“European Micro” examines a social phenomenon in Portugal today, the theft of food in hypermarkets. Families with young children and elderly people cannot feed their children or live on their retirement: this is what statistics from Portuguese supermarkets reveal.

A hypermarket in Portugal in Lisbon. (Illustration) (CORBIS VIA GETTY IMAGES)

European Micro is now devoted to Portugal, with Ana Navarro Pedro, Portuguese journalist correspondent in Paris. A social phenomenon in Portugal today: food theft in hypermarkets.

We think it’s young people who steal, but no, it’s elderly people and couples with children?

Ana Navarro Pedro: Exactly. These are statistics that come to us from the management of large Portuguese distribution companies, and it is the president of this organization who says: “These people steal to eat”. And these are elderly people, who can no longer live on their retirement. Or it’s about couples, people, parents who can no longer feed their children. These thefts were recorded, and we know what was stolen, when the people were taken, and it was basic food, mainly milk, and cans of tuna.

And that’s why we saw in the French press all these images that shocked us a lot here. Cans of tuna that are now in plastic locks, because businesses also have to defend themselves, of course. We do not steal very important things and a large part of these thefts are not reported to the police.

You also gave me an anecdote, sometimes when people were caught, it was the policeman who paid…

This is an anecdote that actually dates from the great crisis of 2011 of “subprime”. When people were caught in the act of stealing basic foodstuffs, the police would come. Then they’d say, that’s how much, pay, talk to the person who stole and say, “Now go feed your child.”

Another social phenomenon in Portugal, we are reviewing housing leases…

Yes, housing, tenants, it is a measure that the government, nor anyone, had anticipated. In the context of this inflation and price increase, for the government, one of the measures was to freeze the increase in rents, at 2%, with compensation for landlords. Well, quite a few landlords took advantage of this situation to break the leases. It’s not like France. In France you have a lot of protections for tenants, not in Portugal, not in the rest of Europe for that matter.

In Portugal, do they change your lease like that?

They just break it up, put an end to it, and present a new lease to the tenants who are there, with an extremely high rent price, which people cannot afford. There are currently 800 families who are threatened with eviction, in Lisbon alone. According to the associations that help people in precariousness, it seems that this would only be the tip of the iceberg. And the worst thing is that all this comes after a full year for Portugal, 6.5 points of growth.

Portugal was starting to take off, it was getting better, and all of a sudden, is the country going to fall back?

You know, what happens in Portugal will happen in the rest of Europe. Let’s have no illusions. Even for the very rich countries, even for a country like France, which has a mattress of social debts, much thicker than the other countries, these problems of inflation, of very high inflation, of recession will impact all our economies.

In Portugal, it will be all the more serious, because we depend on tourism and exports, these sectors which will be affected by the current situation. And it is therefore next winter, 2023/2024, that we are going to experience the worst, in Portugal, and most certainly in Europe too, according to all observers.

But for the moment, Portugal has protected itself with Spain concerning energy compared to Brussels?

Portugal and Spain fought already, well before the war in Ukraine, because when we saw that we were going to have high inflation, they fought to obtain a derogation from the European tariff crisis of electricity. This still allows families to hold on. Wrong, but to hold it.

So this improvement that was starting in Portugal is likely to tarnish?

Growth will not exceed 1.5% for next year. Inflation will be very high, unemployment will increase and therefore we will have a shock. We are used to it, but we will suffer…