Deaths to Outnumber Births in Seven Years Aging Population Spooks EU

Immigration will be the only source of population growth in the European Union in just seven years according to a new EU report. European countries wonder how they will foot the bill of their aging populations.

It is clear who will be paying the pensions off British retirees in the not-too-distant future: the children of the country's immigrant population. The rest of Europe may not be so lucky. The EU has known for years it is sitting on a demographic time bomb but new statistics released Tuesday predict just how close the problem looms.

Deaths will overtake births in Europe just seven years from now, according to an official EU study conducted by Eurostat. The shrinking population is due to "persistently low fertility" according to the report.

Once deaths outnumber births, migration will become the only source of population growth. But from 2035 on, even positive net migration will no longer offset the negative impact of fewer births, predicts Eurostat.

Shrinkage aside, the EU's population will grow older in the next 50 years, with only two people of working age for every person aged 65 or more by 2060, the report says. All of the countries studied -- the 27 European Union member states plus Switzerland and Norway -- will be affected, according to Eurostat, with the average number of seniors jumping to 30 percent of the population in 2060 from the current 17 percent. There are currently four people of working age for every person over the age of 65.

The EU currently has a combined total of 495 million citizens. The report predicts a high point of 521 million in 2035 before shrinking back to 506 million in 2060.

Germany, currently over 80 million strong, has been Europe's most populous country since reunification. It is due to shrink to 71 million in the next five decades -- and should be overtaken by the UK and France, with 76.6 and 72 million people respectively.

When it comes to losing population, Germany won't be alone. Of the 29 countries surveyed, 14 are projected to have smaller populations by 2060. Countries in southern and eastern Europe are expected to be the biggest losers with Bulgaria expected to shrink by 28 percent, Latvia by 26 percent and Lithuania by 24 percent. Scandinavian countries will join Britain among those least affected by the demographic changes, the study finds. According to the British Office for National Statistics, the country's relatively healthy birthrate is primarily due to a greater willingness among immigrants in Britain to have children.

The German Case

Germany alone is set to shed about 12 million people in the next five decades, says the Eurostat report -- which is just one of a raft of dire predictions about the country's demographic future. The east-west divide that Eurostat observed across Europe holds true within Germany, according to a study released by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development last week.

The study calls eastern Germany "one of the major losers." The collapse of the eastern German economy after the Wall came down in 1989 and job opportunities created by opening borders in the EU have been blamed for the region's struggles.

"There are reasons why people are leaving," Berlin Institute for Population and Development director Reiner Klingholz told Reuters. "You can't force them back." He added that to support the health and welfare benefits Germans currently enjoy "immigration is necessary, there is no alternative."

The new Eurostat study comes just a week after a German report found that births in the country increased in 2007 for the first time in six years. Family Minister Ursula Von der Leyen of the conservative Christian Democrats saw the uptick as vindication of her new law introduced in January 2007 aimed at boosting the fertility rate by increasing benefits to parents of newborns. Still, the German fertility rate jumped to just 1.37 children per woman, well under the 2.1 widely considered necessary for a population to remain stable.

rbn -- with wire reports.

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