Letter from Cascais – July 2020

Beautiful Cascais in the summer of 2020 – great weather but virtually no tourists, some visitors from Lisbon, a few cars with Spanish licence plates, English, French, German voices belonging to local residents.

The hotels are mostly empty, bed-and-breakfast houses almost all closed up. Restaurants, mainly family-owned ones, are open, with strict spacing and hygiene protocols. On weekends, the beaches are busy, but sunbathers and swimmers keep their distance from each other. For once, Cascais belongs to its residents.

The pandemic, with new cases all over the globe, continues to give many people great concern, both about their health and their economic future.

In Brussels, a marathon summit meeting of European Union leaders, which had been in progress since Friday, July 17th, finally reached an agreement on the much and urgently needed financial recovery programme designed to rescue and stimulate the economies of those member countries most affected by the Covid19 pandemic.

While the Franco-German robust proposal of a €750 billion package, including a large amount of grants and a lesser amount of loans for these (already much indebted) countries, demonstrates the will to show strength and solidarity in the EU, a group of five small “Nordic” members led by the Netherlands and Austria was blocking an agreement, citing alleged concerns over the amount of grants and their potential misuse by the “southern” recipients.

The ongoing – reportedly “testy” – discussions reflected grave divisions between EU members. The rigid attitudes of the Austrian, Dutch and Scandinavian leaders are extremely worrying and the increasingly undemocratic governments in Hungary and Poland are creating further weakness in the EU.

The hardline stinginess of the Dutch prime minister reminds me of the joke about Dutch holidaymakers in pre-Euro Italy, many of whom brought their own food and drinks with them in their cars and caravans marked “NL”, interpreted by Italians as “niente lire”!

In Portugal, Cascais is unfortunately connected with an ongoing financial scandal involving the collapse of the Banco Espírito Santo in 2014. Its founder and former president, Ricardo Salgado, a member of the Espírito Santo family and a resident of Cascais, has now been officially indicted, together with 18 other persons and seven companies, on 65 counts of crimes including criminal association, bribery, embezzlement, money laundering and tax fraud, after an investigation lasting more than six years. The bank’s creditors, many of them small investors, have lost millions of euros, without proper recourse. Salgado’s lawyers are disputing all charges claiming that he has done “nothing wrong”. The case also highlights rather murky connections between the accused and powerful politicians.

Germany marked the 76th anniversary of the failed attempt by Claus von Stauffenberg to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20, 1944.

While the personal courage of Stauffenberg and his group of co-conspirators is not in doubt, their motives have given rise to much debate.

In planning the coup, Stauffenberg and other members in the military resistance were, of course, motivated by the realization that the war was being lost, especially after the Allied forces’ landing in Normandy. Stauffenberg, like many other young officers from families of “nobility”, enthusiastically participated in Nazi Germany’s military campaigns against neighbouring countries. A devoted Catholic, he was offended by some of Hitler’s policies, including the systematic and cruel persecution and murder of the Jews, but he always expressed strong sympathy for “the colonization” of Poland by “the Germanic people” and made derogatory comments about east European Jews.

Stauffenberg and other conspirators were summarily executed shortly after their failed coup.

On a personal note, our travel plans remain suspended, due to the uncertain development of the pandemic. Although we miss seeing family and friends elsewhere in Europe, our appreciation of life at home in Portugal, with local friends, has grown. No airports, no flight schedules, no security checks – but doing everything possible to remain healthy.

Jurgen H. Racherbaumer