Can Europe Be Saved From Demographic Doom?
Europe’s birthrate is among the lowest in the world. At 1.59 per year, the European Union’s current births are too low to sustain its survival. And while native birthrates have declined, Europe’s overall population continues to grow due to mass immigration.
For the younger generation in Europe, employment is either non-existent or so poorly paid that it doesn’t allow them the means to support themselves, let alone a prospective family. But Europe’s declining birthrate is by no means just a result of work precariousness—there’s a much deeper cause.
A 27-year-old conservative thought-leader in Italy and Europe, Francesco Giubilei, publisher of Future Nation magazine, says this crisis stems mainly from cultural and social factors. Today’s youth is taught by its parents, of the anti-traditionalist ’68er generation, that there is little intrinsic value in building a family. The consequence has been a generation that’s planning its lives without any aspirations to have children. Additionally, European youth are moving from rural areas to large cities in search of study and job opportunities. This has contributed to them leading atomized lives detached from community. Today’s youth feels that it doesn’t belong anywhere, and so why should they leave anything behind for a future generation?
“There is a total lack of perspective in my generation’s way of approaching life. They don’t see a future for themselves beyond the present moment,” Giubilei said. “Furthermore, there’s the added factor of our provincial, rural areas disappearing into our cities. Our youth moves to study or to build work opportunities in a city, but the family isn’t factored into this equation. Many of them end up living individualistic lives with no proper direction beyond their careers.”
For politicians, the crisis of meaning among European youth isn’t an issue worth addressing. They see declining birthrates as a natural result of post-industrialized economies, where people living comfortable lives do not feel the need to have children. And importing a new generation of young people from abroad seems like a convenient solution to an aging European population that isn’t able to sustain itself.
As the German migration researcher Wolfgang Kaschuba, who works for the Berlin Institute for Empirical Integration and Migration Research, recently warned: “If Germans want to maintain their economic well-being, we need about half a million immigrants every year. We need to guarantee that our society stays young, because it’s aging dramatically.”
Among European politicians, only the populists have been challenging this issue. In doing so, they’ve gained popularity among disaffected, working- and middle-class people.
These new leaders have no qualms about using the words “replacement migration” to describe how ruling elites prefer to address declining birthrates. Unlike in the United States, where such contentions are still controversial, European conservatives have brought them into the mainstream.
The leader of the Dutch conservative Forum for Democracy, Thierry Baudet, told The American Conservative: “It’s not a conspiracy theory, it’s a state of belief of European leaders.” He noted that “it’s important that we don’t replace the European population with foreigners.” Similarly, a European member of Parliament for the anti-immigrant League party in Italy, Francesca Donato, told The American Conservative: “We are not in favor of the replacement of the Italian population with foreigners. We want to preserve our national identity, culture, and history.” She clarified that while “multiculturalism is welcome, it shouldn’t translate into complete replacement.”
The leader of the Spanish Vox party, Santiago Abascal, argued that immigration is a political euphemism for the trafficking of cheap labor into Europe so that multinational companies and financial interests can increase their profits: “The establishment argues that our system must be maintained in the face of an aging population, but mass immigration renders work increasingly precarious.” According to Abascal, the 2015 refugee crisis was used as a pretext to further the economic ambitions of Brussels bureaucrats at the expense of Europe’s working population, especially its youth.
Baudet also argues that establishment politicians push for immigration because they favor a globalized worldview under which national identities will disappear: “They genuinely believe we should move beyond religious and national identities to become global citizens.” Baudet, however, thinks such policies would be disastrous, not only because they risk plunging Europe into “tremendous conflict,” but also because they risk creating a “brain drain” from Africa and the Middle East.
The solution to this problem, many of these conservative leaders say, is to provide motivation and assistance to Europe’s young people so they have their own children. Abascal uses Hungary as a model, where, under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, families that have three or more children are given government grants to buy houses and no longer have to pay income tax. The state finances free nurseries, allowing women to re-enter the workforce without having to worry about childcare costs. In addition, Hungary has inscribed Christianity in its constitution to create a strong religious identity, providing its youth with a sense of direction and meaning.
The problem of low birthrates ultimately lies internally, within Europe’s culture and social life. A young generation that doesn’t aspire to have families and that’s increasingly alienated from any sense of community has driven much of the crisis. Whether Europe can be salvaged and revived is yet to be seen.
Alessandra Bocchi is a freelance journalist focusing on foreign policy in North Africa, Europe, and the U.S. She has been covering the protests in Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @AlessaBocchi.