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BRITAIN'S FUTURE IN EUROPE

EUROPEAN UNION

Brits: Why vote away your right to move in Europe?

The right to move around Europe is an incredible privilege. Brits about to vote in their referendum should know that this right is at risk, says The Local's Managing Editor James Savage.

Brits: Why vote away your right to move in Europe?
The last view of Britain: the White Cliffs of Dover from a ferry. Photo: Luctor/WikimediaCommons

The question on Facebook from a clever, cosmopolitan schoolfriend set the alarm bells ringing: ‘If we leave the EU, will it really make it harder for us to move to other countries?’

The answer to this is surely that it might. Yet it’s worrying if many young Brits don’t know what’s at stake.

The thing is, Brits rather like their freedom to move around Europe – but the campaign for Britain to leave the EU has focused heavily on restricting the right of other Europeans to live and work in the UK. 

According to a revealing poll by YouGov in December, two thirds of Brits thought they should have the right to live and work in other EU countries – yet only one third believed that other Europeans should have the right to live in Britain.

In other words, Britain is about to go and vote on a subject which, terrifyingly, it can’t be bothered to focus on long enough to form a coherent view. The Leave campaign has so far managed to create a vague impression that you can restrict immigration to Britain without equivalent restrictions being placed on Brits who want to move abroad.

Perhaps this reflects the way Brits talk about migration: Brits on the continent are expats; Europeans in Britain are migrants. 

Unfortunately for any British diplomats charged with interpreting the will of the people in negotiations, international law doesn’t recognize this distinction. As far as the negotiators will be concerned, 100,000 Bulgarian immigrant kitchen fitters have at least the same value as 100,000 sunburnt British expat pensioners.

Let’s be clear about one thing: a vote for Britain to leave the EU will be a vote to cut immigration from Europe. It would mean becoming even more detached than Norway or Switzerland, which have pretty much the same immigration rules as EU member states. Immigration is the most important issue for Leave voters and it has been the main focus of the Leave campaign. And if you stop EU citizens coming to Britain, Brits will be prevented from moving to the EU.

This would be a shame: the right to move from one European country to another has perhaps increased Britons’ personal freedom more than any other reform since the country joined in 1973. The movement the other way has also been positive – people from the rest of the EU who live in the UK are an asset, paying far more in tax than they take out in benefits.

Like over two million other Brits, I’m biased: I’ve used this freedom myself – and I’d recommend any fellow Brit to try it. At the age of 21 I hopped onto a train in London, hopped off in Paris and jumped into a job. I then fell in love with a Swede and landed in Sweden, where I launched a career that has been more stimulating than anything I’d have done at home.

And whether you want to start a lingerie shop in Madrid, be a crime-scene cleaner in Germany, or a gardener in Sweden, the opportunities are out there.

There are lots of compelling reasons for Britain to stay in the EU – there’s a consensus that it’s better for the country’s economy, it serves Britain’s strategic interests and our allies say it’s where we belong.

But these reasons, while vitally important, perhaps don’t resonate on an emotional level. But our right to put down roots in Vienna, Rome, Berlin, Krakow or Nice – just because we want to – should. It is a privilege worth protecting, and I suspect young Britons understand this. It’s important that they know that this right is at risk.

 

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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