Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Opinion

Cohesion funds alone won't fix EU 'brain drain'

  • A traffic jam in Croatia. According to a new EU study, Croatia could lose 30 percent of its current population by 2060 (Photo: dmytrok)

Internal movement will cause a radical reshuffling of the EU population by 2060 unless trends moderate.

Using various demographic scenarios, a three-year investigation by the European Commission and scientific institute International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) sheds light onto this slow-moving, but consequential force reshaping the EU.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Under current conditions, dramatic population reductions await Romania (-30 percent), Croatia (-30 percent), and Lithuania (-38 percent) among others.

That decline unfolds over only the next few decades. If internal flows reach an equilibrium, the changes are much less severe: Romania (-14 percent), Croatia (-18 percent), and Lithuania (-20 percent), mostly due to natural decreases from having small families.

Austria receives the largest proportional gains from intra-EU mobility, and Germany's population would be about stable if not for receiving newcomers from the east and south (+7 percent with vs. -1 percent without).

The scale of these movements, over time, carry important implications.

While cohesion funds and remittances support development to varying degrees, they are not a substitute for the human capital – economic and social potential – of a country's people.

Population ageing

There may be no 'ideal' population size for a given country, but the younger-than-average age of emigrants accelerates population ageing as they leave.

In 2015, the proportion aged 65+ stood at 19 percent for both the EU's west and east. By 2060, that percentage will likely inflate at different speeds to 30 percent and 35 percent respectively.

Contrary to popular belief, neither migration nor fertility have the power to stop population ageing or its consequences for the EU, as the report tests with scenarios of unrealistically high surges to both.

Specifically, the research team looked at doubling third country migration (flows of 20 million into the EU every five years), or a 50 percent increase in European fertility to 2.6 children per woman.

The strongest result came from increasing fertility, which still permits the EU's proportion 65+ to climb to 27 percent by 2060.

Migration significantly drives up the total number of people living in the EU, but it does not meaningfully impact the age structure since migrants inevitably get older just as the native population does – adding to both the non-working and working populations in the long-run.

Momentum towards ageing is clear. But unlike population ageing itself, the anticipated negative consequences are avoidable.

Reasons for optimism

Greater labour force participation and a better educated labour force are trends already in motion.

By intensifying these, the EU will have a robust answer to its ageing-related worries.

For example, if EU member states would gradually converge to the level of labour force participation that men and women in Sweden have already achieved, the predicted climb in the ratio of non-workers to workers can be completely halted at 1-to-1.

Even if participation of women moves closer to their male country-counterparts (especially in southern Europe), possible increases in dependency would be significantly subdued.

Second, as younger cohorts enter working-ages and older ones leave, the process of 'demographic metabolism' will keep improving the overall education of the labour force.

Upcoming declines in the labour force size come exclusively from fewer workers with a secondary degree or lower.

Post-secondary groups on the other hand are expected to almost double over the next 40 years.

As the report explains, a smaller and better educated labour force may be best suited for adapting to disruptions from artificial intelligence (AI), productivity gains, and more broadly the changing needs of society.

Aside for these EU-wide prescriptions though, the internal dynamic needs attention.

Simply lacking work isn't the problem in many of the emigrant-sending member states, evidenced by new labour shortages and an uptick in migration from non-EU eastern European countries.

Eastern and southern EU member states are among the world's countries least able to retain their talent, according to the Global Competitiveness Index.

No wonder, they have to compete for their labour in the same system as economies that are the inheritors of historical hubs of commerce and industry.

Especially for member states with modest budgets, education should be made more directly relevant and integrated with local job markets. The goal being to maximise the chance of getting a return from tax payers' investments in the human capital of their population.

Reciprocally, the receiving Western member states could support stabilisation mechanisms such as paying associated education costs incurred by the sending countries (in effect ending a subsidy for richer economies' labour markets) or promoting circular migration for the return of top talent like scientists and doctors.

If EU principles of solidarity and cohesion are taken seriously, the loss of workers among southern and eastern member states deserves recognition and a vision for moderation.

Author bio

Nicholas Gailey is a demographic researcher and co-author of Demographic Scenarios for the EU, the flagship output of a three-year partnership between the European Commission and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin

With Donald Trump unable to fill the US's traditional role of standing up to authoritarian regimes - and his inner circle even putting pressure on Kiev to investigate the Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden - Europe should take a harder line.

Luxembourg's cannabis legalisation is EU opportunity

Luxembourg will be the first European country to legally regulate the production, sale and consumption of cannabis (the Netherlands has a policy of de facto regulation of sale and consumption only), with all the implications this holds.

News in Brief

  1. Germany prepared to top up post-Brexit EU budget
  2. New Saudi attack threats, but EU and US still divided
  3. EU anti-trust chief goes after Belgian tax breaks
  4. Luxembourg PM Bettel humiliates Johnson
  5. No new backstop proposal at Juncker-Johnson lunch
  6. Saudi oil production in flames after drone attack
  7. US: attack on Saudi oil came from Iran or Iraq
  8. Poll: Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang largest party

Defending the defenders: ombudsmen need support

Ombudsmen are often coming under attack or facing different kinds of challenges. These can include threats, legal action, reprisals, budget cuts or a limitation of their mandate.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  2. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  3. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated
  4. In detail: Belgium's EU nominee faces crime probe
  5. France urges EU virtual currency rules amid Libra risk
  6. Brexit and new commission in focus This WEEK
  7. As recession looms, Europe needs more spending
  8. How should the EU handle Russia now?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us