We don’t need to be convinced of the European Union’s bureaucratic overreach. Its administrative and regulatory impulses, particularly in its largest and wealthiest member states, have long been a problem. Still, despite the ongoing challenges posed by the European “deep state” headquartered in Brussels and Strasbourg, some member states have managed to preserve a little bit of independence and cultural sovereignty. Such is the case of Portugal.
This was much in mind during two recent visits to the capital of Lisbon. And as I explored the city’s seven hills—walking down from the ancient mazes of the Alfama district to the flat “gridiron streets” of Baixa and then back up to the theater district of Chiado and vibrant Bairro Alto—I was struck by how little one hears of Portugal. The country seems to have kept a low profile internationally, despite the fact that a former prime minister, José Manuel Barroso, served as president of the European Commission for ten years.
To be sure, tourism is booming in the country. But it pales in comparison with what one sees in, say, Venice or Vienna. And despite nearly half a million in cruise ship passengers arriving yearly along the Tagus River, the shuffling hordes of sightseers in Lisbon do not yet merit the label of “cultural terrorists” as they do in other European capitals.