big portion of government surveillance is performed through collecting data on Wechat, an app largely used in China. It somewhat resembles a combination of Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp (since all of these are forbidden by the Chinese Government). Tencent Holdings, the founding and developer company of Wechat, operates under the Chinese Law, which means they apply strong censorship and they augur interception protocols. Wechat has the right to access and expose contact books, text messages and the location of its users. 

In 2016, Tencent was awarded a score of zero out of 100 in an Amnesty International report ranking of technological companies. International Amnesty reported the absence of end-to-end encryption, a system that only allows the communicating users to read the messages. It also reported Tencent’s disclosure towards Government data request.

Foul conduct, extending from speeding tickets, to internal family arguments, to playing too many video games, even to recycling incorrectly, and criticizing national politics, either publicly or via Wechat, translates to credits deducted from the citizens’ scores. 

Positive actions, such as donating money to charities, or buying diapers for an infant, correspond to an increase in scores. It is expected of every citizen, young or old, that they gain at least 2 points per year.

 


How has the System been received?

The legitimacy of the Chinese Social Credit System is divisive. A study led by Genia Kostka (Professor of Chinese politics at Freie Universität Berlin) concluded that “80 per cent of respondents either somewhat or strongly approve social credit systems, 19 per cent perceive the social credit systems in value-neutral terms (don’t disapprove or approve) while merely 1 per cent reported moderate to strong disapproval.” Respondents perceive the social credit system as an instrument that closes institutional and regulatory gaps, promoting honesty and law-abiding behaviours in society, and not strikingly as an instrument of surveillance. For instance, 72 per cent of survey respondents stated that their purchasing decisions were affected by the social credit assessment of the company offering the products or services. Hence, social credit systems are seen as a helpful means to making things work and improving quality of life.

The international community, nevertheless, does not recognize this Chinese program as a way of improving social habits, but rather as the greatest social experiment ever carried out. For many, it is a clear violation of human rights, with unconsented personal data being collected, and, thus, a serious threat to Chinese citizens.

China’s stance on undemocratic actions and its support for undemocratic regimes, such as the North Korean, reveals the existence of a still very weak democracy in the most populous and, certainly, in one of the most influential nations in the world. Might China be approaching a level of privacy invasion and mass control similar to that in Orwell’s dystopian 1984 novel?

 

Living Under the Uncertainty of Brexit

Brexit: a brief recap

In 1975, Britain held its first referendum on membership, in which 67% of the electorate expressed a desire to stay in the European Economic Community.

In 2013, as part of a political gamble for power, David Cameron promised a national referendum on European Union membership. This referendum was ultimately held on 23rd June 2016 and 51.9% of the electorate voted to leave the EU.

With the public debate being somewhat poor and contaminated by all sorts of ‘alternative facts’, and with the design of the referendum itself being lackluster (pitting two highly vague concepts of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ against each other), the Pandora’s box was opened.

Ever since that day, a nation that was once known for its attitude of stability, diplomacy, and moderation has become increasingly divided, volatile, and polarized. The traditional two-party system collapsed. For the past 3 years, the UK’s entire energy has been devoted to Brexit, and British politicians have had to learn the hard way the intricacies of the European project (something which they had refused to do for a long time). For proof, look no further than the fact that the UK was supposed to have left the EU by 29th March 2019, and more than half a year later is still a full member of the European club – struggling to secure yet another extension to its membership.

A soap opera of biblical proportions

If you are, like I am, an aficionado of politics and international relations, you may have spent the last years savoring popcorn and watching history unfold upon your eyes. You have watched David Cameron’s political bet backfire spectacularly, Theresa May’s deal see the biggest government defeat in decades (not once, not twice, but thrice), and Boris Johnson suspending Parliament, only to have the Supreme Court rule the suspension to be void and null of effect.

You have watched MPs rebelling against their own government and building cross-party coalitions; laws being passed to force the Prime Minister to request an extension of the UK’s membership in the EU; and that Prime Minister repeatedly threatening to de facto disrespect those laws. You have repeatedly thought that this saga could not get any wilder, only to have your expectations defied time and time again.

Life as an EU national in the UK

However, as entertaining as a real-life version of House of Cards may be for those watching in the continent and beyond, it is everything but fun for the nearly 4 million EU nationals residing in the UK.

