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Portugal encompasses the continental mainland, located in the southwest of Europe (western part of the Iberian Peninsula), and two archipelagos (Madeira and Azores), located in the Atlantic Ocean. The mainland territory has a virtually unchanging border with Spain (for more than 800 years) along the northern (Galicia) and eastern (Castilla and Léon, Extremadura and Andalucía) part of the terrestrial border. The Azores archipelago (nine main islands) is located between the African, Eurasian and North American oceanic plates (around 2000 km to the west of the Portuguese mainland). The Madeira archipelago (two main islands) is located 800 km southwest of the Portuguese mainland and 500 km north of the Canary Islands (Medeiros 1987).

The ethnic base in the Iberian Peninsula is a mix of Iberian (southeast) and Celtic (northwest) tribes which populated this territory before the arrival of the Greeks and Carthaginians (cities in the southeast), the Romans, the Visigoths and other Germanic tribes, the Arabs and, later, through the European crusades which led to the creation of Portugal and then Spain. As such, from an ethnical standpoint the Portuguese are a mix of all these different ethnic origins, which have been complemented in the past three decades by migrants coming from the former Portuguese colonies (Africa and Brazil), and some eastern European countries (mostly Russia, Ukraine and Romania). As of 2019, around 7.5% of the population is of migrant origin, which is the largest share ever in Portugal. The figures from 2018 show that 22% of these arrived from Brazil (105,423), 8% from Cape Verde, and 6% from both Romania and Ukraine. However, it should also be borne in mind that close to a million migrants from the Portuguese colonies settled in Portugal in the mid-1970s, when Portugal’s international empire came to an end. Some of these were African natives which now have many descendants that can be seen in several Portuguese national teams in all sports and age groups. Thus, to understand the ethnic composition of Portugal with more precision, the National Census in 2021 will have a dedicated question on this issue (SEF 2018; Carvalhais/Oliveira 2015). 

Unknown to many, Portugal has two official languages: Portuguese and Mirandês. Portuguese is the most common language spoken and written by the Portuguese, and is also the sixth most commonly spoken language worldwide due to the demographic weight of Brazil. Mirandês is a Celtic language which is spoken by a limited number of people in the northeastern part of the country. As one might imagine, this language is not taught in the mainstream school system. It is merely a reminder of the Celtic origins of the Portuguese. 

The Portuguese political system is a unitary, semi-presidential representative democratic republic. In short, the Prime Minister of Portugal (the head of government) is elected for a four-year term. The President of Portugal (the head of state), is the executive head of state and is elected for a five-year term. The executive power is exercised by the President and the Council of Ministers, and the legislative power is the responsibility of both the government and the Assembly of the Republic (parliament). The latter consists of 230 members representing several political parties, since Portugal has a multi-party system (Royo 2012).

Portugal has two autonomous archipelagos (Madeira and Azores) with their own respective heads of government and assemblies. However, on the continent the country does not have autonomous regions as Spain does. Instead, it has five regional coordination and development commissions (Comissões de Coordenação de Desenvolvimento Regional – CCDR) for the Norte, Centro, Lisboa e Vale do Tejo, Alentejo and Algarve regions. Their presidents are not elected by the general public, but by the municipalities’ mayors. These mayors are elected by the general public every four years, thus endowing the local level of government with a strong representative power. In order to tackle supra-municipal development issues, 21 intermunicipal communities had been established on the continent by 2013, with close territorial connections with many of the 25 continental Nomenclature of territorial units for statistics (NUTS) 3 (DILP – Parliamentary Legislative Information Division 2015).

As regards EU policy status, Portugal has been an EU member state since 1 January 1986. It has also been a member of the eurozone since 1 January 1999, and of the Schengen Area since 26 March 1995. Portugal has 21 MEPs ( Nomenclature of territorial units for statistics in the European Parliament). It has held the Presidency of the Council of the EU on three different occasions (Jan–Jun 1992; Jan–Jun 2000; Jul–Dec 2007). Portugal has 12 representatives in both the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Committee of the Regions (Pereira 2019). 

