Europe

Portugal profile - Overview

  • 22 April 2015
  • From the section Europe
Map of Portugal

Portugal, a country with a rich history of seafaring and discovery, looks out from the Iberian peninsula into the Atlantic Ocean.

When it handed over its last overseas territory, Macau, to Chinese administration in 1999, it brought to an end a long and sometimes turbulent era as a colonial power.

The roots of that era stretch back to the 15th century when Portuguese explorers such as Vasco da Gama put to sea in search of a passage to India. By the 16th century these sailors had helped build a huge empire embracing Brazil as well as swathes of Africa and Asia. There are still some 200 million Portuguese speakers around the world today.

Portugal's history has had a lasting impact on the culture of the country with Moorish and Oriental influences in architecture and the arts. Traditional folk dance and music, particularly the melancholy fado, remain vibrant.

Farm worker on the Azores
Portugal includes several islands, including Madeira and the Azores, pictured

For almost half of the 20th century Portugal was a dictatorship in which for decades Antonio de Oliveira Salazar was the key figure. The dictatorship's stubborn refusal to relinquish its grip on the former colonies as demands for independence gained momentum there resulted in expensive wars in Africa.

This period was brought to an end in 1974 in a bloodless coup, picturesquely known as the Revolution of the Carnations, which ushered in a new democracy.

By the end of 1975 all of Portugal's former colonies in Africa were independent of Lisbon.

Since becoming a member of the then European Community in 1986, Portugal's traditionally largely agricultural economy became increasingly diversified and orientated towards the service sector.

It experienced solid growth in the 1990s, but GDP per head remains well under the EU average. The 2008 financial crisis left Portugal with a ballooning budget deficit, and in 2011 it became the third EU country after Greece and Ireland to ask international lenders for emergency assistance.

A 78bn-euro EU/IMF bailout was awarded on condition that Portugal reduces its deficit to bring it closer to the official EU target of 3% of GDP, leaving the government with little choice but to pass a series of austerity budgets.

The country exited the programme in 2014 after achieving some success in cutting its deficit and restoring growth.

Wine boats in city of Porto
Portugal's Porto region has for long been a source of fine wines

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