The Flat-Earth Theory of the EU
On 23rd October, the EU Commissioner for Justice, Franco Frattini, will issue a directive on the admission of skilled migrant workers to the EU. His preview speech at Lisbon on 13th September revealed that the EU is embracing the ‘flat-earth’ theory of replacement migration.
Frattini’s analysis is:
“In spite of the recent enlargement, which has pushed the EU’s total population up to some 490 million, the number of people living in the EU is set to decline in the next few decades. By 2050 a third of them will be over 65 years of age. Labour and skills’ shortages are already noticeable in a number of sectors and they will tend to increase. Eurostat’s long-term demographic projections indicate that the total population is expected to decline by 2025 and the working age population by 2011.”
He also makes the points:
“Solutions to compensate for the negative impact of demographic ageing on the labour market can be found in the context of the Lisbon Strategy.”
“Migrants are a crucial part of the EU’s comprehensive strategy.”
“The aim of the proposal for a Directive on the admission of highly skilled migrants is therefore to put forward more attractive entry and residency conditions for highly skilled migrant workers to come to Europe.”
We should note, in passing, that Frattini states himself that there is no decline in the working population at present but is keen to bring in migrants in advance and it is clear he has a very shaky grasp of economics since, like the British government, he believes that migration will fill ‘skill shortages’. Since a migrant worker not only contributes to supply but also to demand, this is total economic nonsense and merely shifts ‘skill-shortages’ elsewhere in the economy or increases imports. Further, not long ago, Blair, Chirac and Schroeder were making the solution to EU unemployment their principal aim. There has been a small fall in unemployment in the EU but it appears the EU has now decided this is not an issue.
The idea of replacement migration, that is that Britain and the EU need immigrant workers to compensate for an ageing society, has rightly been described by Anthony Browne, Director of the Policy Exchange think-tank, as ‘one of the most widespread and comforting self-delusions since humanity believed the sun went round the earth. It is the triumph of wishful thinking … over elementary demographics: immigrants are no fix for an ageing society because they age too.’ George Borjas, the famous American demographer, said he was always surprised ‘by the resilience of some factoids in the immigration debate …’ and commented ‘Even though driving a stake through the heart of these factoids will not annihilate them (they are much too useful to advocates).’
The area of immigration offers an immense area for bureaucratic and legal expansion of the EU’s activities so that it is hardly likely that EU officials would be against immigration.
Frattini’s proposal was immediately supported by MEP’s.
Martin Schulz, Leader of the Socialists, said “Europe is a land of immigration and it will be for many years to come”. Lily Grubner, an Italian Socialist and rapporteur on legal migration, said “Our economies will not be able to survive without immigrant workers. By 2050 one third of the 490 million Europeans will be aged over 65.”
Gruber’s report menacingly recommended “Politicians at both EU and member-states’ level must be able to act by going beyond purely electoral considerations and must adopt a comprehensive, integrated approach to immigration policy’ and ‘emphasise the responsibility of the media in the dissemination of an accurate image of immigration and in countering Stereotypes.” Stereotypes indeed!
Before jumping to support the flat-earth theory of replacement migration, Frattini and the MEP’s should have done some basic analysis. Is the EU population ageing? Is this a new phenomenon? Can the workforce support an increasing number of pensioners? What is the effect of replacement migration? Why have all authoritative bodies rejected the idea of replacement migration?
Yes, the population of the EU is ageing and will continue to age. This is hardly a new discovery since it has been going on since the middle of the nineteenth century.
Look at the historic figures for the increase in the number of over 65s.
% over 65s to total population
France Germany UK
% % %
1851 6.7 - -
1901 8.5 - 5.5
1950 11.4 9.7 10.7
1974 13.2 - -
2005 16.4 16.7 16.1
2025 (forecast) 21.2 24.6 21.9
2050 (forecast) 26.7 31.0 27.3
Broadly speaking the percentage of over 65s in the total population has doubled in France between 1901 and 2005 and nearly trebled in the UK. During this period there was no requirement for immigration to fill ‘skill gaps’. The economy and society adjusted to the change. The rate of change is forecast to be slightly greater over the period 2005 to 2050. The change means that some of the economy’s extra growth is diverted to increasing the amount transferred to the over 65 non-workers as it was between 1901 and 2005.
The over 60s present the following picture:
% over 60s to total population
1936 2005 2050 (UN estimate)
% % %
Japan 7.4 26.2 42.3
Italy 10.9 25.2 42.3
USA 9.1 16.7 26.9
Germany 11.9 24.8 38.1
France 14.7 26.8 32.7
UK 12.9 21.4 34.0
The great surge in the over 60s in western countries has taken place and the adjustment has taken place already.
