There is perhaps nowhere better than the German countryside to see the dawning impact of Europe’s plunge in fertility rates over the decades, a problem that has frightening implications for the economy and the psyche of the Continent. In some areas, there are now abundant overgrown yards, boarded-up windows and concerns about sewage systems too empty to work properly. The work force is rapidly graying, and assembly lines are being redesigned to minimize bending and lifting.
In its most recent census, Germany discovered it had lost 1.5 million inhabitants. By 2060, experts say, the country could shrink by an additional 19 percent, to about 66 million.
Demographers say a similar future awaits other European countries, and the issue grows more pressing every day as Europe’s seemingly endless economic troubles accelerate the decline. But bogged down with failed banks and dwindling budgets, few are in any position to do anything about it.
Germany, however, an island of prosperity, is spending heavily to find ways out of the doom-and-gloom predictions, and it would seem ideally placed to show the Continent the way. So far, though, even while spending $265 billion a year on family subsidies, Germany has proved only how hard it can be. That is in part because the solution lies in remaking values, customs and attitudes in a country that has a troubled history with accepting immigrants and where working women with children are still tagged with the label “raven mothers,” implying neglectfulness.
If Germany is to avoid a major labor shortage, experts say, it will have to find ways to keep older workers in their jobs, after decades of pushing them toward early retirement, and it will have to attract immigrants and make them feel welcome enough to make a life here.
OK, a thought experiment. It’s easy to see why someone from Africa, the Middle East, or Asia would want to emigrate to Europe. But what about Americans? If a European government offered you a package to relocate and become a citizen of a Eurozone country, would you do it? What would have to be in the package — and which country would you choose? Please speculate realistically; don’t say, “Give me a million dollars a year.” Is there anything plausible a European government could offer you as an inducement to relocate there?
It will not surprise you to learn that I would at least consider relocating to France, but I almost certainly would not do so. I love France, but it’s not home. Besides, I make my living and find my happiness in the English language. I may not be able to support myself. Plus, I want to raise my children to be Americans, not Americans who happen to live in Europe. Moreover, a France filled with people like me wouldn’t be France anymore, would it? I don’t want the French to be anything but French, and although I love their country and their culture, I don’t really want to be French.
The only way I could be tempted to do this is if a) my children and I could maintain dual citizenship, b) I could retain the right to homeschool my kids, and c) I were able to establish a more or less secure way of earning a living as a writer there. I can’t foresee any realistic way to meet these conditions, though. And what would we do about church? I doubt I could make enough money to make living in Paris feasible, and I would imagine it’s extremely difficult to find Orthodox parishes outside of major cities. It’s just such a long shot for me at this point in my life that I can’t realistically see making a move like this. Yes, I would be in a place where the language is magnificent, the food delicious, and the countryside varied and beautiful, but that wouldn’t be enough.
But that’s me. What about you? Which country or countries? What kind of realistic relocation package could a government offer you to emigrate?