General information

Name of country Portugal
Capital, population of the capital (2018) Lisbon, 506,654 – Municipality
Surface area 92,226 km²
Total population (2019) 10,295,909
Population density (2019) 112 inhabitants/km²
Population growth rate (2018) -0.14%
Degree of urbanisation (2011) 72,00 %
Human development index (2018) 742
GDP (2019) EUR 212,321 million
GDP per capita (2019) EUR 24,388
GDP growth (2019) 2.2%
Unemployment rate (2019) 6.5%
Land use (2012) 41% forest and scrubland 3% inland waters 52% agricultural land 4% built land
Sectoral structure (2019) 75% services and administration 22.6% industry and construction 2.4% agriculture and forestry

Administrative structure and system of governance

The Portuguese administrative structure is non-federal. It is based on the 1976 Constitution which is founded on a decentralised state, organised under the principles of subsidiarity, the autonomy of local government, and a democratic decentralisation of the public service. In practice, however, Portugal is known to have a highly centralised administrative system (Costa 2019).

The central government consists of the Prime Minister, the ministers and the secretaries of state. In short, the Prime Minister directs, coordinates, and implements government policy at the national level, and is responsible for the overall functioning of governmental institutions. The Portuguese constitution designates the Council of Ministers as Portugal’s chief policymaking body. This cabinet consists of the Prime Minister, who presides over its meetings, the respective ministers of government departments, and some secretaries of state (ministers without portfolios). Moreover, there are three additional tiers of government (Articles 235–262) below the national level (Costa Pinto/Teixeira 2019): 

(i) The lowest administrative tier comprises the civil parishes (Freguesias), of which there are 3091 in total. Each civil parish has a directly elected assembly (Assembleia de Freguesia), which appoints its own executive body, the parish board (Junta de Freguesia). Their main tasks relate to managing public services (education, culture, civil protection, etc.) and urban and rural planning.

(ii) The second administrative tier consists of the municipalities (Municípios or Concelhos), of which there are 308 in total. Each municipality has a municipal assembly (Assembleia Municipal), made up of the presidents of the boards of the constituent parishes and an equal number plus one of directly elected members; a municipal chamber (Câmara Municipal), which is the executive of the municipality; and a municipal council (Conselho Municipal), an advisory body through which the views of social, cultural, professional, and economic organisations within the municipality are transmitted to the municipal chamber. The main competences of the municipalities are to promote development, provide basic sanitation, public services and civil protection, and protect the environment and the quality of life within the municipality. 

(iii) Above the municipalities, there are 18 districts (Distritos) on the continent and two autonomous archipelagos (Madeira and the Azores), each with an appointed civil governor. The central government stopped appointing these civil governors in 2011, thus removing any administrative competence from this administrative division.  

What is remarkable is that the 1976 constitution called for the establishment of administrative regions (Regiões Administrativas) that have yet to be implemented. One reason for that is that this idea was rejected in a national referendum in 1998. In this context, to simplify the implementation and administration of EU programmes, the government devised a system consisting of five regions for the mainland: North (Norte), Central (Centro), Lisbon and the Tagus Valley (Lisboa e Vale do Tejo), the Alentejo, and the Algarve. These five regions are managed by the five respective CCDR (Comissões de Coordenação e Desenvolvimento Regional). Their presidents are elected by an electoral council composed of elected members of municipalities and civil parishes in their geographical area. The main competences of the CCDR are actually quite vast in the domain of regional development and planning, and include the elaboration of regional development plans (PDRs), and monitoring the implementation of investments in regional development. 

As stated, the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores are autonomous regions (Regiões Autónomas). Hence, they have a special status granted in the 1976 constitution in recognition of their geographic, economic, social, and cultural uniqueness and their historical aspirations for greater independence. As such, each autonomous region has its own government (cabinet and president), legislature (regional assembly), and administration. Both regions have the right to political, legislative, administrative, financial and patrimonial autonomy as well as the right to fair compensation and positive discrimination with a view to mitigating the costs of insularity and the peripheral character of the regions.