All countries must age at some point as life-expectancy increases. Otherwise we end up with the constant-fertility scenario as portrayed by the UN study ‘World population in 2300’ where the world population is ten thousand times what it is now (134 trillion) and in some countries the population is standing on each others’ shoulders.
In fact, countries as diverse as China, Turkey and Bangladesh are all ageing faster than the UK although from a lower age level. None of them are planning ‘blue cards’ to attract ‘highly skilled’ immigrants.
So the conclusion is that the EU is ageing, much of the ageing has taken place and has already been adjusted to.
The support ratio (of working age to over 65’s) has already dropped dramatically and in the UK is now 4.09:1. Without immigration, the support ratio in the UK is projected to be 2.36:1 by 2050.
Is this a problem? What are the solutions? Can replacement migration help?
If no over 65s worked, there would plainly be a greater burden on workers. In the same way, Britain would have a smaller burden today if it still had the ratio of pensioners to workers as it did in 1901.
However, there are plenty of other ways to improve the ratio of workers to pensioners. One source of labour is to encourage the over 65’s to carry on working. Then there are the 5 million of unemployed and non-workers and social security claimants in the UK. The pernicious effect of the welfare state has encouraged the idea that the current workforce will be supported in retirement by a future workforce whereas true inter-generational accounting would make the current workforce provide for its own pensions in its working lifetime. This led to the tremendous savings of pre-welfare state Britain or of the current Far-East economies but in Europe the attitude of the population has been well summed up by Mark Steyn as ‘It’s not my problem. Call me when I get back from the beach.’
Every reputable authority has pointed out that replacement migration will not work because immigrants also age. As put by Chris Shaw, the government actuary, in Population Trends in Spring 2001,
“Despite much recent attention being focused on migration, it is clear that this is not a long term solution to the ‘problem’ of population ageing.”
“The single reason why even large constant migration flows would not prevent support ratios from falling in the long term is that migrants grow old as well. Although a steady large flow of migrants would continue to boost the working age population, before long it would also start adding to the retirement-age population and a four-to-one (say) potential support ratio would not be maintained.”
As put by Anthony Browne in his book ‘Do we need Mass Immigration’,
“The UN calculates that to keep the UK dependency ratio at 4.09:1 (as in 2000) the UK would need to have 59,775,000 immigrants by 2050, increasing the population to 136 million. At the end of that period, immigration would need to be running at 2.2 million a year, and still growing exponentially. To carry out this strategy of replacement migration, the UK would thus need to import another 130 million by 2100, doubling the population to about a quarter of a billion!’ And so on, ad infinitum.”
As for the EU, the UN has calculated that to maintain the ratio of pensioners to the working population, it would need to import 674 million migrants by 2050. Nor is that a solution because the 674 million will retire and need further migrants to support them.
Among the many organisations which have looked at and rejected replacement migration, perhaps the last word should go to the Home Office:
“The impact of immigration in mitigating population ageing is widely acknowledged to be small because migrants also age. For a substantial effect, net inflows of migrants would not only need to occur on an annual basis, but would have to rise continuously. Despite this and other findings, debate about the link between changing demography and a migration ‘fix’ refuse to go away.”
Of course, Frattini says migration is only part of the solution – a partial ‘fix’. His twenty million immigrants will be three per cent of the 674 million the UN calculates are needed to maintain the support ratio and would change the UK support ratio from a projected 2.36:1 in 2050 to 2.43:1 – a tiny change. Replacement migration is regarded with contempt by every expert and has the ability to unleash massive cultural costs and disruption throughout the EU but it has one great advantage for the Frattinis and Grubners – it is all part of Europeanisation.
As Frattini says, “If managed well, immigration is one area where our citizens will clearly see the added value of a European approach”.
More sensibly, the UK government actuary recommends “measures such as raising workforce participation ratio or discouraging early retirement are likely to remain a more practical tool for increasing the working population”, and “A long term TFR [Total Fertility Ratio] of 2.0 children per woman would produce much the same support ratio at 2100 as would annual net migration of half a million people a year (to the UK) but with a total population of 75 million rather than 120 million”.
There are, of course, important policy implications to be drawn for the UK in the ageing of the EU workforce but they are to do with the re-orienting of British trade away from the EU rather than participating in the dangerous ‘fixes’ of the eurocrats.