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What Does Europe’s Population Shift Mean?

July 8, 2011
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On June 8th, Eurostat released its figures for the current population of the EU member states, as well as its projections for the future numbers of citizens in 2035 and 2060.  Right now, the EU has a population of 501 million and Eurostat expects this to grow to 525 million before declining to 517 million.  In fact, between 2010 and 2060, Eurostat expects that 13 countries to lose population (including nine of the ten post-communist countries).  This will of course have a dramatic effect on the EU and its economies as populations age and there are fewer younger workers.

Source: EUROSTAT

These demographic changes might also have an unexpected effect on the European Union.  The engine of European integration has traditionally been Germany and France, and while they are currently the two largest EU members, this will not be the case in 2060.  Germany is expected to shrink by 18.8% and will fall to being the third largest member state, with a population barely two million more people than Italy.  More troubling for supporters of more integration is that the United Kingdom is expected to experience one of the highest growth rates (27.3%) and it will be clearly the largest EU member state.

Given the long history of Euroskepticism in the UK, it could be difficult for the EU to experience deeper integration with the UK holding the most votes of any single country.  After all, the UK has opted out of the euro and the Schengen Area, which are the two most visible signs of European integration.  In addition, assuming that the UK’s economic output grows in proportion to the size of its population, the UK could also become the largest European economy.  As a result, the UK might find itself replacing Germany as Europe’s paymaster.  The UK is already squeamish about spending money to bailout Greece and Margaret Thatcher famously got the UK a “rebate” on its contributions to the EU budget.

While these projections are for 39 years into the future, staunch supporters of European integration better hope that Britons will become friendlier to the European experiment over this period or else France and Germany are able to prevent a dilution of their voting powers.

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