The fact is, our livelihoods are very closely intertwined with the unfolding of this play. Guessing what comes next is no longer a matter of optional personal leisure, but a mandatory exercise of survival. Mocking the tea-loving version of Donald Trump is no longer amusing when you realize that, for all effects and purposes, that person is your Prime Minister.

Some can handle uncertainty better than others – but all of us need the basic assurances. The assurance that, no matter what happens, we won’t be kicked out of the country where we’ve decided to build our lives in. That we’ll continue to hold on to our job. That committing to a 1-year house renting contract is safe. That if the Government doesn’t reach a deal with the EU, we can continue to get the groceries and the medicine we need, instead of facing a run on stocks. That we feel we are welcomed residents and not temporary guests. That we’re part of a broader community, rather than pawns of a chess game.

Unfortunately, for an EU national living in the UK, those boxes have been hard to tick off lately. When in the other side of the Atlantic you have the leader of the free world ripping international agreements to shreds, and in your own nation you have a sitting Prime Minister unlawfully suspending Parliament and threatening to break the law, the most quintessential foundations of democracy are challenged. And when the fabric of society is stretched to that point, there is nothing you can take for granted.

For instance: in theory, EU nationals can apply to stay in the UK until 31st December 2020 if there is ‘no deal’, and until 30 June 2021 if both parties agree to a deal. In theory, if you get that status, you’re entitled to carry on living and working in the UK as if nothing had happened. But how can you be so sure that theory corresponds to practice when the Prime Minister does not even respect the basic principle of the rule of law?

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That is precisely the kind of existential uncertainty EU nationals have been grappling with every day.

What comes next?

If Brexit were a drama, its climax would most likely be this upcoming Saturday, 19th October 2019.

This will be the day when we fully grasp the implications of the EU Summit, that will be held between the 17th and 18th October and decide the ultimate fate of the UK/EU relationship. It will also be the deadline of the Benn Act (which mandates the Prime Minister to seek an extension if he is unable to get a deal by then). It will furthermore be the first time the British Parliament seats on a Saturday since the Falkland War of 1982. And, finally, it will be the day of the People’s March, a protest demanding a second referendum.

With such an explosive cocktail of unprecedented happenings, what comes next is anybody’s guess. Will there be a deal or not? Will there be an extension or not? What will be the nature of an hypothetical extension? Will there be a general election? Will there be a second referendum? Will the Prime Minister break the law and be found in contempt? Will we get to the extreme situation of reaching the 31st of October and finding ourselves in a ‘limbo’, with the Prime Minister declaring the UK to be out of the EU, only to have the courts render that decision as void and null of effect days later?

Frankly, nobody knows. Not Boris, not Barnier, and certainly not me. The good (or bad) news is that we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

A Very Brief Overview on U.S. Tariffs

Simply searching “Trump tariffs” on Google, at the moment of writing this article, presented me with a staggering amount of 149 000 000 results. At the same time simply searching “tariffs” yielded 92 700 000. This is both a testament to the strangeness of Google’s algorithm and to how much of a contentious issue this has turned into throughout the presidency of Donald Trump. We’ll take a short look at tariffs’ history in the U.S. and at some recent issues regarding them.

Shortly after the American Revolution, in a period from 1783-1789, states would often levy tariffs towards one another. However, in 1789, this was changed with the ratification of the Constitution of the United States which now did not permit those restrictions between states. In this Constitution it is stated that Congress has the power to: “…lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States”, and to “…regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”.

It was exercising this power that the first major piece legislation after the ratification of the Constitution, known as the Tariff Act of 1789, was passed by Congress and signed into law by president George Washington. This Act served to address the government’s need of funding to pay off debts it had acquired during the Revolutionary War. It is worthy of note that the first individual income tax in the U.S. would only come into existence in 1861, and so, at the time, tariffs were one of the government’s primary source of revenue. It was also enacted in order to protect domestic industries struggling to compete with cheaper European goods, in the period after the war.

