Political relations between Germany and Portugal are in a spirit of trust and characterised by numerous mutual visits and broad agreement on issues relating to European and foreign and security policy. Germany was instrumental in helping to build democratic structures in Portugal after the 1974 Carnation Revolution (overthrow of the Salazar/Caetano regime) and supported Portugal’s accession to the European Community, now the European Union (EU), in 1986.
The already close coordination between the two countries was intensified prior to and during their successive EU Council presidencies. This will be the case again in 2020/2021 during the Trio Presidency with Slovenia. The Treaty of Lisbon Amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty Establishing the European Community was signed in Lisbon in 2007 under the Portuguese Council Presidency, after being prepared under Germany’s Council Presidency among others.
Even on difficult issues such as resolving the crisis in the eurozone – Germany and Portugal were among the founding members of the eurozone in 1999/2000 – cooperation between the two countries’ governments is close and in a spirit of trust. A German-Portuguese Forum, which has met annually since 2013 alternately in Berlin and Lisbon, brings together high-level representatives of the two countries’ political sectors, business and scientific communities and civil society and makes a valuable contribution to mutual understanding. The fourth German-Portuguese Forum was held in Berlin in November 2016. Due to the elections to the Bundestag in 2017, there was a high-level meeting of experts in Lisbon at the beginning of December instead of a forum.
Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier paid an official visit to Portugal in 2018. Talks focused on research cooperation and economic exchange. Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa made his first official visit to Berlin in May 2016. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Porto and Lisbon in May 2018 and Prime Minister António Costa travelled to Berlin in February 2016. Foreign Minister Maas paid his first official visit to Lisbon in December 2018. In April 2019, he travelled to Madeira following the major bus accident that occurred there.
Along with Spain, France and the UK, Germany is one of Portugal’s most important trading partners, accounting for a steadily growing share of 11.6 percent of Portuguese exports and 14 percent of Portuguese imports in 2017. German companies have had their own production facilities in Portugal for over a century. In the industrial sector, they have created a particularly high number of highly skilled jobs and are among the largest private investors in the country. German companies are the second-largest employer in Portugal after the Portuguese state. German companies are predominantly active in the export sector. Of Portugal’s ten largest exporters, three are German companies. Germany’s presence is particularly strong in automotive production and electrical engineering. Portugal is increasingly making a name for itself as a location for start-ups and companies in the digital economy, also from Germany. Since 2016, Lisbon has hosted the annual Web Summit, the world’s largest technology conference, which numbered over 70,000 visitors in 2018. The tourism sector has recorded double-digit growth rates since 2016 (with approx. 60 million overnight stays in 2018).
Cultural relations and education policy
There has traditionally been a lively cultural exchange between Portugal and Germany. This is evidenced by the two prestigious German international schools in Lisbon and Porto, which are attended by a total of approximately 1700 mainly Portuguese students; the two branches of the Goethe-Institut offering programmes tailored to the needs of young people in Portugal; and a host of university partnerships.
Growing German interest in Portugal as a place for doing research is reflected in the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s establishment in 2007 of a subsidiary in Porto conducting research in key technologies, with additional branches opening in Lisbon in 2015 and Évora and Vila Real in 2018, which focus on key technologies (including IT applications for broad sections of the population and digitalisation in agriculture).
Increasing the relatively small number of students learning German remains a challenge. By contrast, there is evidence of a marked increase in demand for German instruction at Portuguese universities and the Goethe-Institut, partly due to the increased demand for certain skilled workers in Germany and the existing pay gap.
Classical and contemporary German music is held in high regard in Portugal. There is also a keen interest in contemporary German literature and philosophy, art, design, theatre, dance and cinema. Conversely, there is a market in Germany for contemporary Portuguese literature and interest in Portuguese productions (including films).