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New territorial dynamics

Portugal between Lusophony, the European Union and the rest of the world

Strategic challenges and multiterritoriality in the 21st century
Le Portugal entre la Lusophonie, l’Union européenne et le reste du monde. Enjeux stratégiques et multiterritorialité au xxie siècle
João Luís J. Fernandes


In the current scheme of globalized relations and complex interrelationships between the different geographical scales, it is difficult to discuss how a country like Portugal fits into the world, but at the same time it is essential to start a discussion about its strategic positioning, especially about the geographical areas most relevant to the country’s relationship with the rest of the world. In this perspective, we have to consider not only geographically contiguous territories, but also places located further away which, notwithstanding distance, still play an important role. It means considering Portugal within references that include the Iberian Peninsula, Europe, the Atlantic and more broadly Lusophony. This is the variable, complex and changeable geometry in which the present is discussed and the future of the country is questioned by many authors, sometimes as a minor dependent state, sometimes as an assertive and resilient player empowered by the opportunities of interaction between different spatial contexts.

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1We live in an unstable world today with dynamics so varied that safe predictions are impeded. In this context, the State is just one more actor taking part in a game in which other protagonists are involved (from multinational companies to transnational networks), with territorialities that are harder to regulate. Even so, the strategic reflection on a territory is still important within the limitations of power that exist today for acquiring some control over the trajectory of regions and human communities.

2A. Moreira (2011) sees Portugal as an exogenous country, a political space that experiences multiple external dependencies and is permeable to decisions taken outside its territory. He also believes that this reality can limit the sovereignty of the country, hence the need to question its strategic options, a fact expressed in guidance documents such as the Strategic Concept of National Defense, approved in April 2013.

3The regional reorganization that resulted from the formation of the then European Economic Community which Portugal joined in 1986, the breakdown of the Soviet bloc, the increased speed of contacts and the deepening of global interrelationships all created the illusion of the end of borders. This feeling of a world without roughness or obstacles has been contradicted by empirical reality.

4The European project, the Schengen Agreements (signed by Portugal in 1991), the creation of a single currency (to which Portugal has belonged from the start, on January 1st 2002), as well as the strengthening of trade links between the different community partners, did not bring about the creation of the 'flat world' mentioned by Friedman (2005), or the heralded end of borders (Omahe, 1999 and 2005). Referring to Portugal in the 1990s, A. Moreira (1996 and 1997) stressed the idea of a complex border concept, characterized more by a fuzzy dynamic reality and less by a rigid demarcation line. Indeed, as the author himself explains, the current political frontier between Portugal and Spain is no longer a barrier separating the economy and controlling the spatial mobility of people and goods between the two countries. Nor does this border imply a particularly clear division between two contrasting cultural realities. On the contrary, the border between the Iberian countries is a line permeable to the flows between these two political territories.

5As far as the political border of Portugal is concerned, the decolonization process of 1974‑1975 and the handover of the sovereignty of Macau to the People's Republic of China (in 1999) meant that it was restored to Peninsula and European territory. Portugal is now encompassed by an Atlantic demarcation and the land boundary with the only country with which it shares a border – Spain (Figure 1).

Fig. 1 - Portugal in the Iberian Peninsula

Fig. 1 - Portugal in the Iberian Peninsula

The island territories and the continental boundary between the two countries.

Credits: INE, 2014.

6In spite of this, the political boundaries have lost some of the functions that are basic elements of the modern state. Moreira (1996 and 1997) said this lent a multidimensional character to the Portuguese border, in which a spatial mismatch could be noted between factors of sovereignty which now had a more blurred territorial character. This author (1996 and 1997) further observed that the political border of Portugal no longer coincided with its economic border. The first is easier to identify and map, the second is more volatile and may adapt to the limits of the Euro Zone. Given the strong trading and financial relationship between Portugal and Spain, especially after European integration, this Portuguese economic border should also extend to the Iberian Peninsula.

7In addition, and in this we continue with A. Moreira (1996 and 1997), strictly speaking none of these (political and economic) limits of sovereignty coincide with the boundaries of the areas of defense and security. In a context in which the inside and outside domains now are confused, this security border can today be accommodated in the NATO areas of intervention. Meanwhile, in a complex overlapping of maps and as regards the monitoring of spatial mobility, the demarcations are now different and should be close to the Schengen borders. In today's world, characterized by the increasing deregulation of flows, the curtailing of the controlling role of the State and the multiplication of actors, the sovereignty of a country is always partial and incomplete and cannot be understood without considering the relationship of this territory to other spaces. Indeed, in the defense sector and the regulation of flows, Portugal must be understood in the context of both NATO and the Europe of Schengen.

8The plasticity of this variable geometry intensifies when another area is added, one that is fundamental to identities and political sovereignties - the cultural dimension. Here, too, it is hard to accurately map a territory that is variable and constantly shifting.

9It is through the geography of countries that have adopted Portuguese as their official language that we can gain an approximate idea of the geographic areas for which the influence of Portugal has expanded, territorialized and diversified into multiple meeting points and places of innovative creation of hybrid realities (of which Portuguese influenced Creole is an example). But here, too, the boundaries are not exact and the traditional state territories are inadequate to understand this process.

