According to the provisional data of the 2021 Population Census, we are led to three main conclusions:
- First, the census confirms the scientific estimates and the pervasive feeling that we have entered a long period of demographic crisis, as a population decline of 3.5% has been recorded since 2011.
- Secondly, some large cities and regions of the country, with Attica being the most prominent, have been able to maintain their population to a significant extent. The same, and to an even greater extent, has been achieved by cities and areas of increased tourist interest, which on the one hand shows the dynamics of tourism and its positive contribution in certain places, but it also demonstrates the danger of forming a tourist “monoculture” in the periphery of the country with not only its developmental consequences but also the impact on the level of inequalities.
- Thirdly, the burden of the demographic crisis has fallen on the remainder of the country as a whole though its effects are unevenly distributed. In most cases, the Municipalities that include the capitals of the Regional Units (Perifereiakes Enotites, RU –formerly Prefectures NUTS3), limited their losses to percentages approaching the national average. However, in a very large number of municipalities, more than a third of those in the particular Regional Unit, the rates of population decline far exceed the national average. In these essentially rural municipalities, the dark general predictions about the demographic future of the country, with population declines of 20%, 30% or even more around and beyond the middle of our century, ceased to be predictions and already existed as realities in the 2010s.
There is therefore a three-way split in the country: some municipalities in RU that include large cities and tourist areas manage to maintain and even increase their population. A second group, the majority of the country’s RUs and Municipalities, which usually include their respective capitals, accord with the national average decline of 3.5% with relatively limited exclusions. And finally, a third group of RUs that includes about 1/3 of the country’s Municipalities – consisting of small provincial towns and villages – mainly rural and (semi)mountainous, have suffered a population decline of more than 10%, frequently over 20% and marginally even more than 30% within a decade. One could therefore argue that, in a not insignificant part of the country, there are marginal or even total depopulation phenomena. In this paper, we have called this specific development a ‘regional demographic problem’ in order to differentiate it from the general demographic problem and to highlight the absolute urgency of dealing with it.
Short- and medium- to long-term policies are therefore urgently needed to address both the demographic crisis and the significant increase in regional disparities (regional demographic problem) which in turn contribute to social inequalities, while these also cause further economic difficulties and contribute to the reduction of the population outside urban centres or large regional cities. The demographic crisis is now ‘spilling over’ into the economic crisis and vice versa, feeding off each other through a multi-channel system. Unfortunately, however, the debate in our country has hardly attempted to map these channels, let alone address the problem. In our text we attempt to highlight the very close connections, firstly, between social and regional inequalities, then, when combined, their connection with the already manifested demographic crisis and ultimately the connection of all the above problematic situations with the productive and general growth lag of the country. Let us clearly reiterate: we are not dealing with individual problems that are independent, but with intertwined and mutually reinforcing crises, each receiving and feeding back the results of the other’s crisis. It is the definition of a vicious circle, the tackling of which requires a multi-layered and holistic approach.
To be a little more specific, in our paper, two points are made: The demographic crisis is mainly the result of the decline in the birth-rate and the ageing of the population, both of which reflect deeper trends in the functioning of our societies. That said, we should not underestimate the impact of the already 14-year polycrisis in two specific areas, namely, the possibilities of having a family is limited due to economic and job insecurity and the increased outflow of our young graduate students abroad (brain drain). As for the depopulation of part of the countryside, this is as an aspect of the result of the global urbanisation trend that is an almost universal ‘mega trend’ i.e., people choose to live with the best or sometimes what are considered to be the best conditions offered by life in large settlements – the city educates. Conditions in the city are assessed as more attractive mainly in terms of job opportunities; infrastructure and services but mainly because they offer the possibility of contact with people, to be in modern cultural environments, to be close to developments. Perhaps, of course, in our case we have now exceeded the limits, that is to say, we have not been able to do anything about it. The observed over-urbanisation cannot be easily attributed to the general trend of urbanisation, but rather to the economic crisis (an indication of this is its absence in areas of tourist interest).
We believe that the ‘solutions’ to these combined problems of demographic, productive and social interest can only be sought holistically, through the formulation of a National Development Strategy, with the demographic, both in its general and regional dimension, being an integral part of it. In this strategy, migration is key, but partial/piecemeal solution.Even more ideas-slogans of the type ‘no tolerance for immigration’, or the opposite ‘no regulation on immigration’, do not provide solutions but rather aggravate our demographic, productive and social problem.
Migration can be part of the solution to our demographic problem. The more open policy for the integration of immigrants proposed in this paper, although not a panacea, can be an immediate response, albeit partial, to three acute problems facing Greek society: demographics, labour market shortages, and the depopulation of a significant part of the countryside. However, caution is needed: as with the other challenges of Greek society and economy, such as production, regional and social inequalities, the environment, brain drain, etc., the solution to the problem of immigration policy should not be fragmentary but integrated, in other words, it must come together with the other responses to our challenges. It should not be ‘as it happens’, but based on needs and planning, qualitative (e.g. levels of education, age, gender, etc.) and quantitative, and always with the intention of integrating migrants and with parallel care and compensatory benefits for those affected. In this way, we will be able to avoid on the one hand the ‘Scylla’ i.e. ghettoisation, culture warfare, ethnic rifts, etc. which is often driven by the lack of integration of immigrants and on the other hand by ‘Charybdis’ i.e. the far-right rhetoric and practice reinforced by indifference to the unequal impact of immigration within the country, with the poorest often having to shoulder any burdens of immigration, without its benefits.
Finally, our paper does not go into the submission of proposals for the increase of births and for a series of measures that are helpful to this end (allowances, crèches, parental benefits and leave, training, etc.) that are recorded in international and national literature (see also the findings of the special committee of the Parliament). Our focus here is mainly on highlighting the productive and regional/unequal dimension of the demographic, their close interdependence and on indicating the need for an integrated development strategy to address them simultaneously.
* Report synopsis by
Lois Labrianidis, Economic Geographer, Professor University of Macedonia, former Secretary General for Private Investments, Ministry of Economy & Development & Demosthenes Georgopoulos Economist-Sociologist, graduate of the School of Public Administration
[Τhe report in Greek]