BY Fraser Tennant
In a further depressing development for the beleaguered citizens of Greece, new research shows the under pressure European Union (EU) member state as having the highest increase of people finding themselves at risk of poverty or social exclusion, some 800,000 compared to 2008.
According to data compiled annually by Eurostat (the statistical office of the EU) on poverty rates in Europe (EU28), more than one out of three (36 percent) of the Greek population is at risk of poverty and social exclusion – the highest level in the Eurozone. Cyprus is the next closest on 28.9 percent.
The average rate for the EU28 has remained at 23.7 percent between 2008 and 2016.
Additionally, and in what should perhaps be viewed as an unfortunate piece of timing, the Eurostat findings coincide with the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty – an initiative by European decision-makers known as the Europe 2020 strategy which aims to lift 20 million people out of poverty by 2020.
"Austerity politics have failed in the Eurozone,” is the view of Dimitris Rapidis, a policy and communication advisor at Bridging Europe. “The poverty and social exclusion rate in Greece is worsening, despite the efforts by the government to balance side effects of austerity.
“We have reached a point where even those supporting extreme financial consolidation at the expense of social cohesion and development can no longer convince even the most conservative parts of the European electorate.”
The main challenge facing progressive EU leaders, according to Mr Rapidis, is to address the appeal of far-right parties that seek to capitalise on social grievances, and foster a broader democratic alliance that can deliver a fresh, growth-oriented vision for the EU.
“Broadly speaking, the leaders of the European South that have been direly hit by austerity and financial slowdown - such as Spain, Italy and Cyprus - need to push Brussels and Berlin for change of course in practice and not exhaust their will in statements,” says Rapidis. “The EU and Eurozone have to choose between two distinct options: either gradually collapse under the pressure of nationalism and the far-right or find a way out by reviewing and improving the Stability and Growth Pact so that it can be beneficial for all member-states and leave space for flexible economic policies."
Next up for Greece is a European Council meeting in Brussels on 20 and 21 October, where prime minister Alexis Tsipras will be focusing on the second programme review, as well as attempting to source further debt relief for his embattled country.