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EUROPEAN UNION

Brexit, a sign of anti-elite revolt: analysts

Rural areas with high numbers of migrant workers, former industrial hubs and poor areas around cities, those without a university education and older voters were all among the 52 percent who voted Brexit.

Brexit, a sign of anti-elite revolt: analysts
It was Britain’s poorer and less-educated citizens who pushed it out of the European Union. Photo: AFP

It was Britain’s poorer and less-educated citizens — angry at not having shared in the economic benefits of a new world order — who pushed it out of the European Union, in a vote that threatens elites, analysts say.

They are those who suffered the worst hangover from the economic crisis, and whose precarious economic position makes them most fearful of rising immigration — to the benefit of far right groups in the E.U. and Donald Trump in the United States.

“I see the same pattern everywhere I look,” said William Galston, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Brookings Institution.

“The demographic splits within the U.K. are exactly the same category for category as the demographic splits within the American electorate in this presidential election.”

Rural areas with high numbers of migrant workers, former industrial hubs and poor areas around cities, those without a university education and older voters were all among the 53.4 percent who voted Brexit.

Mr. Galston said this was the same demographic backing controversial Republican candidate Mr. Trump in the U.S., as well as eurosceptic and far-right parties enjoying a rise in support across Europe.

“They mistrust political elites because up until now they haven’t seen any political parties who appear to recognise their discontent and respond to it.”

Mr. Galston said while he did not expect these forces to prevail in the United States as they did in the Brexit vote, they were a “major warning signal to established parties throughout Europe”.

Fears are high of a domino effect, with eurosceptic, leftist and far right parties from France to the Netherlands crying victory after the shock Brexit result was announced and calling for similar votes in their own countries.

Political scientist Melanie Sully of the Vienna-based Go-Governance Institute warned Europe was facing a “crisis of democracy” that could be exploited by xenophobic, far right parties.

“If you don’t have any trust in politics, it’s exactly the sort of black hole populists can march into and capture the mood and build on it, to perpetuate their own falsehoods,” she told AFP.

At the root of this surge in anti-establishment sentiment is a feeling of fear, loss of control, and traditions and identity lost among those who are struggling economically, analysts say.

“Before we talk about populism, the anti-establishment, we have to talk about the social position of these people. What do they earn? How do they see their everyday lives?” said Tetiana Havlin, a sociologist at the University of Siegen in Germany.

“In everyday life nobody thinks about anti-globalisation, anti-establishment. They just see their challenges”, she said.

“This of course gives fertile ground for populism… but in the end this is about what people feel.”

Observers point to two main drivers of the surge in scorn for the elite: the hangover from the 2008/2009 economic crisis and the refugee crisis.

“You have a lot of people who took a big hit. These are people who feel economically vulnerable, and when you put demographic fears on top of economic vulnerability this is what you get,” said Mr. Galston.

“I don’t think it’s mysterious anymore, we may have been scratching our head a year ago but we should be in no doubt now.”

Many young people who voted ‘Remain’ are furious at the number of older British voters who backed ‘Leave’ — lumbering them, as they see it, with the consequences of their decision for decades to come.

Ms. Havlin said that many of these voters saw the E.U. as a source of security and stability when Britain joined in 1973, a time she refers to as “the prosperity years”.

Now older, these voters reeling from austerity and a sense of growing threats at Europe’s borders, feel “threatened and insecure”.

Dominique Moisi, of the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) said the Brexit earthquake was a dark moment in Europe’s history, comparing it unfavourably to the fall of communism.

“Remember Star Wars: there is the light side and the dark side of the force. The light side was the fall of the Berlin Wall. The dark side is Brexit.”

 

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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