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3.2. Population growth and migration

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3.2. Population growth and migration


During the last 50 years, the population of the EU with 27 Member States, although diminishing in relative terms worldwide, increased in absolute terms by about 20% from 400 to 490 million. In the past, natural population growth (i.e. the number of births minus deaths) was the major source of the total population increase in EU Member States, whereas more recently the share of natural growth is diminishing. Immigration is, currently, the main driving force of population growth in the EU.



In 1960, around 13 per cent of the world’s population was living in the area of the current EU27. In 2006, this percentage diminished to 7 percent, i.e. it nearly halved during the last fifty years due to the fact that the overall world population growth was substantially larger than the population growth in EU27. In the foreseeable future, this trend will continue: the most recent projections of world population growth indicate a declining share of the EU27 population to 6% in 2025 and 5% in 2050 (EUROSTAT). During the last 50 years, the population of the European Union with 27 Member States, although diminishing in relative terms worldwide, increased in absolute terms by about 20 per cent from 400 to 490 million.


Population growth within the EU has different faces across the various Member States. From 1960 to 2006 the overall EU population increased by about 22%. Increases in population size were even larger in Cyprus, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia, the Slovak Republic and Spain. In 2006, only Bulgaria had a lower population size than in 1960.


Although, in the EU in the 1960-2006 period the entire yearly population always increased, several Member States saw population declines. For example in Malta declines occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s, in Austria and Germany in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Portugal experienced some stagnation in the 1960s and 1990s, Belgium and Ireland in the 1980s. More recently, these Member States have witnessed population increases again. Several of the new Member States, such as the Baltic States, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and the Slovak Republic have seen declines in population size in specific years since 1990.


to 2000, the 2006 population sizes were smaller in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and the Slovak Republic. This indicates that all the ‘oldMember States, and three of the ‘newStates (Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia) have had positive population growth in the last few years. In this period, the largest population growth was in Ireland (+11%), while the lowest was in Bulgaria (-5%).


Figure 3.2. Population size per Member State in 1975, 2006 and  forecasts for 2050


Most striking is the enormous variation in population growth in the various Member States in the coming decades (Figure 3.2). Based on the EUROPOP 2004 baseline population projections, in 2050 the population size will be 25% larger than 2006 in Cyprus, Ireland, Luxembourg, and Malta. Sweden will see a population growth between 10 and 15%, France, the Netherlands and the UK between 5 and 10%. Five Countries will have almost the same number of inhabitants as currently: Austria, Belgium and Denmark, Finland, and Spain. A decline of 4-10% is foreseen for Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Slovenia, a 10-20% decrease in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia, and a more than 20% lower population size is expected in Bulgaria and Romania. The twelve New Member States are expected to witness a 15% decrease in population between now and 2050, while EU15 will almost remain constant in population size. In sum, EU27 will decrease by 4 per cent. The baseline projection expects that the EU will have 472 million inhabitants by 2050 (384 million in EU15 and 88 million in the new Member States together).


In the past, natural population growth (the number of births minus deaths) was the major source of the total population, whereas more recently the share of natural growth has been diminishing. In the past ten years, the balance shifted to migration as the most important population growth factor. Immigration is currently the main driving force of population growth in the EU and this has of course implications for the demographic structure of the Union. Only in Finland, France and the Netherlands the rates of natural population increase are still larger than those by immigration (and both are positive), but also for these Member States the population projections show diminishing natural growth and ultimately negative population growth. The situation in the twelve new Member States is opposed to that in the former EU15 (Figure 3.3).


Figure 3.3. Natural increase rate and migration rate (per 1,000 population), 2005


The recent enlargement of the EU to 27 Member States will reduce the total EU population growth as several of the new Member States already have negative natural growth at the moment (i.e. a higher number of deaths than births) and several States have an emigration surplus. Especially Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have relative high net immigration, while France, Ireland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (still) have a high natural increase. The 12 new Member States have a different profile. Except for Cyprus and Malta where positive natural growth continues together with an immigration surplus, the new Central and Eastern EU-Member States have low or negative population growth. The Slovak Republic still has positive natural population growth although small, while the other Member States all experience negative natural growth. The ‘lowest lowfertility rates in these Member States are a major cause of this. In Slovenia, the population is still growing due to a larger positive immigration rate than the (smaller) negative rate of natural increase. Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary and Latvia already have substantial natural decrease.


The First Annual Report on Migration and Integration of the European Commission points out that migrations to EU-countries have been constantly increasing over the past 25 years. In countries with a net natural decrease in population, growth is currently due to only net gains of international migrants. For the European population at large, the relevant net gain in international migrants accounts for 70% of the overall population growth. In the European Union, there are about 25 million migrants (non-nationals). Most of them originate from Mediterranean countries, former colonies, or countries of Eastern Europe. The strict immigration regulations in the EU member States result in an increasing number of people with illegal abode.


According to UN statistics, within the EU25, Germany stands out with over 7 million immigrants (9% of all the population), but also France (11%), the UK (7%), Poland ( 5%), Italy (3%) and Netherlands (10%) all have more than 1 million citizens born abroad. Together these EU Members States accommodate 23 million immigrants, i.e. over 7% of their population. Luxembourg has a smaller absolute number, but its share of the total population is large (i.e. 37%). According to GCIM (2004), the number of first-generation immigrants in the EU15 (2002) can be put at 33 million (GCIM, 2004; HWWA 2004).


During the past 20 years, Europe experienced very important annual increases of inward migration and over the last 5 years, EU net migrant inflows reached an annual level of 2 million. Increased immigration flows are mainly due to strong and persisting push and pull factors related to globalisation and the North-South divide in terms of demographic trends and welfare standards.


The EU is set to remain a popular destination for migrants over the coming decades. Eurostat’s conservative projection is that around 40 million people will immigrate in the European Union between now and 2050. As many of them are of working age, migrants tend to bring down the average age of the population. However, the longer-term repercussions remain uncertain, as they depend on the more or less restrictive nature of family reunification policies and birth patterns of migrants. Despite the current flows, immigration can only partially compensate for the effects of low fertility and extended life expectancy on the age distribution of the European population.