10To approach this complex map, we need to look to the States, but at the networks, too. Countries such as Angola, which adopted Portuguese as its official language, are also areas where other languages were spoken. This has resulted in a lively and dynamic region, culturally diverse, in which the Portuguese language serves as a basis for the union, ensures the identity and allows further projections into the world (Sacramento, 2015).

11In this multidimensional linguistic soundscape, Portuguese is spoken and exists in territories which have other official languages. The Lusophone diasporas, from the Cape Verde to the Portuguese, the Angolan to the Brazilian, are significant in this flexible, variable geography of enriching intersections (Figure 2).

Fig. 2 - Main population centers of the Portuguese diaspora at the end of the 20th century

Fig. 2 - Main population centers of the Portuguese diaspora at the end of the 20th century

Credit: Fernandes, 2008.

12The flexibility of the concept of border is also found in the context of the Iberian Peninsula. In this respect, the permeability of the line that separates Portugal from Spain should be noted, with the consequent contact flowing between the two countries. The cultural geography of these border regions is a compromise between the assertions of nationality and the multi- and inter-cultural closeness, as is shown in places such as Barrancos, Rio de Onor and the very specific case of Olivença. Each deserves careful and individual treatment and analysis, and this geography is evidence of a porosity which, in the words of Cabero DiÉguez (2004), reveals an underlying Iberism, that is, a cultural closeness between populations that politics has separated.

13Olivença is, from this point of view, a particular case. It was annexed to the Spanish territory in the early 19th century, following the Napoleonic Wars. The position of Olivença, on the left bank of the River Guadiana, made it vulnerable to this occupation. However, according to international law, it remains a Portuguese municipality. Despite this, Spain has never fulfilled this obligation, which has led to Portugal not recognizing a section of the border between the two countries, about 60 km long (Figure 3).

Fig.  3 - The non-representation (omission) of a stretch of the border (63 km) in Portuguese official cartography

Fig.  3 - The non-representation (omission) of a stretch of the border (63 km) in Portuguese official cartography

14More recently, a group of about 700 citizens of this municipality, whose population is close to 12,000 inhabitants, asked for official recognition of their Portuguese nationality. These people do not intend to renounce Spanish nationality, but to acquire Portuguese citizenship as well. At the same time, this group has set up a non-governmental institution (Associação Além Guadiana, Beyond Guadiana Association) which aims to promote the contact between the two cultures and reinforce the identity of dual belonging to Portugal and Spain. (Figures 4 and 5).

Fig. 4 - Main square of Olivença

Fig. 4 - Main square of Olivença

We can see traditional Portuguese pavement, a heritage element promoted by the Associação Além Guadiana.

Fig. 5 - Toponymic plaques with double reference

Fig. 5 - Toponymic plaques with double reference

The old Portuguese name and the current one in Castilian (these double references are part of the current revivalism promoted by the Associação Além Guadiana, which is trying to revive the memory of Portugal in Olivença without discussing the territory’s political status.

15This is why a country will always be more than the events that occur within the narrow confines of its administrative borders. Understanding a political territory like Portugal requires going through multiple geographical scales, broadening the horizons and exploring the routes of travel, trade and hybridity. Even so, spatial location is a reference and geography an undeniable factor in international relations (Marshall, 2017). It is important to know from where you can see and interact with the world (Dollfus, 1998).

1 - Fitting Portugal into the world: Geographical proximity areas

16In the 1930s, when the Colonial Exhibition was held in the city of Porto, a propaganda map was published that superimposed Portugal’s colonial territories in Africa on the European continent (Figure 6).

Fig. 6 - “Portugal is not a small country”

Fig. 6 - “Portugal is not a small country”

Portugal’s colonial territories superimposed on the European continent, showing that with its empire, Portugal would be of a similar size to Western Europe.

Map by Henrique Galvão, published by the Câmara Municipal de Penafiel, 1935.

17On this ideological map, entitled "Portugal is not a small country,” the Portuguese territory with the addition of its African possessions was a geographic space as extensive as Western Europe. This political representation was intended to demonstrate that the African possessions enhanced the country, making it large and powerful. It also sought to prove that the Portuguese strategy should persist with colonization and not open up relations with an insignificant European continent that would tend to marginalize the Iberian Peninsula, especially its western periphery (Marroni, 2013).

18The recent path of Portugal has always been sensitive to the delicate balance between the Atlantic world and the European continent. The Castilian territories in the Iberian Peninsula and the Pyrenees have always stood in the way, separating Portugal from the center of Europe, a fact that has given strength to the Portuguese projection towards the Atlantic.

19Flowing against the main trends in the Western world, Portugal sought to maintain the colonial project by means of an anachronistic war (which lasted from 1962 to 1974), well beyond the human and economic possibilities of a poor and insignificant country. The democratization process in 1974‑1975 and the predictable end of the overseas empire reopened the strategic debate on the future of the country that was then returning to the limits of its European roots. Inclusion in a Europe that was becoming unified took place in 1986, with the joint admission of the Iberian Peninsula into the then European Economic Community.

20This path was the political confirmation of a reality that was already evident: the strong links of Portugal with the rest of the European continent. These were forged through trade and EFTA, through the Portuguese emigration routes which, after the mid-20th century led to European destinations, and through the tourist flows, which increased after the 1960s.

