There may be a brief interruption to blogging, as tomorrow brings a long and leisurely journey away from Lisbon. On the face of it, Portugal’s capital is as ever, almost a throwback to the past with its narrow streets, little shops, old neighbourhoods, faded buildings and the constant sound of tramcars passing nearby. But merely to look does not even scratch the surface.
Lisbon sprawls out over its nearby hills and across the Tagus, and much of that is recent, often middle-rise apartment blocks as one might see in Amsterdam or Barcelona. Some of the neighbourhoods are pleasant, but others have their share of problems. There is more to this city than the Baixa, Chiado, Bairro Alto, Mouraria and Alfama.
There is also more homelessness than before, and more people openly begging, either on the street, or on occasion on the city’s Metro system, which is supposed to be wholly gated, as is that in London. There are protests not just outside Parliament, but across the city, and regularly: yesterday one such occupied the Praça do Comércio during the afternoon.
Austerity programmes have cut salaries of public servants and increased their pension contributions – the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance and their chorus of nodding donkeys would be deeply impressed – and there has been a cull of infrastructure projects. There is even a suggestion that city public transport should cease running late at night, which shows that politicians need to get out more, as in the UK.
Many businesses open well into the evening, and how their staff will get home to Amadora and Odivelas is not told. Not everyone can afford to live in the city centre. This has an echo of the housing benefit debate facing Londoners right now. And too much austerity means less folk employed, and less economic activity. Portugal, like the UK, needs a Plan B if there is to be growth.
One small plus point is that the Auto Europa plant over the river is now exporting its VWs to China – rather than those exports being done from Germany. But the overall picture is not good. And with that thought, it’s on to another troubled capital city tomorrow. More from the Eurozone later.