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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/27/19

European Union Elections: A Crossroad

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For young people, the "new economy" has been a catastrophe. More and more of them are forced to immigrate or live at home to make ends meet, putting off marriage and children for the indefinite future.

This income crunch is adding to a demographic crisis. In a modern industrial society, the required replacement rate of births to deaths is 2.1. The world's replacement rate is 2.44. If economies fall under 2.1, they are in for long-term trouble. Eventually the work force will be insufficient to support health care, education, sanitation, and infrastructure repair.

The EU posts a replacement rate of only 1.57. Germany is one of the few EU countries that has shown a rise in the ratio -- from 1.50 to 1.59 -- but that is almost completely due to the one million immigrants the country took in four years ago.

The three countries that are leading the crusade against immigrants -- Hungary, Poland and Italy -- are in particular trouble.

Hungary, where strongman Victor Orban has made immigration a central issue for his right-wing government, is struggling with a major labor shortage. Orban recently rammed through a law requiring Hungarians to work 400 overtime hours a year to fill the shortfall, and he has been berating Hungarian women to have more babies.

In Italy, the right-wing League/Five Star Movement rode anti-immigrant rhetoric to power in the last spring's election, but with a replacement ratio of only 1.31 -- the lowest in the EU -- the country is losing the equivalent of the population of the city of Bologna every three years. All one has to do to see where this ends is to look at Japan, where an aging population has created such a crisis that the normally xenophobic Japanese are importing health care workers. China has similar demographic problems.

Playing on fears of a migrant "invasion" alarms people, but is it an assured vote getter? In recent German elections, the AfG ran strong anti-immigrant campaigns but ended up losing badly to the Greens. The latter have a more welcoming posture, vis-à-vis migrants, than even the German Social Democrats.

If Germany does not address the problem, its population will decline from 81 million to 67 million by 2060, and the workforce will be reduced to 54 percent of the population, not nearly enough to keep the country's current level of social spending.

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Conn M. Hallinan is a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, "A Think Tank Without Walls, and an independent journalist. He holds a PhD in Anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley. He oversaw the (more...)
 
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