21The inclusion of the Iberian Peninsula in the European Economic Community was an impetus for modernization, a dynamic that hastened the tertiarization of Portugal and a \significant transformation of the country’s geographical space. Even though the balance of European integration has offered positive and negative aspects worthy of a critical analysis, the allocation of Community funds for the modernization of economic sectors such as agriculture and industry, the fixing of environmental targets and the element of obligation in the drafting of spatial planning plans and instruments such as Municipal Master Plans, are among the factors that have encouraged an unquestionable drive for change.

22After 1986, in a rapidly ageing country but one that was open to immigration, this was marked by the development of a consumer society hitherto unknown. The economic boost from the state and the expansion of the networks of public services were likewise promoted by financial factors. The EU membership, the integration of the Portuguese currency (the escudo) in the European Monetary System (precursor of the euro) and the subsequent membership of the single currency (in January 2002), resulted in the lowering of interest rates and the exposure of the middle classes to bank lending. Access to cheaper money changed the territoriality of the Portuguese and was a factor in the transformation of landscapes. The modernization of housing, the expansion of motor vehicle ownership, the overall growth of the leisure society all helped unleash the per capita consumption of space, the extension of fast roads and highways, the suburban expansion of cities and higher indices of the sealing of ground surfaces.

23According to A. Mateus (2015), who produced a detailed study on the impact of the integration of Portugal in the European Economic Community and the European Union in 1986, the interest rate then was above 15%. In 2013, this figure had fallen to around 1%. Mateus (2015) says that this macro-economic change altered the geographic behavior of the Portuguese. For example, tourism practices expanded; in 1986, the Portuguese accounted for approximately 6 million overnight stays in hotel establishments, whereas in 2013 this figure had more than doubled. Housing was modernized, with about 1/3 of residential buildings having been built after 1990. And daily mobility also expanded as the volume of road passenger traffic doubled between 1986 and 2013, as did the information society. By 2013, for every 100 people there were 113 mobile phone subscriptions, 62 Internet users, and 24 fixed broadband subscriptions. In 1986, there were 15 telephone lines per 100 inhabitants, figures that, at the time, were below European standards.

24These were times of optimism symbolized by the idea of modernity implied by the Lisbon International Exhibition (Expo 98), an event which, while it promoted the urban renewal of the east sector of the city (until then a deprived area) at the same time showed the world a globalized and sophisticated Portugal.

25In spite of this cycle of change, regional disparities still remain, especially between the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and Porto, on the one hand, and the more sparsely populated rural areas in much of the Portuguese interior, on the other. This consumerist ostentation, the inability of some sectors to adapt to a new, more open, competitive framework and imbalances in the European policies of cohesion, eventually turned Portugal, particularly some of its regions, into an exposed area, vulnerable to international crises, such as the financial instability that occurred after 2008 (Ferrão, 2013).

26The eccentric position of the country at a European level remained a structural factor. Located in the far west of the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal is a long way from the focal points of the continent, far away from the so-called Blue Banana (Hospers, 2003)–the well‑known banana‑shaped metropolitan axis extending from London to Milan, a polygon of urban networks with greater economic and political centralities.

27The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, German unification and the disintegration of the Soviet empire, shifted the center of gravity of the European system to the east. This dynamic did lead to the expansion of markets, but it also entailed new challenges for the Iberian Peninsula, especially to Portugal, by bringing projects such as fast transport infrastructure on the national agenda. In particular, high-speed trains and a new airport for the capital entered the discussion, ideas so far designed but not implemented, by virtue both of a lengthy political debate and also of the financial counter-cycle after the rescue of the Portuguese economy in 2011. In fact, the high-speed train announced in 2003 at a summit meeting between the Governments of Portugal and Spain did not materialize. It would have shortened the distance between the two countries (the two capitals would be 2h45m apart by rail–at present they are over 10h apart). Likewise, the construction of a new airport in the capital did not go ahead either. The goal was to extend the limit of the number of passengers that land at the Portuguese capital airport each year, which at present is around 20 million.

28It is in these dynamics of (im)balances that Portugal continues to have its main spatial references in the Iberian Peninsula. Past history, proximity and geographical contiguity, the economy but also the joint management of water resources and risks, are among the factors that make Iberian relationships essential.

29The integration of the geography of the two Iberian countries is clear, and the joint membership of the European Economic Community and the single currency (the euro) has reinforced the economic unit of the peninsula. Tourists and Erasmus students move between Portugal and Spain, but so do flows of capital, investment and business. The presence of Spain in Portugal’s economic fabric is important, especially in the banking sector. However, the Spanish market, which is much bigger than the Portuguese one, is an important factor of consolidation for the Portuguese economy and businesses which are limited domestically by its more modest consumer base with less possibility of expansion.

30This does not mean coherence and common positions in the international context, however, where we often see competition between the two countries for the same areas of influence. Just one example: since the famous Azores Summit of 2003 when the decision was taken to invade Iraq, Spain (traditionally more continental) has taken its place in the context of the Atlantic alongside the maritime powers (such as the United States and the United Kingdom), generally closest to Portugal, a country with a more distant and consolidated Atlantic strategy.

