Europe Movements Unite against Austerity


history of privatization dates from ancient Greece, when governments contracted most public functions to the private sector. However, the
present consequences of privatizing public assets and transferring private debt
to public liability form a lethal public-policy cocktail that has afflicted the
most vulnerable inhabitants of Europe, as evidenced by the current wave of
forced evictions and homelessness.

the modern European state most notoriously affected by austerity measures,
hosted an International Meeting on the Right to Housing on 20–21 June 2015. The
participants reviewed the common issues among European housing rights
movements, especially in the Mediterranean Coast region, and shared strategies
to restore housing rights to those whom European austerity policies have
afflicted, especially by forced evictions. The two-day meeting provided the
substantive input into the following deliberations of the European Coalition on
the Right to Housing and Land that the meeting’s participants programmed during
22–23 June 2015. Both events were part of the Week of Action in Solidarity with
Greece and against Austerity, from 20 to 26 June

first day was a structured hearing of common and country-specific issues that
affirmed the basis for concerted action around three main topics: Land and
housing dispossession, Debt as an instrument for social control and Migrants
and refugee housing needs in the European South, while the second day presented
alternatives to the current housing policies, collective ownerships schemes and
urban spaces as commons and a final panel on planning for action.

participants decried the government and official-media attempts to divide
peoples at the European level, as well as migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
who actually share a common struggle to realize adequate housing wherever they
are on the European Continent. The meetings coincided also with the World
Refugee Day (21 June) and focused on the protection gap vis-à-vis human rights
obligations of European states, including those enshrined in the Refugee
Convention (1951) and the Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (1966).

pointed out the hypocrisy in the mentality of “Fortress Europe,” repelling
immigration, by a continent that has colonized much of the New World, whose
emigrants entirely replaced and/or eliminated indigenous peoples, even those
who have disappeared and remain unacknowledged. While some pointed out that no
matter how governments try to stop immigration, there will be no solution if
inequality, injustice and poverty are not addressed globally, others expressed
their concerns about the European policies in this matter. The participants
gathered at Athens expressed their global and common responsibility to uphold
the human rights of all, regardless of migration status.

Meeting contrasted the present conditions under austerity and the human rights
obligations of states. Participants noted that even the OECD World Economic
 (2011) on
economic restructuring found that policies needed to reflect greater flexibility
and ensure more “mobility” of inhabitants, in order to meet their human rights
and needs, as well as the needs of the economic system, in general.

local testimonies presented the needed alternative solutions in Greece,
including local cases of Phelerion Bay (Athens), alternatives to the
privatization of marine infrastructure on the Island of Corfu, to the plan to
privatize the former Ellinikon Athens Airport property, the illicit auctions of
properties leading to forced evictions in Pireaus, the confiscation of the
commons at Glyfada and various other efforts to privatize the Greek people’s
landed, historic and environmental assets through the Cooperation for the
Privatization of Public Property (ITAIPED). Testimonies also focused on the new
legislation that enables the Greek Orthodox Church to dispose of irreplaceable
natural environments for capital gains against the interest of the faithful community
and posterity. The Greek Orthodox Church has emerged as an agent of privatizing
land and environmental resources for dubious financial gain, especially after
the legislative liberalization, which accompanied the financial crisis and
legislative responses that allowed for liberal sale of the “commons.”

from Cyprus, England, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Italy, Belgium, Ireland,
England, Portugal, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland and France
further affirmed the common struggles among European nations and peoples to
realize adequate housing in the context of the current financial processes of
dispossession that also constitute gross violations of their human rights. As
previously reported by HLRN and its partner ASIA-USB in the UPR process (2014), Italy, for
example, has sacrificed 10,000 social housing units to private interests. A
similar situation is currently happening in Spain, where social housing units
under bank`s control have been sold to vulture funds in a desperate attempt to
get rid of what they consider a burden.

