Seminário de Cooperação Internacional, Instituto Camões, Lisbon

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Augusto Santos Silva (centre). Photo by author.

The Centre for Cultural Relations was very pleased and honoured to be invited by Prof.ª Doutora Ana Paula Laborinho, President of the Instituto Camões, to present its work on 7 January in Lisbon at the annual conference of ambassadors and heads of service involved in international development and cultural relations.

The conference, which takes place each year at this time, was the first since the elections of October 2015. The theme was international cooperation and the challenges Portugal faces in its international relations, development and cultural diplomacy at a time of fiscal restraint with much smaller budgets to support activity.

The main speakers were Augusto Santos Silva, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who stressed the importance of the Portuguese language as the key element in Portugal’s international public diplomacy, particularly in relation to the Lusophone countries, and Teresa Ribeiro, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, who spoke of the importance to Portugal of international development, and cooperation with the EU.

Portugal has always championed the policy of protecting the Portuguese language and culture and thus the identity of the Portuguese nation. In 1996 Portugal initiated the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP). The CPLP Conference of Heads of State in the summer of 2008 decided to promote the Portuguese language as a global language, with the intention that the language policies promoted at the conference should be fully adopted by all Member States of the Lusophone world. Luis Amado, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, said in 2010: “We have one of the great languages of universal jurisdiction, and around it develops the whole dynamic for affirmation of our culture outside”. Portugal also has ambitions for its language to become a strategic tool of the EU’s external relations, using its linguistic and cultural proximity to the Lusophone countries as a distinctive contribution to the EU’s strategy for external relations.

There are some 200 million speakers of Portuguese as a first (L1) language in the world, making it one of the world’s major languages. Statistics on the numbers of speakers as a second or third language (L2, L3) are not available.[i] There are therefore good grounds for seeing the language as an effective promotional tool for Portugal.

There are some interesting parallels between the Portuguese and UK experiences as countries whose languages have become globally important, but which both have competition for cultural influence. Portugal is not the main Portuguese speaking country, and the UK is not the main English speaking country. Although they both undoubtedly have status as points of linguistic origins and standards – claims often asserted by reference to literature – both face stiff competition from Brazil on the one hand and the USA on the other.

The conference recognised however, that when it comes to branding the nation, Portugal’s undoubted contemporary cultural and sporting achievements in eg architecture and design, or football, were also effective ways to achieve international recognition. The challenge will be to develop a strategy that maximises the impact of all of Portugal’s soft power assets.

[i] List of languages by total number of speakers (2016, 10 January). Retrieved from


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