Perhaps the reader has heard in recent news that Mr. Trump’s recent tariffs were brought about by executive order. This would seem to be an overreach on part of the President. However, in the 20th century, two different pieces of legislation were enacted that gave the executive branch the ability to set tariffs, under certain conditions. They were the Trading with the Enemy Act and the Trade Expansion Act in 1917 and 1962, respectively. The former gives the president the ability to regulate all trade made between the U.S. and one of its enemies in time of war. But it was due to the latter that the infamous steel and aluminum tariffs were brought about in 2018. Indeed, this act gives the executive branch the authority to levy these restrictions on trade if “an article is being imported into the United States in such quantities or under such circumstances as to threaten or impair the national security.

George Washington once said something reminiscent of this:

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.

— George Washington

In itself, this reasoning is not at all devoid of merit: indeed, it would not be wise for the U.S. to depend solely on China for their supply of steel, a material of high importance for national security. What might be worrisome, though, is that this reasoning is very broad and prone to abuse. Furthermore, it is also worthy of note that the U.S, like the rest of the world, are nearly solely dependent on China for their supply of rare earths, which are crucial for a lot of technologies including those of high-end military gear. Indeed, in 2018, China extracted around 70% of the world’s rare earth supply for that year.

Some claim that Mr. Trump is simply catering to voters in the so-called Rust Belt, which was negatively affected by the decline of the coal and steel industries, and that this issue was merely disguised as a national security risk to avoid the troublesome and time-consuming bureaucracies of the legislative branch.

Undeniable, however, is the adverse impact such tariffs had and will have on other industries which use steel as an input. For example, General Motors closed several plants cutting around 14.000 jobs, claiming that the increased production costs, driven up by the tariffs, were among some of the reasons that lead to the downsizing.

Although the cascade of effects from this policy is still ongoing, there might be something to learn from looking at what happened to the economy after Mr. Barack Obama tariffed Chinese tire imports in 2009. A study from the Peterson Institute of International Economics calculated that the policy had a net effect of killing 2.531 jobs, considering their most generous estimate for the amount of jobs saved by the tariff.

Just like with Mr. Trump, some state that the former President’s policy was done in an effort to pander to his base. For example, the Republican Party’s nominee for the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney, wrote:

President Obama’s action to defend American tire companies from foreign competition may make good politics by repaying unions for their support of his campaign, but it is decidedly bad for the nation and our workers.

— Mitt Romney

We should be wary of our own tendencies to defend or to attack these policies (and any others, of course) based on tribalism and sheeplike party allegiances. Instead, we must aim to use the unbiased reasoning needed for successful and fruitful policy decisions.

Will You Let Others Decide For You? Get up off the couch and cast your vote

Being one of the biggest problems in today’s society, abstention, a notorious election procedure in which an electorate does not go to the ballots on election day, is undermining the whole political system across democratic countries.

Portugal has the most prepared generation of all time. It reached the best indicators in education, health and quality of life in its history. It has never had so many people with secondary and higher education. Still, Portugal has one of the highest abstention rates in Europe. Since 1975, these rates keep expanding unstoppably, with an abstention rate, in the 2019 European elections, bigger than any Portugal has ever seen, as reported by “Pordata”. If in the first years of the democratic regime the participation rates were among the highest in Europe, in the past few years the situation has reversed and today we present substantially low values compared to other European countries. Portugal bears further resemblance to emergent democracies in the soviet bloc, than democracies in Western Europe.

It is estimated that between 1996 and 2016, there were a million less voters in the Presidential elections and between 1995 and 2015 half a million fewer in the Parliamentary ones. Also, between 1995 and 2015, the 3 main parties lost approximately 1,3 million voters.

Some questions arise from these facts, such as “Why don’t the Portuguese exercise their right to vote?”“Should voting be mandatory?” or “Would electronic voting help decrease abstention?”. Therefore, we must understand which factors influence Portuguese participation, abstention, and which solutions would be effective in raising the participation rate, taking other examples throughout the world into account.

Abstention is a profoundly serious problem. The Portuguese democracy is at stake, as electors are progressively further away from politics and its agents. Populism is striking Europe and if it reaches Portugal it will be a large concern, as the country’s democracy is quite debilitated and it is at risk of being damaged.

It can be related to indifference and alienation of the voters and to a way of protest, but also to a decrease in the relevance of parties and syndicates, to the entry of young people in the voters’ group and their preference to discuss politics online, join public petitions and take part in protests, instead of showing their beliefs with their vote, and facing voting as a right rather than a civic duty.

