The latest data from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, shows that on January 1, 2022, the population of the EU was 446.8 million people, which is 172,000 less than the previous year. On January 1, 2020, the population of the EU was 447.3 million people.

This trend is due to the fact that in 2020 and 2021 there were more deaths than births, and the negative natural increase was more significant than the positive balance of migration.

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But there are major differences between countries. For example, in quantitative terms, Italy is the country where the population has declined the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU responding?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural increase was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 year, and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

Population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Sweden) had both natural growth and positive net migration.

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In eight EU countries (Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased due to a positive balance of migration, while the natural increase was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 people), while the largest increase relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 people).

A total of 22 EU member states had a positive migration balance, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1,000 people), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) leading the list.

Birth and death rates in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change in 2021, with deaths exceeding births.

Ten of them recorded population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, the population decreased due to negative natural growth, while net migration was slightly positive.

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In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease occurred both due to negative natural growth and due to negative balance of migration.

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The largest drop in population was recorded in Italy, which lost more than a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1000 people), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). In proportional terms, the largest population decline was recorded in Croatia and Bulgaria (-33.1 per 1,000 people).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the population of the EU has grown to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. While in the 1960s growth was around 3 million people per year, it has slowed to around 0.7 million per year between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

Natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012, when net migration became the key driver of population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural changes and led to a decline.

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Over time, Eurostat says, negative natural changes are expected to persist with an aging population if the fertility rate (the total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This calls into question the future of the labor market and social security services such as pensions and health care.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 percent of the EU population will be aged 65 or over, compared to 20.3 percent in 2019, and 13.2 percent are projected to be aged 80 or over, compared to from 5.8 percent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

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However, demographic changes affect different countries and often regions within the same country in different ways.

On taking over as president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Croatian politician Dubravka Schuyts as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to handle these changes.

Among the measures discussed in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s aging society, proposing steps for greater participation in the labor market, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

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In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive to foreign workers, including simplifying the rules for non-EU nationals living in the EU on a long-term basis. They must be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on combating the “brain drain” and mitigating the problems associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in collaboration with Street news of European information publication about the rights of citizens in the EU and Great Britain.

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