Creditor-imposed austerity led to increased rural poverty and food insecurity in Greece and violated people's right to food, the Transnational Institute (TNI), an international research and advocacy body based in Amsterdam, has concluded, 10 years after the country signed its first bailout deal.
“In August 2018, the European Council celebrated the end of the third Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), praising the Greeks' efforts and European solidarity. Yet, as this report shows, there is little to celebrate,” say the authors of “Democracy not for sale: The struggle for food sovereignty in the age of austerity in Greece,” which was published on Monday. “Not only did austerity measures increase poverty and food insecurity, it further consolidated an agri-food business regime that will perpetuate inequalities in access to and control over food.”
In the report, TNI found that an estimated 38.9 percent of rural citizens in Greece in 2017 were at risk of poverty, rural unemployment soared from 7 percent in 2008 to 25 percent in 2013 while rural income per capita dropped by 23.5 percent during the crisis years (2008-2013).
“Food insecurity across Greece has also increased – with food prices increasing at faster rates than prices in the eurozone during the crisis, despite the sharp fall in domestic incomes and labor costs. This led to a drop in food expenditure in total terms but an increase in food expenditure as a share of total monthly expenditure from 16.4 percent in 2008 to 20.7 percent in 2016,” notes the report.
Based on fieldwork and interviews with over 100 key actors in 26 locations throughout Greece, as well as macro-economic statistical analysis and literature reviews, the report also found that the proportion of households that could not afford a meal with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day doubled from around 7 percent in 2008 to more than 14 percent in 2016.
The share of households with children unable to afford a protein-based meal on a daily basis also doubled from 4.7 percent in 2009 to 8.9 percent in 2014, the report says.
The researchers also point to structural reforms that “significantly tipped the balance in favor of larger food retailers and private traders to the detriment of small-scale producers.”
Commenting on the report on Tuesday, Olivier de Schutter, former special rapporteur on the Right to Food (2008-2014) at the United Nations and a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, said that the European Union could be held liable for violating Greeks' right to food.
“The level of the damage could raise the EU liability but the problem is identifying those who have been affected directly by the austerity measures and who could take the case to the court,” he said, adding that Article 340 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU “states very clearly that the damage caused as a result of the fault of the EU institutions is damage that should be compensated for.”
“I know some people are thinking about this and I’ve been asked to provide advice on this possibility,” he said.
“Greece, we are told, is now out of danger, but the impacts have been enormous on the living standards of Greek families and on the right to food in particular. And it is essential that we draw the lessons from what has happened. These findings are a significant contribution to a debate that must now take place,” de Schutter added.