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Europe looks for a remedy on immigration as it ages.

Reports on the demographic structure of Europe all say the same thing: Europe is growing older and the ongoing low birth rate is not high enough to sustain its population. This assessment confronts Europe with its need to review its control-based migration policies. In this respect, approaches which use populist discourses and policies to stifle the phenomenon of immigration and scapegoat immigrants for socio-economic problems seems to be working against Europe's best interests.

Unfortunately, although opening Europe's doors to immigrants looks like the one of the best options, it won't be enough. In order to maintain its global competitiveness, Future projections of the EU's economy demonstrate that in order for it to maintain its global competitiveness it needs comprehensive social reform and structural transformations. However, the downswing of Europe contains contradictory results in regard to the respective needs. Governments have had difficulties on issues such as family allowance and with providing assistance to the young and immigrants-which are the groups most affected by the crisis-in a shrinking labor market.

Statistics on European Demographic Change

Today, Europe is about to run out of the sudden increase in birth rates in the aftermath of the World War II. The baby boomers are nearing retirement. Also, a "top-heavy" European demographic structure is at the door. While the young base of the population pyramid is decreasing, the elderly population on the top side of the pyramid is gradually expanding.

According to the 2011 data from the European Commission and Euro-stat, the young population (0-14 years old) made up 15.6%, the population considered to be working age (15-64) is 66.9%, and those 65 years and over compromise 17.5% of the EU-27's total population. Furthermore, Germany, which is the European economic dynamo with a population of over 80 million, has the lowest share (13.4%) of those aged 0-14, and the highest share (20.6%) of population 65 years and older.

Looking from the recent past to the present, it is possible to observe that the population growth in Europe show a trend in favor of those locating at the top of the population pyramid. Accordingly, between 1990 and 2010 the percentage of working-age population (20-64 years) in the EU-27 increased by 1.8 percentage points. Meanwhile, the growth in the elderly population was more than double that at 3.7 percent. Needless to say that the demographic structure increases the dependency ratio of the elderly on the young. The dependency ratio (the number of people 65 and over relative to those between 15 and 64) which was the 26.2% in 2011 is expected to rise to the serious level of 52.6% in 2060, posing significant risks to economic growth and putting substantial upward pressure on public spending.

Immigration to European Labor Force

Chris Wilson is right in assessing the demographic change in Europe as the rational result of Europeans' choices. In fact, for 35 years Europeans have been waiting longer to have children. This tendency, called the "tempo affect", naturally decreases the fertility rate. Although the fertility rate in Europe has increased--according to 2011 data, it increased from 1.45 to 1.57 --2.1 children per woman are required for a population to be self-sustaining. Considering that the average life expectancy of Europeans has risen (77 for males, 83 for females), Europe is ironically moving towards being a "victim", as some have said, of its own success.

Projections that after 2050 one in three EU residents will be of foreign origin are emphasized in almost every report. Currently, Europe is home to 20 million people non-EU citizens. Apart from this, 10 million EU citizens reside in an EU country other than their own. As for immigrants, there are approximately 5 million immigrants that have gained EU citizenship since 2001. The immigrants, most of them are young and active, contribute to the labor force in EU countries. The contribution of immigrants is expected to continue to increase in the future. While recently one or two million people have been added to EU countries' populations every year, this ratio is estimated to double by 2060.

Research contends a gain of $356 billion globally between 2005 and 2025 if just 3% of the labor force in developed countries is opened to immigrants. In fact, Europe is a continent which has tested similar theories in its recent history. Between 1948 and 1973, the population explosion after World War II and the recruitment of immigrants significantly contributed to the economic growth of Western Europe whose GDP increased more than 5% each year.

Missed Opportunities

However, if Europe thinks to ensure the continuity of sustainability of the demographic and economic structure in the long term only by bearing on the presence of the immigrants, it is mistaken. Although the southern neighbors of Europe, the "Med-10", have an important place in projections of population growth, these countries' fertility rates have declined. Moreover, instead of choosing to take advantage of the immigration pressure in southern Europe imposed by the "Arab Spring", the preference has been to keep immigrants out of the continent.

Europe, which closed the doors on the young brains, entrepreneurs, and other Africans escaping from rebellions and chaos, seems to be gearing up to miss the big picture due to daily concerns. Because the concerns and data related to the impact of demographic change on economic structure are obvious. And yet, only short-term political concerns can explain Europe's self-assured immigration posture. Moreover, there is a detail missed by European politicians and policy-makers. When the full course of the economic crisis is considered, as argued by Sutherland and Malmstorm, the West would be no longer "the Promised Land", placing at risk Europe's ability to compete globally, for immigrants in the next ten years. In fact, declining immigration in countries like Spain, Italy, France, Sweden, Austria, and Ireland, says a lot about Europe's future.

The social dimension of the problem should not be forgotten: from past to present, immigrants have been scapegoated about topics such as terrorism, crime, unemployment, and integration problems. However, their potential contribution to the European demographic structure requires the social acceptance. Research indicates that the share of the working population in the European labor market will shrink starting from 2014. Despite the high unemployment rate in Europe because of the crisis, many employers are in need of skilled and unskilled workers. The fact that the deficit will grow in the near future may put pressure on politicians bring in more immigrants. Let's see how will it be easy then for the politicians, alleging people escaping from the Northern African countries early beginning of the Arab Spring as "bogus", to get the immigrants through European peoples as a value added.


(*) Senior Researcher at USAK.
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Author:Yilmaz-Elmas, Fatma
Publication:USAK Yearbook of Politics and International Relations
Geographic Code:4E
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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