In 1991, the metropolitan areas (Áreas Metropolitanas, AMs) of Lisbon and Porto were created with the main goals of assuring the coordination between the municipality investments and services which have an intermunicipal character. There are urban areas (Áreas Urbanas) together with the intermunicipal communities (Comunidades Intermunicipais, CIMs). Law 75/2013 established the two current types of intermunicipal administrative regions: (i) the metropolitan areas (2) and the (ii) the intermunicipal communities (21). These are roughly aligned with the delimitation of many of the 25 continental NUTS 3. In short, their competences are similar to the metropolitan areas as they must ensure the coordination of municipal investments and services with an intermunicipal character, and the coordination between central government services and the municipalities in implementing basic sanitary infrastructures and managing social services.

Administrative structure Portugal

Administrative structure Portugal

Under the 1976 Constitution Portugal is a republic and a parliamentary democracy. Hence, the system of governance in Portugal is based on the principles of the interdependence and separation of powers and on the principles of decentralisation and regional and local autonomy. Being an asymmetrical regionalised state from a constitutional perspective, Portugal has three levels of governance: the central, regional (the autonomous regions) and local level (municipalities and civil parishes) (Costa 2019).

At the national or central level, a government elected every four years, with its prime minister, ministers and respective secretaries of state, is responsible for implementing the country’s general policy by directing the public administration. To this end, the government has general powers in areas related to national sovereignty and administrative powers which do not fall under the competence of local authorities. Currently, these areas include foreign affairs, national finances, national defence, internal administration, justice, the economy, culture, science, education, social security, health, planning, housing, infrastructure, the environment, energy, rural development, agriculture, forests, the sea and administrative modernisation. Whereas the central government has executive powers, the legislative power rests with the national parliament in all policy areas (except for Azores and Madeira). The judiciary is separate from the executive and legislative powers and is administered by non-elected courts (Costa 2019).

The President, who is elected every five years, is the guarantor of national independence, the unity of the state and the regular functioning of democratic institutions, as well as the supreme commander of the armed forces. The President appoints the Prime Minister after hearing the parties represented in parliament and taking into account the electoral results. The President also nominates, or dismisses, the remaining members of the government, following proposals by the Prime Minister. In turn, the latter must inform the President about matters relating to the country’s domestic and foreign policy (Costa Pinto/Teixeira 2019).

At the regional level, the two autonomous regions (Madeira and Azores) have legislative autonomy and their own political and administrative statutes. Moreover, both benefit from extensive legislative powers and define their own policy. The exceptions are policies related to foreign policy, defence and internal security, which come under the competences of the central authorities. The regional government (Governo Regional) is made up of a regional cabinet, comprising a president (Presidente do Governo Regional) and several regional secretaries (Secretários Regionais). The legislative assembly (Assembleia Legislativa) is composed of members elected in regional elections. The responsibilities of the autonomous regions include policy areas such as quality of life, heritage and culture, the environment, agriculture and fisheries, health, energy, water, transport, commercial and industrial development, tourism, sport and regional administration (DILP 2015).

At the local level, the 308 municipalities (Municípios) represent a democratic local administration. The mayor (Presidente da Câmara Municipal), who is elected every four years, presides over the executive council. A municipal assembly (Assembleia Municipal) acts as a deliberative body by monitoring the activities of the municipal council (Câmara Municipal), which is the municipality’s executive branch. The municipal assembly comprises directly elected members and the presidents of the civil parishes’ executive bodies. The board of the assembly is made up of a president and two secretaries, who are directly elected by the assembly’s members. The municipal council is composed of members elected by direct universal suffrage for four years. Municipalities implement policies in several policy areas within the municipality’s territory: urban and rural infrastructure, energy, transport and communications, culture, water supply, heritage, education, health, social welfare, housing, civil protection, the environment, consumer protection, spatial planning and development, security, and external cooperation (DILP 2015). 

