Recently, ELSTAT published the natural population movement data for the previous year, as it does every year. As expected, the demographic contraction of the Greek population continued in 2022, but with one difference: it accelerated. Specifically, in 2022 births in Greece decreased by 10.4% on an annual basis and fell to 76,541, while deaths were 140,801. Thus in 2022 the country’s population decreased by 64,260 people. If we subtract foreign births from this number, then we can roughly say that in the past year the Greek population decreased by 73,000 people.
For yet another year, a provincial capital was lost, this time corresponding to the size of Ioannina or Chalkida. This completes 14 consecutive years in which the Greek population has decreased. This is of course not a temporary phenomenon, nor is it surprising. It is the prescribed course that the mathematical models of international organizations have informed us about for at least two decades. Of course, every time ELSTAT announces the annual figures of births and deaths there are some reports in the press. Usually there are also some statements of concern from politicians, however, a few days later the demographic goes to the sidelines again.
Regardless of our own inaction, the reality is moving forward unabated and is already tragic. Indeed, if in the 90s our demographic was whispering, today it is shouting. To understand the big picture, it is enough to do a simple exercise: Let’s take the annual natural population movement reports that ELSTAT has published from 2009 until today. Then let’s calculate the total number of births and from that let’s subtract the total number of deaths. To get a sense of the course of the Greek population, we can additionally subtract the total number of births by foreigners, which were announced by ELSTAT.
If we do all this, we will see that within 14 years the Greek population decreased by approximately 576,000 people due to the birth-death difference only, that is, without taking into account the Greeks who left abroad during this time. This reduction already exceeds the losses suffered by the Greek population in the period 1940-1944. In other words, Greece has already suffered losses worse than those of a war.
But the problem is not only numerical shrinkage. Given that for three and a half decades, births have been less than necessary to replace the generations, the percentage of young people in the total population is constantly decreasing. That is, the Greek population is shrinking numerically and at the same time aging. So it is no coincidence that today Greece is the fifth oldest country in the world based on official UN data (2022).
11 cities were erased from the map
But what does a population decrease of 576,000 people mean? It practically means that during these years a population corresponding to the inhabitants of 11 medium-sized Greek cities was lost. Eleven prefecture capitals, such as Drama, Alexandroupoli, Kavala, Kalamata, Kozani, Ioannina, Karditsa, Chalkida, Chania, Serres and Corinth were lost from the map. Imagine visiting these cities today and finding them deserted. What terror and what anxiety will take over him? Especially if one considers that the demographic shrinkage continues. Indeed, the mathematical models are inexorable: even if the demographic problem began to reverse today, we could not have a significant improvement before at least a decade has passed. Therefore we should expect that within the next 10 years another 10 Greek cities will be lost. And the question is of course where Greece is going.
This vexing question should have been preoccupying Greek political leaders for a long time. And it should concern them every day. However, the political system is still struggling to discover the demographic, or at least unable to give it the importance it deserves. Otherwise, how can one explain that in 2023 elections were held twice, and demographics were not only not the central topic of the political debate, but not even a topic of discussion?
Today, the so-called ruling parties express their concerns about demographics and wish for its solution. But in reality they approach the demographic roughly and pretentiously. Because if they were really concerned, they would have long since sat down at a table and drawn up a national demographic policy, which they would have committed to implementing.
They wasted valuable time
The responsibilities for the demographics are cross-party and fall on the governments of the last thirty years at least. But unfortunately the criticism is always focused on the current government that is in power. Regarding the current New Democracy government, criticism must be made for two more reasons. Firstly, because the government is already in its fifth year, and secondly, because at this stage the demographics have become visible to everyone.
So what did the Mitsotakis government do in these years for the demographics? The answer is that he did something. In its early years, it established a deputy ministry that theoretically had demographics as its subject and took some measures – mainly stipends -. But beyond that, he did nothing important. The measures taken were insufficient from the beginning, a fact which is proven by the results. The number of births continued to shrink and in 2022 saw a record decline of 10%.
In light of these findings it is clear that whatever measures were taken actually underestimated the seriousness of the problem. Because one is mistaken if one thinks one can solve the demographic problem with a few stipend measures. It’s like giving aspirin to a critically ill patient. And of course, any doctor who does this, has a very serious responsibility, because he loses valuable time.
The demographic is not waiting for us
At the beginning of its second term, the Mitsotakis government established a Ministry of Family and Social Cohesion. The prime minister himself at a relevant conference held in October 2023 finally recognized the importance of the demographic problem and announced within 2024 the presentation of a national action plan to deal with the demographic.
The fact that we will have to wait until 2024 for a comprehensive demographic plan means that this plan is still being shaped. But precious time has already been lost. So no matter how much Mr. Mitsotakis projects his government as successful, in reality he has lost the main issue of his previous term. Because he can’t be dealing with demographics in his fifth year as prime minister, as if it were a matter that could wait. And what one always asks of a leadership is to have the ability to prioritize the most important things.
Of course, this criticism also applies to all political leaders. Because the country is dying biologically and nobody is actually doing anything about it. No one is mobilizing society, which of course has its own responsibilities. We are not asking that they immediately solve the problem, but at least start a serious effort to address it.
Unfortunately, however, party staffs perceive politics mainly as a communication game aimed at maintaining or gaining power. Thus, they are unable to cooperate in deep policies even on major issues, such as demographics. In this sense, the demographic is not only the major national issue, but also the surest indicator of the inadequacy of the Greek political system.
There is a solution
As I have said many times, all problems have solutions. And the demographic solution will start from the moment the parties and the media realize their responsibilities and put the demographic at the top of the political agenda. The next step is to create the institutional and technocratic structures that, with the help of expert scientists, will shape and then implement a costed demographic strategy.
In this context it should be understood that demographics are not addressed with a few piecemeal measures, but with a set of policies that will focus on demographics. Policies that will not be limited to family support, the provision of benefits and the creation of daycare centers. But which will also include the fight against youth unemployment, a new development plan, provision for the revitalization of the periphery, the return of Greeks abroad, new housing laws, a national decentralization plan and everything needed to bring life and perspective back in all parts of the national trunk.
Demographics are the stark symptom of a country dying without vision. We will solve it, making Greece a better country, with values and with a renewed perception of collectivity.