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OPINION

Give us a vote: we’ve got most to lose if UK quits

Brits in the rest of the EU should all be given a vote in the country’s upcoming referendum - as should Europeans who live in the UK. We’re the ones with most to lose, argues The Local's managing editor James Savage.

Give us a vote: we've got most to lose if UK quits
2.2 million Brits live in another EU country. 2.3 million people from elsewhere in the EU live in the UK. Photo: Charles Clegg.

Who is more affected if Britain leaves the EU: the South African student living in the UK for six months or the German who has lived there and paid taxes for fifteen years? The Indian working in the City for a couple of years before moving back to Mumbai, or the British pensioner who retired to Spain in 2002?

Some time in the next year or two there will be a referendum on whether the UK leaves the EU. 

In a bizarre anomaly, if you’re one of the million people from the rest of the Commonwealth living in the UK, you will likely be given the vote (as you are in general elections) – but you won’t if you’re one of the 2.3 million people from another European country, or if you are British and have lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years. 

As I left the UK in 2003 I’ll probably get the vote if the referendum is held in 2017, but it will be a close-run thing. Millions of others who moved slightly longer ago will be deprived of a say.  

If you’re one of the 2.2 million Brits who lives in another EU country, it might not always feel like Europe made your move easier. 

When I came to Sweden I was made to line up at the Migration Board office with everyone else for a stamp in my passport. That certainly didn’t feel like free movement (they’ve streamlined things since then, I hear); in Italy, one British woman told us how she was made to wait two years for her official paperwork to be sorted out.

But, in reality, these hurdles are minor compared with what non-Europeans face. And our rights are part and parcel of the European project.

Just ask a non-European about their experiences at the visa office. One Canadian friend who split up with her boyfriend recently found that in addition to dealing with the emotional fallout, the split meant she lost her visa – and with it her right to work over here. 

Ah, some people say, but Britain will negotiate a good deal if it leaves. Look at Norway or Switzerland – it’s easy to move there. 

Maybe it will, but why should EU governments give the UK – or its citizens – an easy ride if it breaks up the Union? They won’t want other potential quitters to think they can have their cake and eat it by keeping the fun bits like freedom of movement, while jettisoning the boring bits like environmental legislation.

Those of us who have moved within the EU, either to or from Britain, are those who lose most if Britain quits. We’ve planned our lives, our loves, our jobs around an arrangement that we had every right to think would be permanent. 

Yet as things stand, we are unlikely even to be consulted. 

None of this is yet certain – and we won’t know exactly what the government’s planning until David Cameron presents the EU Referendum Bill to the House of Commons in a week or two. Then MPs will have a chance to amend and vote on the proposal.

The EU is far from perfect, God knows. It certainly needs reforming. But it has also provided opportunities for millions. Over the next few months, The Local will make sure that the voice of people who have gained most from Europe – and have most to lose if Britain quits – are heard loud and clear.

 

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IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

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

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

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 change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 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.

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

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change 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 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths 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, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

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

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent 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.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to 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 dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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