Corruption and distrust in public institutions are among the many justifications of the alarming abstention rates as well. As a matter of fact, in 2018, Portugal was in 30th place in the Corruption Perceptions Index. If abstention is a way of protesting against corruption, it is gradually damaging democracy and undemocratic political systems are the perfect environment for the proliferation of corruption. That said, it is essential to break this vicious cycle.

A Portuguese group of political scientists, coordinated by the investigator João Cancela, concluded that rural areas are the ones where the participation rates are lower in the Legislative, Presidential and European elections. On the other hand, the opposite happens in the elections for the local authorities. Although, the lack of updates in the electoral roll can partially contribute to such inflated values in these areas.

It is high time for Portugal to rethink the way it addresses the electoral process. Portugal should analyze, discuss and adapt some of the successful measures applied around the world in order to invert this increasing tendency for the abstention. Otherwise, what should we expect from our democracy in the future?


Can compulsory voting be a solution?

Why do the Latin American nation shave such a high rate of voter turnout, compared to many European countries and, especially, Portugal?

The answer is simple, and has nothing to do with great empathy between population and politicians. In fact, in most of these countries, compulsory voting has been adopted as an effective measure to mitigate abstention. But how have these countries come to this point?

The common view on the matter is that voting is a civil right, but some parties argue that it is instead a civic duty, just like paying taxes or serving in the military. Despite being somehow linked to a threat to freedom, this measure was adopted by many Latin American countries. Compulsory voting requires registered voters to actually vote, otherwise they will face some sort of penalty.


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This is a region of huge disparities that mainly arise from unequal income distribution and power imbalance. The people were (and still are) oppressed by the elites, who wanted to perpetuate and extend their power, but, being much more numerous, have been able to form powerful and diverse coalitions which threaten the power of the elites. In such a scenario, elites were obliged to concede some civil power and this explains the generalization of universal suffrage.

Compulsory voting is nothing more than an attempt carried out by both sides to conquer some kind of supremacy in the political game, once the referred sides perceived some potential in those who do not usually turnout in elections in these countries. Their main goal is to persuade this part of the population to vote on their ideas, so that they can succeed.

Despite not being exactly the goal of the political forces involved, compulsory voting brings some benefits to the democracy’s development process in these countries. In this regard, besides contributing to a more reliable representation of public opinion, as it covers the opinions of a wider range of population, compulsory voting forces politicians to adapt their speech to the (different) needs of more segments in societies. Its implementation undoubtedly represents a fair point when it comes to discuss ways of reducing abstention. This way, the legitimacy of those who govern is more evident, contributing to more stability in politics.


What about the Nordic Measures?

One of the reasons why abstention is so low in Nordic countries can be attributed to transparency. Denmark is tied for first in Transparency International’s corruption index, and the rest of the Nordic countries aren’t far behind. Finland and Sweden are tied for third, Norway is tied for fifth and Iceland is tied for 12th . Given these countries have low levels of political corruption and their government decisions are unambiguous, people feel more encouraged to vote. But still, this factor does not completely explain the low abstention rate:


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“A striking feature of all three countries was the level of public commitment to monitoring and promoting voter turnout, seeking innovative ways to engage with younger voters and tracking voting patterns. This is borne out, for instance, in the number of multi-stakeholder initiatives dedicated to promoting youth turnout, with academics, government ministries, and municipalities joining forces (and budgets) to experiment with new ways of reaching young voters.”

— Celia Davies, an associate editor from Edinburgh, was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to research voter turnout in Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. Her objective was to generate policy recommendations for the UK, where voter turnout has been dropping for decades.

For instance, Denmark has a mock polling system in their schools. Their students go through these just as they would for the official ones, and see the outcome. This way, they get to experience how elections work and are incentivized to learn about the parties and their proposals. Sweden is adopting a similar programme as well.

Nordic countries also introduced other innovative ways to simplify the voting process, such as polling hubs in stations, online voting and automatic voting registration.


How can we overcome abstention?