31The historic Portuguese maritime expansion has complex and systemic reasons. However, political affirmation in the peninsular context and strategic avoidance of the centripetal power of Madrid are among the factors that led the Portuguese to the Atlantic Ocean. As far as Carlos Alberto Medeiros is concerned (2006, p. 18),

it is essential to remember, first and foremost, the background data. Portugal is located in the far west of mainland Europe, facing the Atlantic Ocean which brought (and still brings) to it all kinds of physical and cultural influences, and over which its inhabitants plotted pioneering routes towards increasingly distant islands and mainland places.

32The Atlantic was important for the consolidation of Portugal but also for the identity and the landscapes that reinforce the geodiversity that is a feature of the national territory. It was through the Atlantic Ocean and the maritime navigation that Portugal managed to establish itself, in political terms, in the Iberian Peninsula. Without the imperial expansion across the Atlantic, independence from Madrid would have been more difficult. On the other hand, the Atlantic, through its climatic influences, has a great influence on many Portuguese regions, including the regions of the Azores and the north-west mainland.

33This internal diversity has also been influenced by another European maritime area–the Mediterranean, which, in fact, does not touch any part of the Portuguese coast. However, its influence on Portugal is great; it affects the climate, the traditional agricultural landscapes associated with wine, olive groves and cereals, the popular architecture in some regions of the country, the language and the Greek/Jewish/Christian web of the culture and identity of Portugal.

34However, within the strategy of self-assertion of Portugal in this 21st century it is the Atlantic that has returned to a key position, a fact which enhances the strategic importance of the Portuguese islands–the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores. The process of decolonization that took place in 1974‑1975, and membership of the European Economic Community (as it then was) in 1986, changed the country’s strategy, bringing it closer to the more continental dimension of Europe. However, given the distance to that Blue Banana and the centers of political and economic power of the European block, this reorientation ended up by emphasizing the peripheral condition of Portugal. It was to reduce this marginality and recover some of the lost centrality that the Atlantic once again came to be important in Portugal’s strategy. The two island regions, the Autonomous Regions of Madeira and the Azores, are fundamental pillars of this new paradigm, with the maritime dimension that reinforces (in this context, see the investment in oceanography and fishery studies at the University of the Azores) and the Exclusive Economic Zone that they ensure.

35Portugal has one of the most extensive exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of Europe, in part due to the territorial extent these islands are allowed. In addition to the EEZ limit, which gives the Portuguese territory significant centrality in the North Atlantic, we should also give some attention to the continental shelf. The EEZ is an area of Portuguese sovereignty which includes the resources of the entire column of water and sea bed within the limit of 200 nautical miles beyond the coastline. The continental shelf only allows the potential exploitation of marine resources. Since that is determined by the geomorphology of the sea bed, it can exceed the 200-mile limit.

36Bearing out the strategic relevance of these resources, there is another border conflict with Spain, in addition to the case of Olivença. Given the proximity between the Autonomous Region of Madeira and the Canary Islands archipelago, there has been some dispute with respect to the Ilhas Selvagens [known in English as the Savage Islands or Salvage Islands]. This is a group of two main islands and some islets, all uninhabited, about 165 kilometers from the Spanish Canary Islands archipelago and 250 kilometers from Funchal, the capital of Madeira. As they are part of Portuguese territory, the Ilhas Selvagens have been the target of some harassment by Spain. Their value as a point of definition of territorial waters is at the heart of this dispute. As a way of asserting the Portuguese possession of this tiny territory whose total area is less than 3 km2, it has become a tradition that the Presidents of the Portuguese Republic will visit the islands (as indeed happened with Mário Soares, Jorge Sampaio and Aníbal Cavaco Silva).

37In 2007, an additional area of 240,000 km2 was assigned to Portugal. However, the Continental Shelf Extension Project (EMEPC) submitted a new proposal for expansion to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, through the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS). This strategy placed Portugal in the chain of new geopolitical disputes over the sea (Khoury, 2017), but it was also a result of the constant concern with the European repositioning of the country, which might retrieve some centrality through the maritime element (Figure 7).

Fig. 7 - Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone

Fig. 7 - Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone

Surface area approximately 1 700 000 km2 (of which 437 000 km2 is the area defined by the Autonomous Region of Madeira and 938 000 km2 is the Autonomous Region of the Azores). In the dotted line, the area of possible expansion.

Source: EMEPC, 2014.

38The request for an extension of the continental shelf is also part of the strategy for the sea as established by the government for the period 2013‑2020. The purpose is to strengthen the role of the Atlantic component in the future of the country, responding even to the political priorities of the European Union (EU) mentioned in the Europe 2020 strategy (DGPM, 2013). This strategy was based on the assumption that the economic component of the Atlantic could be boosted. In 2010, the economy of the sea was responsible for only 2.5 % of GVA (gross value added) and 2.3 % of the total jobs (around 109,000 jobs), statistics that indicate a high growth potential in this sector (DGPM, 2013).

