The Madeira archipelago, which is part of Portugal, is located in the Atlantic Ocean, 978km southwest of Lisbon. The archipelago is of volcanic origin. It comprises the islands of Madeira (736km2), Porto Santo (43km2), Desertas (14km2) and Selvagens (4km2). Only the first two islands are inhabited. The latter two are nature reserves.
Mountain system and climate
The island of Madeira possesses quite a pronounced mountain system. The island´s highest points are Pico Ruivo (1.862m) and Pico do Areeiro (1.818m). The mountain sides and exposure to prevailing winds allow a number of micro-climates to exist on the island. These micro-climates together with the exotic vegetation are an important factor in attracting tourism, the region´s main economic activity. There are no great variations in temperature throughout the year. The climate remains mild, with average maximum temperatures of 22°C and minimums of 16°C. The sea temperature is constant due to the Gulf stream – 22°C in summer and cooling gradually over the winter, reaching 17°C by winter´s end.
The island of Porto Santo, on the other hand, has a geomorphologic composition that is completely opposite to that of the island of Madeira. It is very flat and has 9km of beaches of fine, golden sand. It is a tourism resort with great potential that is still largely unexploited.
The most recent data (2000) indicates a resident population of 242 400, which is concentrated around the city of Funchal, the region´s capital. Around 75% of the population lives in just 35% of the territory, primarily on the southern coast. This is the zone in which most of the economic activity occurs and where most of the hotels are located.
The region´s economy is fundamentally based on internationally-orientated services. Tourism and the International Business Centre are the regional economy´s main sources of revenue.
The main products of the agricultural sector, which has a smaller share of the economy, are bananas, which are principally for consumption in the local and mainland Portugal markets, and the famous and internationally known Madeira wine.
The industrial sector, has segments such as handicraft activities, producing goods such as embroidery work, tapestries and wicker objects for export, co-existing with other activities that primarily target the regional market, such as upstream and downstream civil construction activities, mills and bread and confectionery/pastry products, milk products, beer, tobacco and wine.
The climate of political stability that has been in place since the last quarter of the twentieth century, as well as joining the EEC in 1986, has allowed the region to recover from its structural backwardness.
In political terms, Madeira has been an autonomous region of Portugal since 1976. Portugal is a member state of the OECD and European Union. Madeira possesses political-administrative status and its own governmental bodies that are democratically elected: the Regional Parliament and Regional Government. The Portuguese State is represented in the region by its Representative, who is appointed by the Portuguese President, after consultation with the Portuguese Government.
The region´s autonomy has gradually increased over the last 25 years. Madeira now has the powers to pass legislation on the majority of matters concerning its own development.
In 2005, the regionalization of the tax system occurred and management and administrative powers of the Portuguese Tax Authorities were transferred to the region.