- Portugal's economy, under the influence of the European Economic Community (EEC), and later with the assistance of the European Union (EU), grew rapidly in 1985-86; through 1992, the average annual growth was 4-5 percent. While such growth rates did not last into the late 1990s, portions of Portugal's society achieved unprecedented prosperity, although poverty remained entrenched. It is important, however, to place this current growth, which includes some not altogether desirable developments, in historical perspective. On at least three occasions in this century, Portugal's economy has experienced severe dislocation and instability: during the turbulent First Republic (1911-25); during the Estado Novo, when the world Depression came into play (1930-39); and during the aftermath of the Revolution of 25 April, 1974. At other periods, and even during the Estado Novo, there were eras of relatively steady growth and development, despite the fact that Portugal's weak economy lagged behind industrialized Western Europe's economies, perhaps more than Prime Minister Antônio de Oliveira Salazar wished to admit to the public or to foreigners.For a number of reasons, Portugal's backward economy underwent considerable growth and development following the beginning of the colonial wars in Africa in early 1961. Recent research findings suggest that, contrary to the "stagnation thesis" that states that the Estado Novo economy during the last 14 years of its existence experienced little or no growth, there were important changes, policy shifts, structural evolution, and impressive growth rates. In fact, the average annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate (1961-74) was about 7 percent. The war in Africa was one significant factor in the post-1961 economic changes. The new costs of finance and spending on the military and police actions in the African and Asian empires in 1961 and thereafter forced changes in economic policy.Starting in 1963-64, the relatively closed economy was opened up to foreign investment, and Lisbon began to use deficit financing and more borrowing at home and abroad. Increased foreign investment, residence, and technical and military assistance also had effects on economic growth and development. Salazar's government moved toward greater trade and integration with various international bodies by signing agreements with the European Free Trade Association and several international finance groups. New multinational corporations began to operate in the country, along with foreign-based banks. Meanwhile, foreign tourism increased massively from the early 1960s on, and the tourism industry experienced unprecedented expansion. By 1973-74, Portugal received more than 8 million tourists annually for the first time.Under Prime Minister Marcello Caetano, other important economic changes occurred. High annual economic growth rates continued until the world energy crisis inflation and a recession hit Portugal in 1973. Caetano's system, through new development plans, modernized aspects of the agricultural, industrial, and service sectors and linked reform in education with plans for social change. It also introduced cadres of forward-looking technocrats at various levels. The general motto of Caetano's version of the Estado Novo was "Evolution with Continuity," but he was unable to solve the key problems, which were more political and social than economic. As the boom period went "bust" in 1973-74, and growth slowed greatly, it became clear that Caetano and his governing circle had no way out of the African wars and could find no easy compromise solution to the need to democratize Portugal's restive society. The economic background of the Revolution of 25 April 1974 was a severe energy shortage caused by the world energy crisis and Arab oil boycott, as well as high general inflation, increasing debts from the African wars, and a weakening currency. While the regime prescribed greater Portuguese investment in Africa, in fact Portuguese businesses were increasingly investing outside of the escudo area in Western Europe and the United States.During the two years of political and social turmoil following the Revolution of 25 April 1974, the economy weakened. Production, income, reserves, and annual growth fell drastically during 1974-76. Amidst labor-management conflict, there was a burst of strikes, and income and productivity plummeted. Ironically, one factor that cushioned the economic impact of the revolution was the significant gold reserve supply that the Estado Novo had accumulated, principally during Salazar's years. Another factor was emigration from Portugal and the former colonies in Africa, which to a degree reduced pressures for employment. The sudden infusion of more than 600,000 refugees from Africa did increase the unemployment rate, which in 1975 was 10-15 percent. But, by 1990, the unemployment rate was down to about 5-6 percent.After 1985, Portugal's economy experienced high growth rates again, which averaged 4-5 percent through 1992. Substantial economic assistance from the EEC and individual countries such as the United States, as well as the political stability and administrative continuity that derived from majority Social Democratic Party (PSD) governments starting in mid-1987, supported new growth and development in the EEC's second poorest country. With rapid infrastruc-tural change and some unregulated development, Portugal's leaders harbored a justifiable concern that a fragile environment and ecology were under new, unacceptable pressures. Among other improvements in the standard of living since 1974 was an increase in per capita income. By 1991, the average minimum monthly wage was about 40,000 escudos, and per capita income was about $5,000 per annum. By the end of the 20th century, despite continuing poverty at several levels in Portugal, Portugal's economy had made significant progress. In the space of 15 years, Portugal had halved the large gap in living standards between itself and the remainder of the EU. For example, when Portugal joined the EU in 1986, its GDP, in terms of purchasing power-parity, was only 53 percent of the EU average. By 2000, Portugal's GDP had reached 75 percent of the EU average, a considerable achievement. Whether Portugal could narrow this gap even further in a reasonable amount of time remained a sensitive question in Lisbon. Besides structural poverty and the fact that, in 2006, the EU largesse in structural funds (loans and grants) virtually ceased, a major challenge for Portugal's economy will be to reduce the size of the public sector (about 50 percent of GDP is in the central government) to increase productivity, attract outside investment, and diversify the economy. For Portugal's economic planners, the 21st century promises to be challenging.See also Empire, Portuguese overseas.
Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. by Douglas L. Wheeler . 2014.