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‘Smaller EU should mean a smaller budget’: Danish PM

Danish prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen thinks the EU should reduce its budget after the United Kingdom leaves the union next year.

'Smaller EU should mean a smaller budget': Danish PM
Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen. Photo: Thomas Sjoerup/Ritzau Scanpix)

Rasmussen tweeted that “a smaller EU should mean a smaller budget!” as the bloc will number 27 members after Brexit.

He added that European tax payers should not be asked “to pay for Brexit”.

The PM’s comments came as the EU on Wednesday unveiled an increased 1.279-trillion euro budget for the seven years after Brexit, featuring a controversial move to cut funding for countries that fail to respect democratic standards.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said the proposed budget was a “reasonable and responsible” way to fill a hole left by Britain's departure and spend more on priorities such as security.

But Poland and Hungary, which have both been severely criticised by Brussels over democratic freedoms, are up in arms over the proposal to “suspend, reduce or restrict access” to errant states.

“We are proposing a new mechanism that will allow for the protection of the budget linked to risks arising from deficiencies in the rule of law,” Juncker told the European Parliament.

The departure of Britain, a net contributor, in 2019 leaves the bloc with what Juncker says is 15 billion euro gap in its accounts, but the EU also wants more money for ambitious projects to unify the remaining 27 member states.

EU Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger said countries would pay 1.114 percent of their annual gross domestic product under the plans, up from one percent in the current 2014-2020 multi-year budget worth 1.0 trillion euros.

Taxes on carbon emissions, plastic waste, and corporations could also contribute 22 billion euros annually, or 12 percent of total budget revenue, the commission said.

One of the key proposed cuts is five percent from the Common Agricultural Policy, the largest single area of EU spending and one dear to major farm producer France.

There is also a five-percent proposed cut to so-called cohesion funds, which former Soviet bloc states in eastern Europe are the biggest beneficiaries from.

In return, the European Commission wants to spend more on the digital economy, research, defence and protection for the bloc's borders against mass migration, including what one European source says is a quintupling of the border force Frontex to nearly 6,000 people.

Countries including Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands are already gearing up to fight any demand for increased national contributions, although France and Germany have said they are ready to pay more.

After meeting British prime minister Theresa May in Copenhagen last month, Rasmussen said that Brexit will cause more bureaucracy and has a “price tag”.

“Leaving the single market comes with a price tag. Unfortunately it’s not just a British price tag, there’s also a Danish price tag,” Rasmussen said on April 9th according to media including the Independent.

“There’s a reason why we have established the single market and we have to respect the integrity of the single market. There will be more bureaucracy in future, unfortunately,” the Danish PM added.

READ ALSO: Danish PM Rasmussen reiterates support for UK after Copenhagen meeting

The plan announced by the EU Wednesday is likely to face opposition, not least from Warsaw and Budapest.

The two member states are locked in battles with Brussels over democratic standards and their refusal to accept refugees, oppose any attempt to impose conditions on the billions in funds they get from the bloc.

They view it as an attempt to punish them indirectly, without going through mechanisms like an unprecedented sanctions procedure launched by Brussels against Poland over its court reforms.

Juncker said “respect for the rule of law is an indispensable prerequisite for sound financial management and effective implementation of the budget”.

But Poland was standing firm.

“We will not accept arbitrary mechanisms which will make the funds an instrument of political pressure,” Poland's deputy European affairs minister Konrad Szymanski said earlier.

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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