By LUIS MIRANDA | THE REAL AGENDA | SEPTEMBER 5, 2012
Food Banks feed two million people in Spain, twice the number of people than they did in 2007, but their future is now uncertain. Although the financial crisis that has ravaged the continent turned them into the people’s pantry, their existence is now being contested by European authorities who question whether these food banks should be funded at all.
Food banks have been funded by the EU since 1987, with twenty members as beneficiaries, but their support for 2014 and beyond will depend on the new European budgetary framework. The stakes are high between supporters of austerity and cohesion while poverty increases as a result of the crisis, 116 million EU citizens were at risk of poverty in 2010, two million more than the previous year.
The debate about funding — or not — the food banks will begin this month. The champions of moderation in spending, led by Germany and seconded by the UK, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Holland, consider that the EU should not provide support to food banks. Last February, the European Commission decided to continue the program for this year and next while “noted the opinion of several Member States not to continue the program beyond 2013,” said a spokesman Commissioner for Social Affairs and Inclusion.
The supporters of so-called cohesion will face the defenders of feeding the people in the EU, a task that the cohesion group believes should rest with each European nation and not the EU. They have a head start: the Commission supports continued funding for food banks for the period 2014-2020, while lowering the total amount of 2,500 million euros. “It is a matter of European solidarity, more important than ever in times of economic crisis,” said the Commission. Another change is that the program should not be directed according to the chapter of the Common Agricultural Policy, which was born in the lee of agricultural surpluses. Instead, it should run according to a new framework based on ‘Social Spending and Cohesion’.
The discussion comes when, due to the crisis, “there are doubts whether the emergency food aid and other social assistance for those most in need could be completely eliminated if the food aid program of the EU is closed,” said the spokesman for the Social Affairs Commissioner.
The favorable position of the Commission is a true relief for Spain, for example, despite the funding cuts being handled. “The proposal is 2,500 million euros compared to 3,500 in the previous period,” said Fernando Miranda, the president of the Spanish Agricultural Guarantee Fund, which works within the Ministry of Agriculture. The fund is responsible for implementing the plan to assist the neediest people in the EU. Spain is the second country that benefits the most from the food bank program, with 80, 4 million euros this year.
“The downgrade would mean a drop in annual funding from 500 to about 350 million euros for all countries,” lamented the president of the Spanish Federation of Food Banks, Jose Antonio Busto. He added that the European funding provides about 40% of the food, and the rest comes from donations from supermarkets and other sources. This reduction would result, predictably, in less funding for Spain. According to his calculations, Spain would receive between “50 and 60 million euros a year, which resembles pre-crisis levels,” estimated Miranda. That is about 34% less than today.
“The drop in funding would be a problem, because demand continues to increase in Spain” warns Busto. Now two million people are fed through the food bank program. In 2007, the number was of about 850,000 people. From the people dependent on food bank programs, 21.8% belonged to the group that lives below the poverty line — 19.5% in 2009 — who have been added to the list due to the increasing unemployment.