39Given the technological development that offers to extend this growth potential, this strategy aims at investing in sectors such as biotechnology and marine robotics, renewable offshore energy and the exploitation of the fishing chain, the exploitation of mineral resources of the seabed and layers beneath it, together with investment in marine tourism, sailing, aquaculture and maritime transport (Azevedo, 2013).

40O. Ribeiro (1980) saw Portugal as a territory of convergence between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean, a bridge between the sea and the European integration, in a variable geometry of relations that marks the global inclusion of this exogenous and insignificant territory.

41That is why it is important to assess both the relations that result from the logic of spatial continuity and those that are built up on the basis of discontinuous territories and networks sustained by the historical bonds mentioned here, generally speaking, by the Lusophone area, which integrates those territories and populations linked in some way by their past history and the Portuguese language.

2 - Portugal: Relations with the Portuguese-speaking world and the creation of the CPLP (Community of Portuguese‑Speaking Countries)

42Despite the historical relations with the rest of the world, especially with the Lusophony territories, Portugal's membership of the European Economic Community / EU has increased the weight of Europe in the internationalization and the Portuguese economy. Demonstrating that geographical proximity is very important in external relations, in the first half of 2016, 76.9 % of national exports went to the other 27 countries of the European Union (in 2015, this figure was 72.5 %). Over the same period, exports to the PALOP (Portuguese-speaking African countries), was only 3.7 % (5.7 % in 2015). For Mercosur (of which Brazil is a member), these exports were, respectively, 1.4 and 2.1 % (AICEP, 2016).

43With regard to imports, the picture does not change significantly. In the first half of 2016, once again the European Union is a key partner - 78.1 % (76.5 % in 2015). The weight of the PALOP in Portuguese imports was only 1.2 and 1.3%, respectively. Over the same period, the slice of Mercosur in Portuguese imports was around 3.3 % between January and June 2016 and 2.5 % in the whole of 2015 (AICEP, 2016).

44In light of these figures, which are given here as an illustration, at least in economic terms the Lusophony project does not evince a centrality comparable to European integration, though this does not diminish its political relevance as a path to the repositioning of the country in the international arena.

45It was with the perception of this political centrality that it has been proposed, in a favorable political context and as a result of the convergence of the wishes of different countries, that an institution should be created which would serve to link the countries and regions connected by history and by the official adoption of the Portuguese language. This institution came into being after a long process of negotiations, based on references agreed by the group as a whole, such as the values of peace, democracy and the rule of law, human rights, development and social justice, as stated in the founding declaration of this organization.

46Thus the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) was created at the Summit of Heads of State and Government on  July 17th 1996. The founding group includes Portugal, Brazil, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe. On May 20th 2002, after achieving independence, East Timor joined the CPLP. In 2014, it was further enlarged when Equatorial Guinea, an observer country of the organization since 2006, joined.

47For reasons ranging from the general principles upheld by the CPLP, like democracy and human rights to the non-effective presence of the Portuguese language in the territory, the membership of Equatorial Guinea raised doubts and negative reactions, especially on the part of the general citizens of Lusophone countries (, 2016). As far as A. L. Sá (2016) is concerned, this West African country approached the CPLP with the justification of scattered Portuguese settlements in parts of its territory up to the 18th century. Another argument was that a Portuguese-influenced Creole (the Fá d'Ambô) was spoken by the population of one of its ethnic groups.

48However, given the lack of investment by Equatorial Guinea in the Portuguese language, the CPLP is running the risk of losing its Lusophone matrix. This will be the price paid according to a broad range of factors of realpolitik, to which the oil resources of this Castilian-speaking territory are not unrelated.

49With this membership, the CPLP has strengthened its position in the group of oil-producing countries, which already includes Angola. Even so, this enlargement could call into question the bases of support of the organization itself. As Sá (2016, p. 157) says, this course shows that the CPLP “(…) is focused on exclusively economic and energy-sector related goals, to the detriment of some of the principles that guided its founding and also excluding what is considered as the common Lusophony heritage centered on the language.”

50However, the CPLP embraced a world of diversity from the outset. According to values of 2013 (which did not then include Equatorial Guinea), this network brings together around 258 million people, with an average per capita GDP of USD 7740 (CPLP; 2015). These figures confirm that this international organization brings together countries (or regions) that are heterogeneous and unbalanced both in terms of demographic weight and in relation to the main indicators of human development. Regarding the first aspect, we should note the difference between the approximately 201 million people in Brazil and 183,000 in São Tomé and Principe, or between the 19 million in Angola (approximate figures), the 10.5 million in Portugal and the 512,000 in Cape Verde (CPLP, 2015). These statistics make Brazil one of the key drivers of this Lusophony. As far as per capita GDP goes, the inequalities are glaring. The USD 7740 average reflects differences which, for 2013 figures, range from USD 21,508 in Portugal to USD 749 in Guinea-Bissau, from USD 11,892 in Brazil to USD 661.7 in Mozambique or USD 1,655 in São Tomé and Príncipe, national averages that also conceal significant territorial, social, or even ethnic asymmetries within them, especially in the more sprawling countries (CPLP, 2015).

