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Portugal: country overview

10 July 2012
by Ina Dimireva -- last modified 29 January 2017

Portugal has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy since joining the European Community - the EU's predecessor - in 1986. The most important sectors of Portugal’s economy in 2015 were wholesale and retail trade, transport, accommodation and food services (25.1 %) and public administration, defence, education, human health and social work activities (19.9 %) and industry (17.3 %). Portugal’s main export partners are Spain, France and Germany, while its main import partners are Spain, Germany and France.


Portuguese flag

Capital: Lisbon

Geographical size: 92 226 km2

Population: 10 374 822 (2015)

Population as % of total EU: 2 % (2015)

Gross domestic product (GDP): € 179.379 billion (2015)

Official EU language(s): Portuguese

Political system: semi-presidential republic

EU member country since: 1 January 1986

Seats in the European Parliament: 21

Currency: Euro. Member of the eurozone since 1 January 1999

Schengen area member? Yes, Schengen Area member since 26 March 1995.

Presidency of the Council: Portugal has held the revolving presidency of the Council of the EU 3 times between 1992 and 2007.

Map of Portugal

Country overview

Portugal, a country with a rich history of seafaring and discovery, looks out from the Iberian Peninsula onto the Atlantic Ocean. Portugal's history has had a lasting impact on the culture of the country: Moorish and Oriental influences in architecture and the arts are prominent.

Over the past 3 000 years, Portugal has witnessed a constant ebb and flow of civilisations. Phoenician, Greek, Celt, Carthaginian, Roman and Arabic cultures have all left their imprint. In the 15th century, Portugal's intrepid maritime explorers led by Vasco da Gama discovered new territories, leading to the accumulation of an overseas empire. At home, the university of Coimbra, established in 1290, is one of the oldest in Europe.

The President, elected for a five-year term by universal suffrage, has limited powers. The parliament has 230 members, whose mandate is for four years.

Portugal has always been well represented in the arts. Famous poets include Luís de Camões and Fernando Pessoa. No less creative are the talents of international footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.

During the month of June, festivities dedicated to three saints known as Santos Populares (popular saints) take place all over Portugal. They are characterised by folk dance and music, particularly the traditional melancholy fado .

Each region of Portugal has its traditional dishes made with various kinds of meat and seafood. In particular, the country is particularly well known for its one hundred ways of cooking cod.

Economy overview

Portugal has become a diversified and increasingly service-based economy since joining the European Community - the EU's predecessor - in 1986. Over the following two decades, successive governments privatized many state-controlled firms and liberalized key areas of the economy, including the financial and telecommunications sectors. The country joined the Economic and Monetary Union in 1999 and began circulating the euro on 1 January 2002 along with 11 other EU members.

The economy grew by more than the EU average for much of the 1990s, but the rate of growth slowed in 2001-08. The economy contracted in 2009, and fell again from 2011 to 2014, as the government implemented spending cuts and tax increases to comply with conditions of an EU-IMF financial rescue package, signed in May 2011. A modest recovery began in 2013 and gathered steam in 2014 due to strong export performance and a rebound in private consumption. Although austerity measures were instituted to reduce the large budget deficit, they contributed to record unemployment and a wave of emigration not seen since the 1960s.

A continued reduction in private- and public-sector debt could weigh on consumption and investment in 2016, holding back a stronger recovery. The prior center-right government passed legislation aimed at reducing labor market rigidity, and, this, along with sustained fiscal discipline, could make Portugal more attractive to foreign direct investment. Under the center-right government, the budget deficit fell from 11.2% of GDP in 2010 to 3.5% in 2015, reaching the EU-IMF target of 4%, but still above its EU fiscal obligations, under the excessive deficit procedure. EU-IMF financing expired in May 2014. The new center-left Socialist government, however, has signaled that it will unwind spending cuts associated with austerity while remaining within EU fiscal targets.

Source: Europa, CIA World Factbook

Useful links

The Commission's Representation in Portugal
European Parliament office in Portugal
Financial crisis: support package for Portugal
Portuguese Government
Tourist information

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