Each of the 3091 civil parishes (Freguesias) has an executive committee chaired by the president of the parish (Presidente da Junta de Freguesia), who is elected every four years. Each civil parish also has a parish assembly (Assembleia de Freguesia) composed of members elected via a system of proportional representation. The executive body (Junta de Freguesia) of the civil parish is elected from within the parish assembly’s members and is responsible for preparing and implementing its decisions. In practical terms, the civil parishes are responsible for managing similar policy areas as the municipalities: the water supply, urban and rural development, education, primary healthcare, culture, sport, social welfare, civil protection, the environment, well-being, urban and rural development and planning, and community protection (DILP 2015).

Finally, there is an intermediary, indirectly elected territorial governance level known as the intermunicipal level, with two established metropolitan areas (Lisbon and Porto) and 21 intermunicipal communities. The metropolitan areas are governed by a metropolitan council (Conselho metropolitan). This council is the deliberative body and comprises the mayors of the respective municipalities. There is also a metropolitan executive committee (Comissão executiva metropolitana). This committee is composed of the first secretary and four other secretaries which are elected by the municipal assemblies of the municipalities that comprise the metropolitan area (from the pool of their mayors). In turn, the intermunicipal communities are governed by an intermunicipal assembly (Assembleia intermunicipal). This assembly acts as the deliberative body and is composed of members from the municipal assemblies of the respective municipalities. Moreover, the intermunicipal council (Conselho Intermunicipal) is composed of the mayors of the respective municipalities. The president and vice-presidents are elected from within its members. In complement, an executive intermunicipal secretariat is composed of the first secretary and other intermunicipal secretaries who are elected by the intermunicipal council. Both the metropolitan areas and the intermunicipal communities share similar policy responsibilities: the municipalities delegate them tasks which require intermunicipal intervention, such as the management of public transport covering more than one municipality and spatial planning and development processes (DILP 2015). 

Spatial planning system

After the Second World War (1945), the Portuguese spatial planning system was shaped by the implementation of successive Development Plans (Planos de Fomento) (Gaspar/Simões 2005).

The First Development Plan (1953–1958) was presented to the national parliament on 21 September 1952 and was approved in December of the same year. It was basically a plan to stimulate the modernisation of infrastructure in five main policy areas based on public investment: (i) agriculture; (ii) electricity; (iii) industry; (iv) transport and communications; and (v) education and training.

The Second Development Plan (1959–1964) was the first spatial plan to formulate a global development goal for Portugal: (i) increase the rate of national production; (ii) improve the quality of life and resolve employment issues; (iii) improve the metropolitan balance of payments. Hence, unlike the previous plan, this one was more focused on supporting productive activities, particularly those related to industry. However, public and private investment was excessively and noticeably concentrated on the most developed poles of the country (Lisbon and Porto), which did not contribute to promoting a more balanced and harmonious territory.

An Interim Development Plan was implemented between 1965 and 1967, marking the beginning of a new stage in the spatial planning processes in Portugal, since it encompassed a holistic economic vision focused on improving the quality of life of all citizens. This plan was divided into two volumes: the first focused on the continent and the islands, whereas the second focused on the overseas provinces. Overall, this plan supported investment in nine policy areas: agriculture, forestry and livestock, fisheries, industry, energy, transport and communications, tourism, education and research, housing and health.

The Third Development Plan (1968–1973) focused on three main domains: (i) the urban network; (ii) industry and services, and (iii) agriculture. In short, the goal of promoting a more balanced territory was emphasised to control the excessive concentration of inhabitants in the littoral area. However, no specific attention was given to the need to resolve the problems associated with the rise of illegal suburban agglomerations.

The Fourth Development Plan (1974–1979) was approved during the introduction of the democratic system but was not implemented. It is worth noting, however, that this plan highlighted three main policy intervention goals: (i) increase economic growth; (ii) promote social progress, and (iii) address regional disparities. 