51In addition, it is important not to reduce the relationship platforms to the economic domain. For example, thanks to migration, this Portuguese-speaking world is an area of contact and sharing. Just to mention a few bilateral bridges, Portugal and Brazil are territories that have enjoyed relevant flows in both directions since at least the late 19th century. The temporal mismatch of cycles of economic crisis between the two countries has meant that each territory offsets the crises in the other. In fact, Brazil is a destination for Portuguese emigration whenever the country is experiencing a crisis or shows that it cannot absorb the surplus population. Thus occurred at the end of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century a period which coincided with an expansion of the Brazilian economy. Flows in the opposite direction are also common. This happened with Brazilians entering Portuguese territory after it joined the European Community and the Schengen area. And it is happening now, with migratory flows of Brazilians who are leaving the country as a result of the political crisis and social instability and heading to Portugal, which is now in recovery after the 2010/2014 crisis. By 2016, Brazilians were already the main foreign community in the national territory: 81,251 residents, which was 20.4% of the total number of foreigners registered in Portugal (SEF, 2016).

52The relationship of Portugal with other Lusophone countries, particularly Cape Verde, also involves migratory flows, in this specific case the migration of Cape Verdeans to the Portuguese national territory where, especially since decolonization (in 1975) there is a significant community with origins in this geographic area. In 2016, there were 136,578 Cape Verdeans living in Portugal, while in 1999, for instance, there were 43 951 (SEF, 2000 and 2016). This decrease indicates that the emigration potential of the archipelago towards Portugal is already exhausted. However, this decline in numbers would also be due to some Cape Verdean residents and their descendants having acquired Portuguese nationality. That is why we can say that it is a stable immigration community.

53As an institution which united this diversity, marked by spatial discontinuity and by very heterogeneous geographical contexts, the creation of the CPLP benefited from quite a favorable international context. The end of the Cold War and a certain (apparent) détente in international relations, the end of some armed conflicts in Lusophone Africa, a degree of consolidation of a democratic regime in Brazil, all these were factors associated with an optimistic and positive phase in the world. On the Portuguese side, a favorable economic cycle and the availability of funds for cooperation reinforced these propitious conditions for the wider negotiation of this integration (Gama, 2001). This has occurred in different areas. However, in relation to the technical training of human resources, Portugal has significantly improved cooperation in the military and security sector, especially with the Portuguese‑speaking African countries.

54Chacon (2002) believed that the political affirmation of Lusophony could be a factor of linguistic geodiversity that resists the tendency towards a cultural monoculture based mainly on the expansion of the English language. From Portugal’s point of view, the creation of the CPLP led to expectation of a greater centrality in the international sphere, thereby countering a certain marginalization of the country within the European context that derived from the growing gap between the country and the economic and political center(s) of the European Union, now extended to the east.

55According to its statutes, the CPLP does not have a fixed center and it is an institution that should respect the sovereignty of each member. Also according to its general principles, it aims to spread the Portuguese language in the world but also to increase cooperation in many areas (from culture to science, from security to education), with the goal of the group being able to assert itself on the  international stage.

56One of the practical effects of this association was the strengthening of international pressure for the independence of East Timor in 2002. It is hard to assess the real impact of the CPLP and decide whether, in fact, the institution has fulfilled its objectives. In many respects, the circumstances were changing and the favorable context at the time the organization was being set up was changing, too. Economic crisis was afflicting countries such as Portugal (which removed cooperation policies from its priorities), as well as Brazil and Angola (albeit over-reliant on oil); there was political instability in Brazil and Guinea Bissau, and elsewhere. Added to the dispersed geography, all this contributed to the difficulties in finding broader platforms of understanding and cooperation.

57However, a certain realpolitik has prevailed in each of the member states, which was due to the inclusion of each state in very specific and regionalized geopolitical rationales. These operated, for example, between the European Union (in the case of Portugal), Mercosur (Brazil), the SADC (Southern Africa Development Community, to which Angola and Mozambique belong), ECOWAS–the Economic Community of West African States (for Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau), and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations (in which East Timor is an observer country). In this context, membership of the CPLP is always a supplementary strategy to other relational domains that are governed by proximity.

58Looking at the issue through the eyes of Portugal, the bridges in this Lusophone community had been translated into bilateral agreements that vary as circumstances change. As mentioned earlier, despite the secondary importance of trade relations between Portugal and the other CPLP countries, they do not neglect other channels of contact. For example, Angola was important as a place for some Portuguese companies that spread and established themselves internationally, especially after the end of the expansive cycle of European integration and the sovereign debt crisis following the financial shock of 2010‑2014.

59One of the assets of the Portuguese-speaking world is the potential for interlinking between territories. Because they are associated with different geo-economic spheres and because the degree of integration is not very strong, moments of crisis do not always affect all the countries of the current CPLP [Community of Portuguese Language Countries] at the same time. On the contrary, it has often happened that there have been alternate crises, that is, a crisis in one Portuguese-speaking territory might coincide with a period of expansion in another. The relationship between Portugal and Angola should be seen in this light.

60The end of the civil war and the establishment of peace in Angola was a factor that attracted Portuguese emigrants (Galito, 2015). Angola then began an expansionist cycle in public works. At this stage, it turned out to be an expanding territory for Portuguese companies and an opportunity for semi-skilled and skilled human resources, in the area of civil construction, in particular, but in tourism too (Malheiros, 2011).

