Blog Post

How the EU has become an immigration area

Natural change of EU28 population (the balance of live births and deaths) has fallen from high positive values in the 1960s to essentially zero recently, while the previous close-to-zero net immigration has turned positive and, since the early 1990s, become a more important source of population growth than natural increase

By: Date: December 6, 2017 Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance

This blog post is drawn from a study, the results of which will be presented on December 13 at the Bruegel event “Better policies for people on the move

The demographics of the 28 current European Union member countries have changed dramatically in the past half-century. While, in the first half of the 1960s, natural change (the balance of live births and deaths) increased population by 0.8% a year, the contribution of natural change to population growth has declined steadily since then – and fell close to zero by the late 1990s (Figure 1). The increase in longevity did not compensate for the fall in fertility. Following a slight increase in the rate of natural change in the late 2000s, it started to fall again and 2015 was the first year (at least since 1960) with a natural population decline in the EU28.

Net immigration from outside the EU28 shows an opposite development. It was close to zero from the 1960s to the mid-1980s and started to increase afterwards. Since 1992, net immigration to the EU has become a more important source of population growth than the natural change. Thereby, the EU28 has become an immigration area.

To put the EU28’s net immigration numbers into perspective, Figure 2 compares it to immigration rates in other countries.

Japan is truly unique. Population is on the decline, due to a natural decline and essentially zero net immigration. As a result, Japan’s population is expected to decline from 127 million in 2016 to 102 million by 2050, and even further later on. That will certainly leave many houses empty and will necessitate major scale-back of public infrastructure, while increased longevity will dramatically increase the old-age dependency ratio (the ratio of elderly people to working age people). Clearly, Japan will need many robots, long working hours for those who are at work and extended retirement age to sustain the society, if the stance on immigration will not change.

Net immigration is positive to all other countries beyond Japan included in Figure 2. It is interesting to note that the recent rates of net immigration into the EU is similar to the rate of the United States in the 2000s. Yet Australia, Canada, Norway and Switzerland have much higher net immigration rates than the EU28.

What were the reasons for increased net immigration into the EU? Opinions differ whether it was a deliberate policy choice or somewhat accidental. Policy choices might relate to economic reasons such as attracting the brightest talents and filling labour market gaps. Political reasons, like allowing some immigration from former colonies of European powers, could also have played a role. But allowing immigration might have been somewhat accidental too, given the difficulties of protecting the EU’s southern and eastern borders and the devastating recent conflicts in the EU’s neighbourhood, which led to human flight from these conflict zones.

Whatever were the reasons, the continuously growing number of people with an immigrant background in the EU28, including the recent large wave of asylum-seeker arrivals, poses major policy challenges for the EU and its member states. In a forthcoming Blueprint that I co-author with Uuriintuya Batsaikhan and Inês Gonçalves Raposo, we analyse the EU’s immigration challenge and make recommendations on how to better manage and integrate immigrants. Stay tuned, the Blueprint will be launched at our 13 December event.

 

Annex: Components of population change in each EU country

While Figure 1 shows the components of population change considering the combined area of the current 28 EU members in the full period of 1960-2016, there were important differences across the member states (Figure 3). There is a natural population decline in many central and eastern and southern European countries and in Germany, while there is still significant natural population growth in – for example – Ireland, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Western and northern EU countries typically face net immigration, while there is net emigration from most central and eastern European countries.

France is the only EU country in which natural population increase was higher than net immigration in each year between 1963-2016, while Finland, the Netherlands, Poland and Slovakia shared the same development in most years, with the key exception of some recent years.

The Greek economic crisis since 2010 is painfully reflected in population statistics. The slightly positive natural population increase in 2005-10 turned to a significant natural decline in more recent years, due to both lower fertility rates and increased death rates, while pre-2010 net immigration turned to significant net emigration. The recent crisis in Cyprus and Ireland also led to massive emigration, but natural population increase hardly changed. Emigration was also very large out of Latvia and Lithuania during the crisis years.

Note that net immigration to the EU28 as a single area reported on Figure 1 considers only extra-EU net immigration, while the country specific charts show the sum of both intra-EU and extra-EU net immigration.