With the approval of the 1976 Constitution, a new institutional model was established to implement economic and regional development policies, which required the elaboration of development plans with a decentralised approach, with a view towards more balanced territorial development. In this context, a Medium-Term Plan (Plano de Médio Prazo, 1977–1980) was presented, with a new vision for development more focused on social aspects: (i) meeting the population’s basic needs; (ii) reducing unemployment; (iii) reducing the economic imbalance between Portugal and other countries; (iv) correcting regional and income disparities; and (v) preparing for EU accession. A subsequent Medium-Term Plan (1981–1984) was implemented with similar goals of improving the quality of life and reducing the socio-economic gaps between Portugal and the most developed EU member states.

As an EU member state, Portugal was obliged to prepare a Regional Development Plan (Plano de Desenvolvimento Regional, PDR) as a framework to access EU structural funding. In this context, the first of these plans (PRODR, Regional Development Plan), 1986–1990) was approved. In essence, it had a very generic character in order to fulfil EU funding guidelines. The subsequent PDR (1983–1993) presented a regional development strategy linked to the first programming period of the EU Cohesion Policy. To this end, it advanced three main priority axes: (i) improve production efficiency; (ii) improve vocational training and the qualifications of the workforce; and (iii) reduce regional imbalances. The following PDR (1994–1999) was not that different since it proposed to prepare Portugal for: (i) a new European context; (ii) global competition; and (iii) an improved quality of life. The last PDR (2000–2006) concentrated on supporting a new economic, social and environmental model, based on innovation, solidarity and sustainability. 

In the meantime, the Territorial Planning and Urbanism Act (Lei de Bases da Política de Ordenamento do Território e de Urbanismo – Law 48/98) was approved in 1998, which made spatial planning an autonomous public policy.

By 2007, the national spatial policy programme (Programa Nacional da Política de Ordenamento do Território, PNPOT) had been approved by the national parliament. This document establishes the major options for the spatial planning process in Portugal as well as the guidelines for the elaboration of the sub-national (regional and local) spatial policy programmes. 

Between 2007 and 2011 the regional spatial policy programmes (Planos Regionais de Ordenamento do Território, PROT), associated with the continental NUTS 2, were elaborated. Later on, it was decided to divide the Lisbon PROT into two programmes: one for the metropolitan area and one for the west (Oeste). This process reinforced the competences of the regional administrations for spatial planning processes. Since then, however, only three PROTs have been approved (Algarve, Alentejo and Oeste). 

By 2012, the Directorate General of the Territory (Direcção-Geral do Território, DGT) had been created with the aim of supervising spatial planning processes in Portugal (Decree Law 7/2012).

By 2014, a revised Territorial Planning and Urbanism Act had been approved (Law 31/2014) by the national government, which added a new administrative level: the intermunicipal level. In addition, a clearer distinction was made between programmes and plans: programmes (PNPOT, PROT, PIOT) define strategic interventions, whereas plans are intended to implement those strategic guidelines.    

By 2015, following the approval of the new Territorial Planning and Urbanism Act, a new juridical regime for spatial planning instruments had been implemented (Regime Jurídico dos Instrumentos de Gestão Territorial, RJIGT – Decree Law 80/2015). Moreover, the National Commission for the Territory (Comissão Nacional do Território, CNT) was created to supervise this regime. 

In essence, the 2015 legal regime for spatial planning instruments serves as the legal framework which defines planning competences at all four territorial levels: national, regional, intermunicipal and municipal. It also provides information on which entities hold spatial planning competences and on how they are regulated and overseen.

