22nd Feb 2020

Europe's population would decline without migrants

The population of the European Union is avoiding decline mainly thanks to immigration from other parts of the world, as native Europeans have stopped making as many babies.

While anti-immigrant feeling is on the rise both amongst European politicians and the wider public, ironically, the union's population would soon go into decline without the immigrants that arrive here, according to fresh figures from the EU's statistics office, Eurostat.

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  • Europeans are having fewer babies, meaning immigration fills in the population gap (Photo: European Commission)

The EU's total population was up 0.48 percent last year - some 2.39 million people, reaching 497.5 million inhabitants, Eurostat said on Tuesday (23 September). The union is now getting very close to the ‘500 million' Europeans rounded-up number widely quoted by Brussels public figures.

But some 80 percent of this growth comes from immigration, and only a fifth from so-called natural change, meaning the increase of births over deaths.

This is a result of steadily declining fertility rates amongst native-born Europeans. According to Eurostat, in 2007, there was an average of just 10.6 births for every 1000 citizens, totalling 5.3 million registered births in the union last year, an increase of 0.8 percent.

Nine countries had more deaths than births - Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Romania.

In only France, the UK and the Netherlands was natural change the main driver of population growth.

Meanwhile. there was a net increase in immigration of 16.4 percent, or 1.9 million new folks coming to the EU to build a new life.

Indeed, in 1992, migration surpassed natural change for the first time as the leading driver of European population growth.

The statistics office says that within a few years, if fertility rates continue to decline, the EU as a whole will see negative natural growth. Accelerating this, in the coming decades, there will be a sharp drop as an aging baby-boomers begin to die.

The role of immigrants in maintaining Europe's population is larger even than these figures suggest, says Eurostat, as once they become established in their new countries, they also contribute to the natural change in population by having more children on average than native-born Europeans.

Beyond the EU's borders, the population of Europe as a whole (defined by Eurostat as the members of the Council of Europe plus Belarus and the Kosovo territory) increased by 2.9 million last year to 822 million individuals, a growth rate of 3.5 percent.

Similar to within the EU, immigration across Europe makes up the bulk of this increase, contributing 76 percent of the change.

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