The EU countries that desperately need migrants to avoid shrinkage—and those that don’t

Ireland leading the way on births.
Ireland leading the way on births.
Image: Reuters/Max Rossi
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Immigrants are having a huge impact on Europe’s population.

Though there were more deaths than births across the European Union (EU), the population increased by 1.1 million in one year, to 512.6 million people. The increase was due to net migration, according to Eurostat.

Population trends in EU countries aren’t at all consistent. While Malta, Luxembourg, and Sweden saw a large increases in population growth, Lithuania, Croatia, and Latvia saw their population shrink significantly.

The divide is largely caused by migration. Countries in Western Europe, which have previously opened their doors to immigrants, have seen their populations grow steadily in recent years, but those in Eastern Europe, which have shut their doors, are seeing their populations decline. In fact, the 10 countries with the fastest shrinking populations in the world are all in Eastern Europe. In some of these countries, the population loss is unprecedented in peace times.

A separate analysis by Population Europe, the demographic research center, based on a data set from 2016, found migration to be the biggest factor in population growth for European countries. For Luxembourg, Cyprus, and Malta, migration was the defining factor in population growth. The same was true for Spain, Austria, and Sweden.

For countries at the bottom of the table, a lack of migrants is contributing to a population decrease. In Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania, an increase in net migration could help reverse population decline. And while the populations grew slightly in Poland and Slovakia, restrictive immigration policies have dampened the growth. The same is true for Slovenia, but the country was one of many to respond to the refugee crisis by building fences.

But migration alone isn’t be enough to compensate for some countries’ natural population decline. In Italy, the declining birth rate and a longer life expectancy has left the country with a significantly older population. While high net migration helps, the government needs to implement policies to increase birth rates, which have fallen to an all-time low. In Germany, long-term projections show the country is on a path of inexorable decline. And while Germany’s population increased recently thanks to a large influx of migrants, recent data has shown the influx of a million refugees in 2015 still won’t reverse looming demographic disaster. Once again, the birth rate has to also significantly climb.

There are, however, some European countries whose growth is not dependent on migration. In Ireland, France, and the Netherlands, population growth was down in 2016 because of natural increases rather than migration. And the 2018 data from Eurostat shows that across the EU, the highest crude birth rates, which measures the rate of birth to the population, in 2017 were recorded in Ireland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and France. (The fertility rate measure the rate of birth to women in a reproductive age

France reported the highest fertility rates in 2016, according to Eurostat. This is largely due to France’s numerous pro-natal policies, which include paid maternity leave, job guarantees, and subsidized daycare.