The following information is based on the Decree-Law 80/2015:


Planning system Portugal

Planning system Portugal

National level

The development of national spatial planning is determined by a resolution of the Council of Ministers. The elaboration of the regional spatial policy programme (PROT) is a competence of the national government in coordination with the ministry responsible for spatial planning. The elaboration of the sectoral programmes (Programas Sectoriais, PS) and the special programmes (Programas Especiais, PE) is determined by the member of the government with direct competence for the respective policy area in coordination with the ministry responsible for spatial planning. Created in 2012, the Directorate General of the Territory is the national public body responsible for pursuing spatial planning policies, ensuring the consolidation of the spatial planning system and the application and updating of the legal and regulatory framework which supports it. The spatial planning programmes and plans for the national level are:

  • The national spatial policy programme (PNPOT): establishes the main guidelines for the spatial planning process in Portugal and acts as a reference framework which should be taken into account when shaping sub-national spatial policy programmes.
  • The sectoral programmes (PS): establish and justify the goals and options as well as the sectoral objectives with spatial relevance.
  • The special programmes of Spatial Planning (PEOT – Planos Especiais de Ordenamento do Território): establish the regime for safeguarding natural assets and resources, and the compatible management regime aimed at sustainable land use by establishing concrete actions.


Regional level

Portugal does not have elected regional administrative bodies on the continent. As such, it is up to the five CCDR to shape, manage, monitor, and implement the regional spatial policy programmes (PROTs). Moreover, they are required to negotiate the structure of the PROT with the national government. Additionally, an advisory committee (Comissão Consultiva) has the competence to supervise the elaboration of the PROT, which is ultimately approved by the Council of Ministers, together with a designated member of the government. The spatial planning programmes and plans for the regional level are:

  • The regional spatial policy programmes (PROT): define the regional spatial planning strategy, integrating the options established at the national level and considering the sub-regional strategies and municipal levels of local development. 


Intermunicipal level

It is up to the intermunicipal commissions (CIMs) and the metropolitan areas (AMs) to elaborate the intermunicipal and metropolitan areas spatial policy programmes, together with the respective advisory committee (Comissão Consultiva). In practical terms, the bulk of the elaboration of these programmes is done by the respective municipalities in the respective intermunicipal commission and metropolitan area, while the approval process is deliberated by the municipal assemblies (Assembleias Municipais). Finally, the supervision process is a competence of a Collaborative Platform of Spatial Planning. Anyone can actually take part of this platform (https://pcgt.dgterritorio.pt/) but it is mainly designed for the entities involved in the formation procedures of programs and territorial plans. The spatial planning programmes and plans for the intermunicipal level are:

  • The intermunicipal spatial policy programmes (PIOT): ensure the coordination between the regional programmes and the municipal plans in the case of territorial areas that require integrated planning action.
  • The intermunicipal director plan (PDI): establishes the localisation and management options for facilities/infrastructure for local public use and the interdependent relationships between two or more territorially contiguous municipalities.
  • The intermunicipal urbanisation plan (PUI): provides the frame of reference for the application of urban policies such as the land use regime and the land transformation criteria.
  • The detailed intermunicipal plan (PPI): provides a detailed definition of the use of any specific area of the municipal territory.


Local level

The municipalities (CMs) have the competence to elaborate, implement, revise, and manage the municipal spatial policy plans (Plano Director Municipal, PDM). The elaboration process is also determined by the municipalities. The PDM must be published in the Official Gazette of Portugal (Diário da República, DR) and publicised in the media and on the Collaborative Platform of Spatial Planning (https://pcgt.dgterritorio.pt/). In compliance with the legal regime for spatial planning instruments, this platform is an official, nationwide electronic platform, which is managed by the Directorate General of the Territory and is intended to support the entities involved in the process of formulating the programmes and territorial plans. In practice, the supervision of the elaboration of the PDMs has since 2015 been ensured by a collegiate advisory committee (Comissão Consultiva de Natureza Colegial), presided over by the competent regional coordination and development commission (CCDR). The parishes can also participate, under the terms agreed with the municipality, in the process of drawing up the respective PDM, the related municipal urbanisation plan (PU) and the detailed municipal plan (PP). The spatial planning programmes and plans for the local level are:

  • The municipal spatial policy plans (PDM): define the uses of municipal land by establishing classes and categories for the various types of buildings.
  • The municipal urbanisation plan (PU): provides the frame of reference for the application of urban policies such as the land use regime and the land transformation criteria.
  • The detailed municipal plan (PP): provides a detailed definition of the use of any specific area of the municipal territory.

