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EUROPEAN UNION

Europe’s press mourns Brexit vote

Europe's press was awash with gloom and doom over Brexit on Saturday, warning that it was a boon for nationalists while urging EU leaders to meet the challenge of their "rendezvous with history".

Europe's press mourns Brexit vote
Photo: AFP

A cartoon in the Dutch paper AD Haagsche Courat styled after Edvard Munch's “The Scream” showed the German, Dutch and British leaders howling in horror, holding their hands to their faces.

“It's not an exaggeration to call it a disaster,” Spain's El Pais daily said in an editorial about Britons voting to leave the European Union in Thursday's referendum.

It urged EU nations to offer their citizens “ideas, plans, real leadership,” adding only then could the EU “be saved from the dangerous abyss it has reached”.

“A black day for Europe – OUTch!” was the banner headline of the German daily Bild, while Spain's El Mundo ran a cartoon showing the Beatles crossing Abbey Road towards an abyss.

“The Brexit shock will have profound geopolitical implications,” said an editorial in Italy's leading Corriere della Sera. “The European project will not be the same and the role of Europe in the world will inevitably be reshaped.”

Calling the UK referendum result a “blow to Europe”, Corriere said it marked the end of a period of optimism and cooperation in European history that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Europe is a common home that is on fire,” said Laurent Joffrin of France's left-leaning daily Liberation. “Its leaders have a rendezvous with history.”

He said Britons had voted with their pocketbooks and their disaffection was shared across the EU.

“The demographics of the vote leaves no doubt: the poorer and older you are in Great Britain, the more you reject the European project,” he said.

“Workers across the continent don't believe in it anymore. They are turning towards their national identities as the only credible rampart against the excesses of globalisation.”

Die Welt chastised German Chancellor Angela Merkel for her role in fanning anti-immigration sentiment, saying she “contributed to it significantly with the times she went it alone with her refugee policy.”

Populism could doom several EU leaders facing elections, said Italy's Il Fatto Quotidiano under the headline “Now everyone is scared”.

“The anti-establishment wave risks sweeping away” Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy in Spain's elections on Sunday, it said.

A “chain reaction” could follow that would doom Italy's Matteo Renzi in an October referendum as well as the French and German leaders, who face elections next year, the paper said.

But Austrian daily Die Presse warned against lambasting political elites in the aftermath of Brexit, which journalist Rainer Nowak said was seen as a “new victory of the underdogs over the decadent establishment”.

“Things cannot work without elites at a decision-making level,” he said. “(Rejecting) experts, universities, high culture, thinkers and debate… would be bad for everyone… not just Europe.”

Many editorialists saw the break with Britain as a watershed, with Jerome Fonglio of France's leading daily Le Monde saying it should prompt “deep thought about what (the EU) should be and the direction it should take”.

Italy's left-leaning La Repubblicca called on the youth of Europe to revitalise the European project.

“Europe belongs to you,” said a front-page headline. “Don't let the peddlers of fear win.”

Philippe Gelie of France's right-leaning daily Le Figaro slammed EU leaders for failing to plan for a possible Brexit.

“The crisis sparked by the British divorce requires sang-froid and intelligence,” he said, while warning that the bloc has become too unwieldy with 28 — and soon 27 — members.

In the end, wrote Herve Favre of France's La Voix du Nord: “Maybe one day we will thank our English friends for delivering the shock treatment that resuscitated the European patient.”

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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