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The Depopulation of Europe

By common consent, the recent EU summit at Stockholm was a dull affair. EU leaders made some progress on creating a single financial market throughout the Union, and on establishing a standard European patent. Other proposals for economic liberalisation, were deadlocked. The idea of a single European air traffic control area was blocked because of a dispute between Britain and Spain over Gibraltar; proposals for liberalisation of gas and electricity supply were resisted by France, which promotes the public service advantages of public sector utilities.

There was good news, however, in that the Stockholm summit witnessed the first signs that the EU may at last be creeping, crab-wise, toward an idea hitherto taboo: that the European Union may require an immigration policy. Until recently, member governments held two ideas on immigration: they all took the view that ordinary immigration must be restricted or prevented; they all agreed that asylum-seekers be vilified as “bogus” economic migrants and deterred through policies of harassment, intimidation and - in some cases - detention.

In addition, some member governments, like those of Germany and Austria, have demonstrated serious anxiety that EU enlargement will incite a flood of job-seekers from Central and Eastern Europe, and made clear that they will demand a long delay in granting free movement of labour to any new member state. Eighteen months ago, at the Tampere summit, EU leaders said that they recognised “the need for more efficient management of migration flows.” What they really meant, however, was stronger measures to tackle illegal immigration.

Stockholm came one step closer to admitting Europe’s real population problem, when it spoke of “the demographic challenge of an ageing population of which people of working age constitute an ever-smaller part.” Indeed, the summit communique said that “an in-depth discussion of immigration, migration and asylum” would take place at the EU summit at the end of this year.