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by Euro Reporter
2012-02-29 07:52:14
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Portugal passes bailout review by 'troika'

Portugal passed the third review by the European Union and IMF of its 78-billion-euro bailout programme on Tuesday and the country's finance minister said it would not end up needing a second rescue like Greece. The lenders said Portugal's economic slump will deepen this year, however, and urged more reform efforts. Inspectors recommended the bailout's next tranche of 14.9 billion Euros be paid after finding Portugal had met fiscal goals and launched reforms to make the economy more competitive. "The program is on track, but challenges remain," the EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund said in a joint statement. "Policies are generally being implemented as planned and economic adjustment is underway."

"Nevertheless, more efforts are needed to clear Portugal's structural reform backlog in the network and sheltered services sectors," the document said, also calling on the government to step up the pace of reforms already being implemented. Portuguese Finance Minister Vitor Gaspar said his country would not be seeking more funding beyond the current bailout. "We will not ask for more time or money," Gaspar said, adding there was no discussion of that during the IMF/EU team's evaluation of the economy. "There will be no signal coming from the government other than meeting the terms of the programme."

Greece was forced to seek a second bailout after failing to mend its finances with initial aid. Gaspar did change the government's outlook for this year's economic slump - the deepest since the 1970s - to a contraction of 3.3 percent from a previously forecast 3 percent decline. He also said unemployment, which is already at record highs, would worsen this year. The jobless rate will now reach 14.5 percent, up from the government's previous estimate of 13.7 percent.

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Recession has Portugal urging citizens to leave to find work


For nearly 600 years, Portugal had one of the greatest colonial empires in Europe, commanding trade centres in Africa, South America and China. Now, laid low by recession, Portugal is telling citizens to head to former colonies where Portuguese is spoken, such as Brazil and Macau, to find work. "Recent graduates should lead a new type of emigration, different from the 1960s, when Europe was the destination," Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Miguel Relvas said recently. "In the past 20 years, Portugal has invested in a generation of people, and now we can't give them what they need: employment." The Portuguese government has admitted it is unable to provide job opportunities to the country's 700,000 unemployed, especially teachers and recent graduates. Many of them have lost jobs, or been unable to find employment at all, as a result of austerity measures imposed by the International Monetary Fund, the European Union and the European Central Bank when they bailed out the country to the tune of $115 billion last May.

Portugal's unemployment rate reached its highest level ever in December: 14%, according the Portuguese National Institute of Statistics. Talk of a second bailout has led to fears that there might be more austerity to come. The credit ratings agency Fitch predicts Portugal's economy will shrink by 3% in 2012. In contrast, Brazil's economy grew by 7.5% last year. The solution for Portuguese citizens, according to the country's secretary of State for youth and sports, Miguel Mestre, is to get out of town.

"If people are unemployed they should leave their comfort zone and look beyond our borders," he said late last year, to an outraged reaction from his increasingly frustrated fellow Portuguese, who blasted him for it via Twitter and Facebook. Portugal's construction and catering industries has long been a magnet for workers from the former Portuguese colonies of Brazil and Angola, but the economic crisis engulfing Europe means the old colonial "mother country" is no longer the land of opportunity it once was. Portugal is experiencing its worst economic crisis since 1975.

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Portugal rejects call to work on holiday


Workers in Portugal rejected calls from the government last week to report to work during Carnival, one of the country’s most precious holidays. The public adorned costumes with wigs and masks despite the gloomy economic crisis. Local media estimated that more than half of workers stayed home, resulting in closed banks and office buildings in the capital, Lisbon. Instead, many of them dressed up in colourful handmade costumes and attended traditional parades in the streets that featured music and dancing and elaborate floats. The government had scrapped the traditional Shrove Tuesday carnival celebrations as part of austerity measures due to the economic crisis. The nation received a €63 billion bailout last year in return for spending cuts and reforms. It was forced to accept the help from other countries in Europe and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after it was unable to afford its debts due to the global financial crisis.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, who heads the country’s coalition government, was obligated to implement economic reforms and austerity measures as conditions for the rescue funds. He announced that the traditional Carnival wouldn’t be granted, as this hadn’t been a normal year. This year is a national emergency. He hoped the public understood that this isn’t time to talk of tradition but of determining who wants to beat the crisis or hang on to old traditions. However, this appeal was ignored throughout the nation, with media reports that many businesses and public buildings were closed as the public carried on the celebrations. Politicians and heads of stated worked as usual, and even though public servants had to show up at work, some sat at their desks with rabbit ears, wigs and masks on. Most state-owned companies and local councils closed, while train engineers held a strike in protest of the Prime Minister’s call. There were even some signs seen on floats in the parades that read: “Governments come and go but Carnival stays.”

Mayor Carlos Miguel, of Torres Vedras, a town known for its Carnival celebrations, said that the deep cultural roots of the holiday ensure its survival. They wouldn’t have the country at a virtual standstill for celebrations if that wasn’t the case, he added. Rosa Gomes, a 25-year-old shop assistant who opted to show up at work, told reporters that cancelling holidays won’t help the nation in any way. People will just be more demotivated and disappointed about their lives, she added. Despite many disagreeing with the government’s call for workers to work instead of celebrate the Carnival, others agreed with the appeal. Manuel Agostiho, who is 54 and unemployed, told journalists that they have to work for the good of Portugal. This is no laughing matter.



       
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