61The demand for Angolan territory by Portuguese emigrants was especially evident during the depression that affected Portugal in 2010‑2014 as a result of the sub-prime crisis in the USA and the turmoil in the Eurozone. According to data from the General Directorate of Consular Affairs and Portuguese Communities (cited by Galito, 2015), 53,157 Portuguese were registered in Portuguese Consulates in Angola in 2006. This number rose to 94,767 in 2010 and 126,356 in 2014. However, this demand has changed in recent years. According to Pires et al. (2017), in 2016 this figure fell to 92,666. Competition with Chinese companies and, more specifically, the cooling of the Angolan economy with the oil crisis that affected the country after 2015, made this destination less attractive. Angola’s lack of economic diversification and the predominance of the petroleum sector slowed down the cycle of public works there.

62Even so, this crisis in Angola did not have any immediate effect on the mobility of the Portuguese. According to Pires et al. (2017), 2009 saw 23,787 people entering the country. Also according to official figures reported by Inês Vidigal (2017), 4,651 Portuguese entered Angola in 2013. This number rose again in 2014 (5,098) and 2015 (6,715). It was only in 2016 that this fall became a reality: the entry of Portuguese in Angola fell by approximately 42% (2,807 fewer entries than in the previous year).

63Nonetheless, in 2016, Angola was still one of the main countries from which remittances were sent by emigrants to Portugal (Table I). Table I shows the 14 countries that, with 3.3 billion euros transferred in total, contributes to 97.9% of remittances received in Portugal, in 2016. In this group, Angola was ranked 6th, representing 6.2% of the total transfers made by Portuguese emigrants (in a ranking led by France and Switzerland, traditional destinations of Portuguese emigration since the second half of the twentieth century).

Table I - Main countries of origin of remittances received in Portugal, in accordance with the transfers made in 2016

Table I - Main countries of origin of remittances received in Portugal, in accordance with the transfers made in 2016

Source: Pires et al., 2017.

64In addition to this relationship in terms of migration, capital investment by Angola in important sectors of the Portuguese economy like the media and banking was also significant. Along with the entry of Spanish and Chinese capital, this cycle has led to a debate, still ongoing, on the local control of strategic sectors and centers of decision making that matter to the strategic future of Portugal.

65Even so, the relationship between Portugal and Angola experiences constant cycles of optimism and pessimism, of opening and closing, of building up contacts and erecting walls of mutual incomprehension. October 15th 2013, in the State of the Nation address, the President of Angola, José Eduardo dos Santos, mentioned the ill-will between the two countries and the lack of conditions for entering into any kind of strategic partnership (Bandi, 2014).

66Other authors (Ferreira, 2017), however, thought that the prospects for Portugal to assert itself on the African continent must also involve non-Portuguese-speaking territories such as Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast and South Africa. Contacts were established with them through the creation of chambers of commerce and the installation of delegations of the AICEP (Business Development Agency, a state body intended to promote Portugal abroad).

67Even so, it is impossible to contemplate the presence of Portugal in Africa without possible and potential partnerships with the Lusophone countries. From this perspective, it is important to say that the Portuguese language has been expanding and will continue to do so in the immediate future. However, if the focal point of Portuguese should shift from Europe to Brazil, the forecasts are now pointing to a new geography, to an increase of speakers on the African continent. This territory would become the most important Portuguese-speaking demographic, particularly Angola and Mozambique (Reto, Machado & Esperança, 2016). This loss of centrality on the map of the Portuguese language reaffirms the insignificant and exogenous nature of Portugal, although in these Lusophone territories we should also take into account the Portuguese diaspora, which constitutes a discontinuous spatial network of about 4 million Portuguese and people of Portuguese descent.

68Still hoping to assess whether the Portuguese language can be said, in the words of J. Nye (2005), to be a strategically relevant soft power, the variable geometry of the position of Portugal in the world can also be based in hubs and in areas of cooperation which, on the basis of cultural ties, open channels of contact in other strategic areas.

69The transfer of the administration of Macau to China in 1999 opened one of these points of contact. The Macau Special Administrative Region (RAEM) is a

small enclave in southern China with Lusophone specificities (...) the only place in China where Portuguese is one of the official languages, the legal system has a Portuguese basis, a significant percentage of the mass media function in English and there is a supply of Lusophone culture, from the arts and shows to gastronomy (Mendes, 2013).

70For the Chinese government, Macao can be a channel of contact with the various Portuguese-speaking countries. For the Chinese authorities, as the former administrator of Macau, Portugal is valuable as a connection to the West. Therefore, it is one of the European countries with which China has promoted a comprehensive strategic partnership (Mendes, 2013 and 2014).

71According to AICEP (2016), in 2016 Portugal was only the 71st importer of Chinese products (with a share of 0.13%), and 66th in terms of supply (0.09% of the total). As regards the importation of Chinese products, these are sent by sea to the ports of Sines and Lisbon. Also in 2016, China accounted for just 1.3% of exports to and 2.4% of imports from Portugal. These figures show that the strategic partnership between Portugal and China should be seen in a broad perspective, in a strategy focused on Macau but not centered solely on the economy. In fact, as in the case of China, the inclusion of Portugal in the world could also involve its role as a link between different parts of the globe. This potential is largely due to the geographical position of the country, but it is especially related to the historical role of contact and interconnection between different territories of the world, an experience that we do not find in many countries, on a global scale.

