EU SETS DATE FOR POPULATION DECLINE

An official EU study, released last Tuesday, shows that Europeans will begin their long foreseen demographic decline – when deaths exceed births – in just seven years’ time and that some rural areas – notably in Poland, Bulgaria, Eastern Germany, northern Spain and southern Italy – would empty out completely. The report does not explore the reasons for differences in European fertility, but it does hint at the profound economic and social changes likely to unfold during the next half century, as the proportion of older people grows steadily. The document did not spell out these likely shifts, but they could include reduced funding for schools, heavy burdens on welfare and social security systems, and perhaps even a political push for much larger immigration, which is currently deeply out of favour with most European voters. According to the report, Germany will lose its status as Europe’s most populous nation and several East European nations will experience a sharp drop in numbers, with populations shrinking by a quarter or more. By contrast Cyprus, Ireland and Luxembourg would all boost their numbers by at least half. The report said immigration would not, on current trends, make up the shortfall in the working age population. EU officials stressed that the European projections should be treated with caution because they assume current trends continue and that there is no change of policy to deal with the looming demographic crisis. But for Europeans the economic implications of an aging population are stark. The Eurostat report says that in 2008, in the EU’s 27 nations, “there are four persons of working age (15-64 years old) for every person aged 65 years or over”. In 2060 “the ratio is expected to be two to one.” Amelia Torres, a European Commission spokeswoman, said the EU needed to stabilize its finances, increase employment and make structural reforms related to pensions. Last week, German researchers from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development said that without immigration, the EU’s population will shrink to 447 million by 2050.

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