Portugal: country overview

10 July 2012

by Ina Dimireva
— last modified 29 May 2014

Portugal has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy since joining the European Community – the EU’s predecessor – in 1986.

Year of EU entry: 1986

Member of Schengen area: Yes

Political system: Republic

Capital city: Lisbon

Total area: 92 072 km²

Population: 10.8 million

Currency: Euro

Listen to the official EU language: Portuguese

Country overview

Portugal, a country with a rich history of seafaring and discovery,
looks out from the Iberian Peninsula onto the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal’s
history has had a lasting impact on the culture of the country: Moorish
and Oriental influences in architecture and the arts are prominent.

Over the past 3 000 years,
Portugal has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of civilisations.
Phoenician, Greek, Celt, Carthaginian, Roman and Arabic cultures have
all left their imprint. In the 15th century, Portugal’s intrepid
maritime explorers led by Vasco da Gama discovered new territories,
leading to the accumulation of an overseas empire. At home, the
university of Coimbra, established in 1290, is one of the oldest in

The President, elected for a
five-year term by universal suffrage, has limited powers. The parliament
has 230 members, whose mandate is for four years.

Portugal has always been well
represented in the arts. Famous poets include Luís de Camões and
Fernando Pessoa. No less creative are the talents of international
footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

During the month of June, festivities dedicated to three saints known as Santos Populares
(popular saints) take place all over Portugal. They are characterised
by folk dance and music, particularly the traditional melancholy fado .

Each region of Portugal has
its traditional dishes made with various kinds of meat and seafood. In
particular, the country is particularly well known for its one hundred
ways of cooking cod.

Economy overview

Portugal has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy
since joining the European Community – the EU’s predecessor – in 1986.
Over the following two decades, successive governments privatized many
state-controlled firms and liberalized key areas of the economy,
including the financial and telecommunications sectors. The country
qualified for the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1998 and began
circulating the euro on 1 January 2002 along with 11 other EU members.
The economy grew by more than the EU average for much of the 1990s, but
the rate of growth slowed in 2001-08. The economy contracted 2.5% in
2009, before growing 1.4% in 2010, but GDP fell again from 2011 to 2013,
as the government implemented spending cuts and tax increases to comply
with conditions of an EU-IMF financial rescue package, signed in May
2011. Austerity measures also have contributed to record unemployment
and a wave of emigration not seen since the 1960s. Booming exports will
contribute to growth and employment in 2014, but the need to continue to
reduce private- and public-sector debt could weigh on consumption and
investment. The government of Pedro PASSOS COELHO also has introduced
more flexibility into the labour market, and, this, along with steps to
trim the budget deficit, could make Portugal more attractive to foreign
investors. The government reduced the budget deficit from 10.1% of GDP
in 2009 to 5.1% in 2013, lower than the EU-IMF fiscal target of 5.5%.
Despite these efforts, public debt has continued to grow and, at 128% of
GDP in 2013, it stands among the highest in the EU. As a result, the
government may have difficulty regaining full bond market financing when
the EU-IMF financing program expires in mid-2014.

Source: Europa, CIA World Factbook

Useful links

The Commission’s Representation in Portugal
European Parliament office in Portugal
Financial crisis: support package for Portugal
Portuguese Government
Tourist information

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