72Under a transitional period that will last until 2049, Portuguese culture and heritage have been protected in Macau, whose historic center, sponsored by China, has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The Forum for Economic and Trade Cooperation (known by the Macau Forum) was set up in 2003 between the People's Republic of China and all Portuguese-speaking countries (Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Portugal and East Timor), apart from São Tomé and Príncipe, which maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The Macau Forum has turned out to be an institution that uses cultural ties with Portugal to foster contact between the West and the East. Despite being directed at the economy and trade, this forum could have a broader diplomatic relevance in maintaining ties between China and the Lusophony territories (Mendes, 2013 and 2014).


73In a context permeated by the multiple dimensions of Portugal’s presence and relationship with the world, we must not lose sight of the fact that national political territories are now highly vulnerable entities, reliant and influenced in the international context (Innerarity, 2016). The weaknesses of the European Union and the enduring doubts as to the feasibility of its future, and the collateral effects of pathways and political tensions in countries such as Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, could all affect the future of Portugal in multiple ways. Nationalist tensions could influence the future of Portugal’s Iberian neighbor. Brexit and the recent populist drift of the USA have touched two of Portugal’s major Atlantic allies, a fact to which the country cannot be indifferent. For example, the United States’ strategic options will have a bearing on the centrality of the Lajes base (Azores), within an organization, NATO, in which Portugal has been losing in terms of its relative position.

74We are already a long way from the ideologies, the context and the map which at the beginning of the 20th century saw colonial Portugal as a major country. Still, as Fernando Rebelo (2013) points out, Portugal is not a small territory: with a surface area of about 92,000 km2 and a population of approximately 10 million inhabitants, at EU level it can be considered a medium-sized country.

75However, the importance derived from its economic and political powers is a variable that is harder to measure. A. Moreira (1997) believes the path of Portugal will lie in the sovereignty of service, in the role of a country that seeks balance and equilibrium. For this author, the sovereignty of service is the ability to promote contact, dialogue and diplomatic rapprochement between different parts of the world. Portugal is seen as a country that moves in multiple geographical contexts, a country with a historically rooted soft power that might be put at the service of Europe and the international community. This is indeed borne out by the election of a number of Portuguese dignitaries to positions of international importance, and it is also visible in the potential mediation role between East and West, via the territory of Macau.

76Finally, it is important to note that everything should be considered in a context of multiple identities, in which the relationship between politics, economics and culture is a diffuse and capricious area. Far from being a single, monochrome brand, Lusophony is part of a complex dynamic, in the words of A. Sen (2007), of composite identities. This means that the historical and linguistic ties could, from the perspective of Portugal, be an added-value, but only within the framework of a variable geometry of relations and identities in a transnational geographic area of diversity. It is in this perspective that Portugal should be viewed in the context of multi-territorial relations (Haesbaert, 2004), that is, as a country that reaches beyond its restricted territory (a sovereignty greatly constrained today), encompassed by its political borders, in the western part of the Iberian Peninsula.

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List of illustrations

Title Fig. 1 - Portugal in the Iberian Peninsula
Caption The island territories and the continental boundary between the two countries.
Credits Credits: INE, 2014.
File image/jpeg, 292k
Title Fig. 2 - Main population centers of the Portuguese diaspora at the end of the 20th century
Credits Credit: Fernandes, 2008.
File image/jpeg, 468k
Title Fig.  3 - The non-representation (omission) of a stretch of the border (63 km) in Portuguese official cartography
File image/jpeg, 568k
Title Fig. 4 - Main square of Olivença
Caption We can see traditional Portuguese pavement, a heritage element promoted by the Associação Além Guadiana.
File image/jpeg, 480k
Title Fig. 5 - Toponymic plaques with double reference
Caption The old Portuguese name and the current one in Castilian (these double references are part of the current revivalism promoted by the Associação Além Guadiana, which is trying to revive the memory of Portugal in Olivença without discussing the territory’s political status.
File image/jpeg, 348k
Title Fig. 6 - “Portugal is not a small country”
Caption Portugal’s colonial territories superimposed on the European continent, showing that with its empire, Portugal would be of a similar size to Western Europe.
File image/jpeg, 628k
Title Fig. 7 - Portuguese Exclusive Economic Zone
Caption Surface area approximately 1 700 000 km2 (of which 437 000 km2 is the area defined by the Autonomous Region of Madeira and 938 000 km2 is the Autonomous Region of the Azores). In the dotted line, the area of possible expansion.
File image/jpeg, 740k
Title Table I - Main countries of origin of remittances received in Portugal, in accordance with the transfers made in 2016
Credits Source: Pires et al., 2017.
File image/jpeg, 69k
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Electronic reference

João Luís J. Fernandes, « Portugal between Lusophony, the European Union and the rest of the world », Méditerranée [Online], 130 | 2018, Online since 28 November 2018, connection on 14 October 2019. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/mediterranee.10549

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About the author

João Luís J. Fernandes

Department of Geography and Tourism/University of Coimbra/CEGOT,

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