As explained above, the local and intermunicipal spatial plans must follow the strategic guidelines in the regional spatial policy programme (PROTs). In turn, the PROTs must follow the guidelines established in the national spatial policy programme (PNPOT). This process means that there is a clear strategic interdependence between all of them. 

As can be seen, both the intermunicipal and municipal territorial levels have dedicated urbanisation plans which are complemented by the detailed plans. 

The legal regime for spatial planning instruments requires that all programmes and plans establish the deadline for updating existing intermunicipal or municipal plans. This is done after liaising with the intermunicipal entity or another association of municipalities responsible for the territorial plan to be updated or the municipalities covered. Furthermore, the entity responsible for drawing up the programme/plan must inform the territorially competent regional development and coordination committee of the deadlines established for updating the territorial plans.

Finally, it is important to state that the elaboration of the revised national spatial policy programme (PNPOT 2018) was subject to intense public scrutiny and participation, as was the revision of some of the municipal spatial policy plans (PDMs), such as that for the municipality of Lisbon. Such wide public participation is unfortunately not the general rule in the revision process for all PDMs.

System of powers Portugal

System of powers Portugal

The first national spatial policy programme (PNPOT 1.0) was published in 2007 after several years of discussion within political and academic circles. The main goal of this spatial programme was the future Portuguese European Spatial Development Perspective (1999) which to this day, is the only European spatial planning document ever published. Being the first of its kind, it was plagued by some shortcomings. Firstly, the PNPOT essentially provided an updated vision of the territorial dynamics complemented by the incorporation of an EU strategic vision (harmonious and balanced territory – the EU territorial cohesion rationale). To this end, a concrete action programme (Programa de Acção) was elaborated to facilitate the implementation of the proposed strategy through general guidelines for the territorial management instruments (Instrumentos de Gestão Territorial, IGT). Secondly, a long-term strategic vision for Portuguese territorial development was largely lacking, which is somewhat difficult to understand since the PNPOT was elaborated by a group of academics with vast knowledge of the Portuguese territory (Ferrão/Mourato 2011). 

The PNPOT 1.0 strategy and territorial model was due to expire by 2025. In any case, not least due to its limited impact, and as Portugal was hit hard by the 2008 world financial crisis, by 2016 the Portuguese government had decided to initiate the elaboration of a second, updated PNPOT (2.0). Initiated as an amendment by the Resolution of the Council of Ministers no. 44/2016 of 23 August 2016, the revised PNPOT was supposed to have a special focus on the elaboration of a new action programme for the 2030 policy horizon. The new strategic policy context was backed by a longer-term territorial development strategy. This strategy was supported by a vision for the future of the country and for the establishment of an operationalisation, monitoring and evaluation system capable of streamlining the implementation of guidelines and policy measures which could promote the PNPOT as a strategic reference for the territorialisation of public policies and the programming of territorial investments financed by national and community programmes.  The Directorate General of the Territory (Direcção-Geral do Território, DGT) took on the huge task of revising the PNPOT, with the support of a technical unit involving the Ministry of the Environment (Ministério do Ambiente e do Ordenamento do Território), a focal points system and an advisory committee (Medeiros 2020).   
The focal points system, an interministerial group, comprised representatives of the autonomous regions of the Azores and Madeira, of the regional coordination and development commissions, the Mission Unit for the Enhancement of the Interior, the bodies monitoring the regional dynamics of the EU operational programmes and the entities and services of the public administration with relevant responsibilities in the areas of finance, industry, energy, tourism, trade, the sea, agriculture, rural development and forests, natural heritage and conservation of nature and biodiversity, fisheries, port administration, transport, communications, architectural and archaeological heritage, geological resources, education, culture, health, justice, sport, security, civil protection and national defence, as well as entities with other interests to safeguard (DGT 2018).

