by Jaime Martínez Porro
On 31 March, thousands of people raised their voices in Madrid in the face of one of the most serious territorial crises that Spain is experiencing: the depopulation of large territories, especially those located in the interior (Castilla y León, Castilla- La Mancha, Extremadura, Aragon, La Rioja). This process, which is not new, is not a coincidence or a meteorological phenomenon, but the product of a planned design of population movement, both within Spain and at European level.
Our continent has a very unequal distribution of the population that the policies of the European Union do not intend to change. If we look at the population density in Europe, it is clearly seen as a strip that runs from England to Northern Italy is widely populated, with densities exceeding 300 inhabitants/km2 and even in some areas such as the area of Rotterdam-The Hague the 1,000 inhabitants/km2. This area is called the “European Blue Banana” (so called by Roger Brunet in 1989) and in which a large part of the industry is concentrated (the area of the Rhine and the Ruhr), logistics (ports of Antwerp or Rotterdam) and financial power (the City of London or Frankfurt am Main).
However, these are not the only densely populated areas: a Mediterranean arch running from the Italian Tyrrhenian coast to the east of Spain also has a high density. It is the so-called “Golden Banana” or “Sun Belt”, a name that already says a lot about where the economy is oriented in this area: tourism, the beach of Europe. To these zones would be added finally the great capitals: Madrid, Paris, Berlin or Lisbon, where besides having a high density of population, its population continues growing to be administrative centers and of services of the respective States. However, its population has not grown in recent years, but that of the peripheral areas, due to the “Commuter Belt Effect” or pendulum migration of workers who move from the peripheries where they live to the city centers to work.
Faced with these areas, one of the areas most punished by a low density and where it continues to decline due to a strong emigration, either to the service capitals, or to other industrial areas, is the “Continental Diagonal” that extends from the Portuguese Alentejo to the Ardennes in France, crossing the center of the Iberian Peninsula (except Madrid). This area is characterised by a lack of industrial development, a lack of basic services and infrastructures, as well as a high relative weight of the primary sector.
The question is: does the EU want to change Europe’s design and balance demography? It does not seem so. According to the report “ET2050 Territorial Scenarios and Visions for Europe“, one of the objectives is to continue creating urban development poles as dynamising centres (points 43 to 47 of the report), a strategy that in Spain has proved to be unsuccessful in combating depopulation. Thus, the migratory movement of the last few decades has passed from the smallest villages to the county capitals, from the county capitals to the provincial capitals and from there to medium-sized and large cities.
This model is nothing other than the application of the capitalist system to the management of demographics, as it only thinks of models of economic profitability in which public services can be cut and concentrated in very defined spaces. Moving down to the concrete, it is the model defended, for example, by businessmen and the parties at their service in Castilla y León: a rural environment in which a few businessmen from the primary sector concentrate all the land and do not necessarily have to live there, while the rest of the population emigrates to urban areas.
This depopulation is not necessarily seen as a bad thing by the European Union. In the above-mentioned report, it is literally stated: “Most European cities must grow, avoiding enlargement and facilitating high population density around strategic hubs and means of public transport. Land is a scarce resource in many parts of Europe, the most urbanised continent. There is a need to protect land from urbanisation, for strategic and ecological reasons, inducing the creation of compact urban settlements and promoting the ecological restoration of residential areas resulting from urban expansion in the 20th century.
Although music may not sound bad, while it speaks of ecological protection, the truth is that the proposed model is a risk to ecosystems. By making people migrate from rural areas to large cities, those who are the best guardians of ecosystems are being expelled: the neighbors of the villages. This abandonment has already wreaked havoc on the environment. For example, increasingly frequent macro-fires, in addition to being a product of climate change and desertification, have a direct link to depopulation, as tasks such as keeping forests clean were inherent to the population living in the villages. Moreover, they were collective tasks and reinforcement of the community where the population had a responsibility to the environment. Hence, for example, the Spanish traditional “A huebra“.
But it is not only fires that threaten an unpopulated rural environment. The abandonment of the countryside is also accompanied by the risk of this territory becoming Europe’s dumping ground’. The processes of deindustrialization and decarbonisation have left behind a remainder of waste such as polluted water, pools of highly polluting products or ashes related to burning coal, while seeking to locate in these places, for example, new nuclear cemeteries. In short, although EU music may sound good, the reality is completely different.
The demographic model proposed for Europe is watered down for a number of reasons. On the one hand, it is proposed to depopulate large regions in order to concentrate them in large capitals, also giving rise to the paradox that the large capitals around the depopulated regions are incapable of absorbing this population. This is where we return to the Blue Banana and the Golden Banana. What has really been brewing for decades is the emptying of southern Europe to work in the vast German industrial zones or Benelux ports. The medium and large Spanish or Portuguese capitals are incapable of offering a vital and working future to their population. It is not by chance that many Spaniards have ended up working in Dutch logistics ETTs, in the same way that in the 1960s and 1970s the “Gastarbeiter” from Spain or Italy (guest workers) filled the Ruhr basin. Hence the headline “if you were born in South Europe, the EU wants you to emigrate to Central Europe”.
Faced with this model of population concentration in large urban and metropolitan areas that favours Central European development and condemns Southern Europe to be a tourist destination (the “Golden Banana”), there are alternatives if there is political will. On the one hand, technology is an ally to fix population in rural areas: 4G connectivity, as well as broadband, are fundamental to create employment in villages (telework or telecommerce, which has been booming in recent years), as well as to facilitate administrative procedures and access to culture and leisure for its population. This is precisely what was proposed to repopulate the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and has so far been done with some success. On the other hand, it is essential to maintain infrastructures that provide the backbone of the territory. The AVE model between large nuclei is not at the service of the daily needs of the majority of workers, who move a few kilometres to work, go to hospital or go to school. For this reason, a complete network of Cercanías and Media Distancia is essential in order to fix the population.
The same happens with public services: the planned dismantling of rural health is the condemnation of the counties to depopulation, a model widely rejected for example in Castilla y León by the social movements, where some counties lack basic services such as mobile-ICU, paediatricians or health centres within a radius of 50 km. Finally, it is necessary to audit all the aid intended, for example, to reconvert the regions affected by decarbonisation: the well-known MINER funds, which so far have served little more than to enrich a few coal businessmen related to political power, instead of creating jobs related to renewable energies, as was the initial objective.
In conclusion, in order to the fight the depopulation it is necessary to fight the capitalist design of demographic management, a design gestated at all levels. At the regional level, businessmen and their related politicians want to create regional capitals as dynamizing poles, leaving the countryside to large agrarian businessmen and dismantling public services in towns to increase profitability (when public services never have to be measured by profitability). At the state level, for example, a model of centralist and radial transport that only connects large cities is favoured. On the contrary, suburban and regional lines are closed and life is complicated for the neighbors of the villages. At the European level, there is a need to create large conurbations and encourage migration from rural areas to large European capitals, most of which are located in Central Europe. All this, in order to claim that environmental protection is not such, since the abandonment of villages is the perfect scenario for large fires and the creation of huge landfills to collect the waste from these large conurbations. In our hands and in the ability to organise ourselves to prevent this from happening is the future of generations to come.
This artticle was first published in Spanish on the Nueva Revolucion Website. Reproduced with permission