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

View comments
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

GNI-per-head rankings: The sad stories of Greece and Italy

No other country lost as many positions as Greece and Italy in the rankings of European countries by Gross National Income per head, between 1990 and 2017. The tentative conclusion here is that more complex, country-specific stories – beyond the euro, or the specific euro-area fiscal rules – are needed to explain these individual performances.

By: Francesco Papadia Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 18, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jun
19
12:30

What reforms for Europe's Monetary Union: a view from Spain

How is a successful European Monetary Union still possible in today's ever-shifting political landscape? What reforms need to occur in order to guarantee success of cohesive policies?

Speakers: Fernando Fernández, José Carlos García de Quevedo, Gabriele Giudice, Inês Goncalves Raposo, Javier Méndez Llera and Isabel Riaño Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jun
25
08:30

How comprehensive is the EU political realignment?

Has the left-right divide become obsolete in EU politics?

Speakers: David Amiel, Otilia Dhand, Nicolas Véron and Silke Wettach Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Brief

A strategic agenda for the new EU leadership

Memo to the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament. 'A strategic agenda for the new EU leadership' by Maria Demertzis, André Sapir and Guntram Wolff is the first of our 2019 Bruegel memos to the new presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament. Focusing on the most important economic questions at EU level, these Bruegel memos are intended to be a strategic to-do list, outlining the state of affairs that will greet the new Commission.

By: Maria Demertzis, André Sapir and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 13, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Past, present, and future EU trade policy: a conversation with Commissioner Malmström

What was trade policy during the last European Commission? What will be the future of European trade under the next Commission?

Speakers: Cecilia Malmström, André Sapir and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 13, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

EU-LAC Economic Forum 2019: New perspectives in turbulent times

The third edition of the EU-LAC Economic Forum.

Speakers: Diego Acosta Arcarazo, Ignacio Corlazzoli, Maria Demertzis, Mauricio Escanero Figueroa, Alicia García-Herrero, Carmen González Enríquez, Bert Hoffmann, Edita Hrdá, Matthias Jorgensen, Juan Jung, Tobias Lenz, Carlos Malamud, J. Scott Marcus, Elena Pisonero, Belén Romana and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 11, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Upcoming Event

Jul
12
09:30

The 4th industrial revolution: opportunities and challenges for Europe and China

What is the current status of EU-China relations concerning innovation, and what might their future look like?

Speakers: Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Chen Dongxiao, Eric Cornuel, Ding Yuan, Jiang Jianqing, Pascal Lamy, Li Mingjun, Signe Ratso, Reinhilde Veugelers, Wang Hongjian, Guntram B. Wolff and Xu Bin Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author

External Publication

Liability: When Things Go Wrong in an Increasingly Interconnected and Autonomous World: A European View

In the following article, Scott Marcus first considers the sources of potential defects and what might be done to redress them. He then goes on to consider what constitutes a product defect as well as the associated liability in light of recent (and potential future) EU Directives.

By: J. Scott Marcus Topic: Innovation & Competition Policy Date: June 6, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

Europe’s citizens say they want a more political EU

The recent European Parliament election suggests that a growing share of European voters sees things differently from national governments. Whereas citizens clearly used their votes to express policy preferences, very few governments are ready for a more political EU leadership.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: June 4, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

European Parliament election results: The long view

Following the latest European elections, the author updates his previous analysis of trends in the share of European Parliament seats among ‘mainstream’ and ‘non-mainstream’ parties.

By: Nicolas Véron Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 29, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Podcast

Podcast

Director's Cut: Reflections on the European elections

Bruegel director Guntram Wolff hosts Ferdinando Giugliano, columnist for Bloomberg and La Repubblica, and Krzysztof Blusz, political analyst and senior fellow at WiseEuropa – Centre for European Strategy, for a discussion about the results of the European elections, both across Europe and within the states of Italy and Poland.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 29, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Opinion

L’euro sans l’Europe : un projet incohérent

Jean Pisani-Ferry constate que tous les grands partis ne remettent plus en cause l’euro. Il souligne néanmoins que trois vulnérabilités – économique, politique et internationale – menacent la monnaie unique.

By: Jean Pisani-Ferry Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: May 28, 2019
Load more posts