combined financial and housing crisis in Spain was prominent on the agenda,
especially with personal and technical reports from the Plataforma de Afectados
por la Hipoteca (PAH), the movement opposing the forced evictions of
inhabitants affected by the housing bubble. Among those most violated in the
Spanish mortgage/foreclosure crisis and austerity policy have been the
immigrants. Their stories at Athens were particularly compelling.

panels recounted the failure of policies that promote high-income housing in
low-income neighborhoods with a pretext to bring about a “trickle-down” effect
to improve poor living conditions. Rather than relying on fallacies,
communities are left to their own means to realize the human right to adequate
housing—and other related essentials of life. The experiences shared from Milan
exemplified the solidarity economies of communities across Italy. Such practices
shed light on the extra-market alternatives that operationalize social
production of housing, local food systems, popular exchange of skills and
services, as well as the social function of property. Examples from Germany
also demonstrated how communities struggle similarly across Europe to sustain
their own housing solutions through democratic social formations.

as always, was a special case among the Meeting’s examples, not least because
of its unique 40-year partition and occupation. More important for the purposes
of consolidating the European Coalition on the Right to Housing and Land,
however, was the common practice of forced evictions experienced across the
Euro Zone. In this sense, all countries represented, regardless of specificity,
were united in their experiences and indignation.

International Coalition was present to offer support in linking the European
issues with global processes and practices. That ranged from availing the
Violation Database for European monitoring to delivering direct training and
materials for using the human rights arguments and machinery in the struggle.

HIC Secretary General explained how solidarity with movements can benefit from
relating to the movements promoting the right to the city, the social function
of property, and anchoring the human right to housing in the Habitat III


essential personal contact of the meeting’s participants enabled parties to
assess their commonalities and complementarities. The program proceeded
logically from general to specific, and channeled learning across borders.

International Meeting on the Right to Housing produced an inventory of issues
to be addressed by civil society and social movements in the coming year(s). It
reserved the detail of the “human right to housing” and treaty law approaches
for future actions, but produced an inventory of transferrable policy
strategies and demands common to all participants.

of European governments:

· Reinstitute labor housing

· Economic transitional justice

· Ceasing all sales of public property

· Cede vacant housing to the homeless

· Rent subsidies to destitute

· Stop forcing refugees and migrants to

· Provide rent subsidies to destitute

· Debt relief and tax exemption for
working forces

· Cancellation of the housing debt of
all unemployed

· Direct protection of all households
against foreclosure

· Humanitarian visas available to
migrants and refugees

· More rational approach to refugees
and migrants, asylum-seeking and job-seeking movement.

of European governments and international parties:

· Debt relief and cancellation

· A new Marshall Plan, but this time
devoted to people and communities (and not banks), and involving the North
Africa and Middle East states


· Mobilize and educate communities
about housing rights and contradictions of policies and practices

· Engaging with local government and
local authorities to make public land, properties, housing available for
evicted and homeless residents

· Engaging local organizations as

· “Socialize” hosting costs/rents for
those who cannot afford adequate housing

· Form rural and urban housing
cooperatives and solidarity economies

· Direct actions:

humor and irony to expose contradictions

· Promote establishment of European and
international monitoring forums and accountability mechanisms

· Appeal to existing European and
international monitoring forums and accountability mechanisms

· Engage in current international
monitoring forums and accountability mechanisms:

UPR and CESCR obligations and commitments of Greece, France, Spain, Italy,

· Local communities aiding needy
migrants and refugeesin situand in their forward movement

the European housing rights movement has been diverse and fragmented. This
European Coalition on the Right to Housing and Land already has helped resolve
that by focusing on the common ground that austerity has created. It promises
now to coordinate actions Europe wide. Unfortunately, the presence of local
movements and organizations during the coordination meetings of the Coalition
was not as important as it was during the previous days. In any case the
members of the European Coalition on the Right to Housing and Land showed great
interest in the regional coordination of their work and demands.

HIC General-Secretary Álvaro Puertas Robina addresses the Athens gathering.