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IMMIGRATION

Renzi blasts ‘anachronistic’ Austria over border plan

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has taken another swipe at Austria over its plans to reinstate border controls at the Brenner pass, saying its position towards the refugee crisis is “anachronistic”.

Renzi blasts 'anachronistic' Austria over border plan
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Rome on Thursday. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

“This is the wrong attitude even if there is a migrant crisis,” he said after a meeting with European leaders in Rome on Thursday.

With over 28,500 migrants arriving since January 1st, Italy has once again become the principal entry point for migrants arriving in Europe, following a controversial EU-Turkey deal and the closure of the Balkan route up from Greece.

In previous years, many migrants landing in Italy have headed on to other countries – but with Austria planning to reinstate border controls at the Brenner pass in the Alps, a key transport corridor, Rome fears it could be stuck hosting masses of new arrivals.

Italy is also pushing for Nato naval patrols off Libya in time for the summer people-smuggling season, and a deal with Libya on the model just concluded with Turkey.

Renzi stressed the need for “a strategy for Africa” to stem the influx from there.

He wants EU aid for African countries that have seen large numbers of migrants set off, in a bid to lessen the poverty that drives many of them to leave home.

“The important thing is to invest in Africa,” Renzi said.

But he added that Germany and Italy were in disagreement over how to fund the plan, with Germany against using eurobonds to offer finance to African countries.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday urged European leaders to protect EU borders or risk a “return to nationalism” as the continent battles its worst migration crisis since the Second World War.

She said Europe must defend its borders “from the Mediterranean to the North Pole” or suffer the political consequences.

Support for far-right and anti-immigrant parties is on the rise in several countries on the continent which saw more than a million people arrive on its shores last year.

In Austria, Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party is expected to win a presidential run-off on May 22nd after romping to victory in the first round on an anti-immigration platform.

Merkel told a press conference with Renzi that Europe's cherished freedom of movement is at threat, with ramped-up border controls in response to the crisis raising questions over whether the passport-free Schengen zone can survive.

Renzi also hosted European Commission leader Jean-Claude Juncker, EU President Donald Tusk and European Parliament chief Martin Schulz at a debate about the state of Europe on Thursday.

During the discussion, Tusk said the notion of a “fortress” Europe was “absurd”, but that the EU had to protect its external borders if it wanted citizens to feel safe. He added that the idea of a single European state was “an illusion”.

Merkel, whose country took in more than a million asylum-seekers last year, insisted on the need to “respect the human dignity” of immigrants and to “share the burden” of the influx.

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, in an interview with AFP, took a stance unusual among Central and Eastern European leaders in agreeing with her.

He pledged to accept Bulgaria's quota of 1,200 asylum-seekers under an EU plan, saying: “It does not matter if it is 1,200 or 2,000 people – we have taken a commitment to accept them.”

In Austria, far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer was meanwhile attempting to woo more mainstream voters by saying he believed it was possible to integrate migrants.

“I think that if we do everything we can to make sure the people who are already in Austria integrate themselves, it's still possible,” he told APA news agency.

IMMIGRATION

How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.

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