Portugal: Europe's pioneering power

Along with Spain, Portugal helped to pioneer long-distance maritime travel, rewriting the old world. This was known as the Age of Discovery, which overlapped the Renaissance, leading up to the seismic Age of Enlightenment. Portugal helped set off the tremors of intellectual and cultural advancement that added a new definition of what it meant to be human.
The Portuguese were an absolute authority when it came to seafaring, helping it cement its position as the first truly global empire in history. There are now over 200 million Portuguese speakers in the world today. Alas, no empire can endure, not even Ancient Rome could, and with time, as other nations emerged in their own right, many boosted by colossal industrial growth, its supremacy began to wane.
Nearly half a millennia of exploration ended dramatically in the first decade of the 20th century, when the monarchy was overthrown in 1910 by the Portuguese Republican Party. While the idea of democracy was behind the coup d’état, its leaders crumbled in the face of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s authoritarian Estado Novo (New State).
For over 40 years, Salazar ruled Portugal with an iron fist. His legacy is mixed. While some see him as a totalitarian dictator, an anachronism – he wanted to keep hold of the country’s colonies – his early reforms endowed Portugal with the structural changes that were needed post-royalty. In instituting these financial and political changes, Salazar established social order and helped boost economic productivity.
His tenure came to an end in 1970 when he died from complications arising from a brain haemorrhage he suffered two years previously. By 1974, the mood of discontent growing, the Portuguese people began to air their dissatisfaction. They wanted change.
A spontaneous act of civil resistance in Lisbon soon spread to the rest of the country, characterised by its peaceful nature. No shots were ever fired and it has since come to be known as the Carnation Revolution. Aided by the military, democracy was restored and in 1975, Portugal liberated all of its colonies in Africa.
Following the revolution, the country moved away from a largely agrarian-based economy and into a more modern one, diversified and heavily geared towards the services industry. As a result of this, it underwent strong growth during the nineties, with the last twenty years defined by liberalisation of significant areas of the economy, including telecommunications and finance, as well as the privatisation of many state-controlled organisations.
Buoyed by its rich history, Portugal has become of the most developed countries in the world, typified by a commendable infrastructure and a superb healthcare system. Life expectancy from birth for males is 76 and for women is 83, the average for both sexes being 80. In general, the quality of life is good – it’s not about material wealth, but how you spend your days. Food, culture and meandering days are what it’s all about. When you have mild temperatures all year around, the sun a constant backdrop, there is no better way to spend your time.
It hasn’t been without its problems as of late, though it certainly isn’t the exception. Much of Europe has been thrown into a sort of existential despair following the financial crisis of 2008 and there is still hesitancy among EU leaders about how to go forward independently and as a collective.
In the meantime, its leaders are tackling a sizeable budget deficit, but there’s promise on the horizon. Structural reforms are underway to instigate prominent GDP growth, and the government is looking at ways of enhancing exports, increasing bilateral and trade agreements with Brazil and reinvesting in agriculture. Combined, this is more than enough to get the country back to where it belongs, among the titans of Europe.