State of the nation

President Jorge Sampaio used his traditional New Year’s address to make a plea for greater respect for foreign citizens who live and work in Portugal. Sampaio said this was a “moral duty” incumbent on Portuguese because immigrants create wealth for the country as a whole. “We have the duty to look at the immigrants among us as people who help us and as people who deserve our respect,” said the President in his annual address to the nation.

Aside from the question of immigration, the President also mentioned terrorism, the failure of the last European summit and the situation in Iraq. Sampaio said: “Now the dictator (Saddam Hussein) has been captured, it should give rise to other expectations regarding the normalisation of the country and the rapid transfer of power to the Iraqi people.”

Regarding the new year, the President was determined to strike an optimistic note while acknowledging that the Portuguese have good reason to view the coming year with some unease, saying: “We cannot ignore the difficulties our country is passing through, but we have to analyse them with serenity and rigour.” He said he felt 2004 could be the “moment of deliverance which the Portuguese have been waiting for”. Prime Minister Durão Barroso also shares the rosier outlook, announcing last week that financially, “Portugal is beginning to come out of the crisis”. He guaranteed that this year would see a reduction in the country’s structural deficit. “The deficit is decreasing,” he explained. “In 2003 it stood at 1.7 per cent and in 2004 it will fall to 1.3 per cent.” He added that the economic recovery would be “slow and gradual, but solid and steady”.

During a speech to the PSD party, the Prime Minister spoke of the past 20 months in government, reviewing this year’s reforms, such as the end of SISA tax and the new financial regime for higher education. He revealed that, in 2004, the government’s priorities would be to reform Public Administration and to continue the fight against tax evasion.

In spite of these upbeat messages, most Portuguese would appear to be pessimistic about prospects for the year. A recent opinion poll showed that more than 58 per cent believe this year will be as bad or worse than 2003.