After this analysis, we present some solutions that might help fighting this problem. Firstly, we should make voting registration easier. Either by enabling automatic registration or by making it possible for voters to register at the day of the election. Another possibility would be to allow people to vote at any poll in the country. Finally, the implementation of online voting could be explored. Therefore, reducing bureaucracy and making the voting process more flexible seem to be key factors.

afonso.botelho.jpeg Afonso Botelho Ana Mota.jpeg Ana Mota

Behind the Portuguese Miracle

As is commonly known, the Portuguese economy has been appearing to turn itself around quite remarkably in the last 5 years.

The unemployment rate in Portugal has been going down considerably, being now at 6.3%. The unemployment rate reached its peak of 16.2% in 2013 after a big economic slowdown due to the international crisis of ‘08, that led to the sovereign debt crisis in Europe [PORDATA].

At present times, Portugal’s unemployment rate is at 6.3% [STATISTICS PORTUGAL].  Portuguese wages also appear to be improving, the minimum nominal wage went up from €485 per month in 2014 to €600 in 2019 [PORDATA]. In the past 5 years, the average Portuguese nominal monthly wage went up from €1,120.4 to €1,170.63 [Gabinete de Estratégia e Planeamento].

Not so long ago, GDP growth in Portugal was negative and now is higher than the European Union’s average. In 2012, GDP growth in Portugal was -4.0% and in 2018 was recorded to be 2.1%, higher than the EU´s growth of 1.8% [Banco de Portugal]. It is expected that in future years Portugal´s GDP growth will continue to surpass Europe´s average growth.

Portugal´s budget balance in past decades has been a dreadful number to look at, it has always been negative and since 2008 has reached incredibly low numbers, coming to a very big trough of -11.2% of GDP in 2010 [EUROSTAT]. However, outstandingly, Portuguese deficit had a big upturn in the past recent years. In 2018, deficit was only 0.5% of GDP and according to the Portuguese government and it is forecasted to be 0.2 % of GDP in 2019 and the budget balance is expected to have a surplus of 0.3% in 2020.

Looking at this numbers, one would think the Portuguese economy is growing at quite an outstanding pace for a developed country after suffering such a hard-economic recession. One would also think that the Portuguese economy has showed the capability to turn itself around. However in order to understand this big “economic upturn “, one needs to look beyond the appealing numbers and analyze the “not so great“ numbers behind them.

Portugal´s Nominal GDP was around €201 billion in 2018, the highest number since 2011 [INE]. However, Portugal´s nominal public debt is already at 252 billion euros, the highest ever on the history of Portugal [Banco de Portugal].

In the present economic cycle, interest rates have been something to worry less and less about since they have been going down on most bonds and in some they are even negative. Currently the Portuguese yield curve is in negative territory until 8 years of maturity. Portugal´s budget balance has certainly benefited from this, since interest expense has gone down outstandingly in the past year. In August 2019 interest on public debt on 3 years bonds was -0.43%, on 5 years bonds was -0,262 % and on 10 years bonds was 0,2 % [Bloomberg].

Tax revenues in Portugal are higher than in the past two decades, being 35,4% of GDP [INE]. Although wages are higher, so are taxes, especially indirect taxes, creating amongst the people an illusion of higher consumer power than reality upholds.  

Noticing the outstanding growth of tax revenues and the big decrease on interest expense, the big improvement on the Portuguese budget balance doesn´t seem that miraculous anymore. 

Even though deficit is now lower and GDP is higher, public debt keeps growing at an outstanding pace. This economic cycle in which interest rates are negative or extremely low hasn´t come to stay and once it leaves it will generate a big financing problem. Since taxes are the government’s main revenue and are as high as they can be there will be no sustainable way to finance the Portuguese economy when interest rates rise.

In an open economy like the Portuguese’s, fiscal revenues tend to be very elastic and expenses quite rigid. In 2008/2009 after the recession, tax revenue went down 14%, and if there is another slowdown in the economy most likely fiscal revenues will go down extremely. The big problem Portugal faces is that in a recession, current expenses will remain pretty much the same or even increase due to jobless claims and therefore deficit will tend to increase.

Still it is questionable how a country that has been increasing its debt year after year has also been decreasing its public investment. Portugal´s public investment has gone down on average 12.28% in the past three years, showing that Portugal is not generating future sustainable income [INE].

It is safe to say, that even though Portuguese economy looks as if it has turn itself around, Portugal´s economy is without a helmet and once it trips the fall is bound to be a hard one.