The advisory committee was composed of one representative from each of the following entities: National Association of Portuguese Municipalities, National Association of Parishes, Confederation of Portuguese Industry, Confederation of Commerce and Services of Portugal, Business Association of Portugal, Confederation of Portuguese Farmers, National Confederation of Agriculture, Confederation of Portuguese Tourism, General Confederation of Portuguese Workers, General Union of Workers, Portuguese Federation of the Construction Industry and Public Works, Chamber of Architects, Chamber of Engineers, Association of Portuguese Urban Planners, Portuguese Association of Landscape Architects, Professional Association of Archaeologists, Portuguese Association of Geographers, Portuguese Association of Geologists and Portuguese Confederation of Environmental Defence Associations.

As can be seen, the use of participatory and soft planning approaches was quite intense in the elaboration of the PNPOT 2.0. It not only involved all the previously identified entities from all territorial levels and policy areas, but provided scope for comments from interested citizens, collected via an online national survey platform. Moreover, several conferences, which were open to the public, demonstrated the ongoing elaboration process of the PNPOT 2.0 in several stages from 2016 to 2018. These attracted broad participation with stakeholders from a wide spectrum of Portuguese society. Moreover, before it was finally published in 2019 (Law 99/2019), the national parliament set up an advisory committee, inviting academic experts from several scientific fields to present their opinion on the final version presented by the specialist team (Porto University, Ministry of the Environment, regional coordination and development commissions, the Portuguese Environment Agency, the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests, the Institute for Housing and Urban Regeneration and the Institute of Mobility and Transport, and specialist consultants) which elaborated this planning document (DGT 2018). 

As in the previous PNPOT, the revised version was largely influenced by EU strategic policy visions and even included cartography produced by the EU LUISA (Land Use-based Integrated Sustainability Assessment) platform. In essence, the main policy discourse generally failed to follow a strategic territorial cohesion rationale, as did the previous PNPOT (Meneses et al. 2018). 

As regards the main spatial planning challenges and issues in relation to the implementation of the PNPOT, two aspects can be identified as particularly significant. Firstly, the economic context in which the PNPOT was to be implemented: Portugal, being a small and open economy, is significantly impacted by external economic and financial setbacks. As such, the proposed Territorial Agenda for 2030 included in the PNPOT 2.0 is dependent on the available funding, which is directly dependent on the financial health and capacity of the Portuguese state. Secondly, the lack of a regional administrative level on the mainland: this situation can undermine the implementation of regional development visions as the municipalities  have far more political power (as they are elected) to attract public funding for local development processes.

Important stakeholders

Institution/stakeholder/authorities Research field/competencies/administrative area
Directorate General of the Territory Spatial planning / supervises spatial planning processes in Portugal – shapes, manages, monitors and implements the national spatial policy programme (PNPOT)
Regional coordination and development commissions for – North (Norte)

Central (Centro) Lisbon and the Tagus Valley (Lisboa e Vale do Tejo)

The CCDR Alentejo

The CDDR Algarve
Regional development / shapes, manages, monitors and implements the regional spatial policy programmes (PROTs) / regional (NUTS 2)
Metropolitan areas (2) and intermunicipal communities (21) Intermunicipal development / shapes, manages, monitors, and implements the intermunicipal spatial policy programmes (PIOT) / intermunicipal (roughly the NUTS 3 level)

Área metropolitana de lisboa


Portal Autárquico
Municipalities (308) and civil parishes (3091) Local development / shapes, manages, monitors, and implements the municipal spatial policy plans (PDM) / local (municipal and parish level)

Associação Nacional de Freguesias (ANAFRE)

Associação Nacional de Municípios Portugueses (ANMP)

Fact sheets


  • Portugal Adminisrative Division 18 11 2020

List of references

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