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.

Crowds at Bern station. Photo by Sebastian Meier on Unsplash
The EU saw a population decline in the past two years.. (Photo by Sebastian Meier on Unsplash)

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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What are my rights while I wait for my Norwegian residence permit to be extended?

Many foreigners in Norway need a residence permit to live and work in the country legally. But what are your rights when your residence expires while you wait for a new card to be issued?

What are my rights while I wait for my Norwegian residence permit to be extended?

Most of those from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) will need a residence permit, whether for workers, students or family members, to be a legal resident in Norway. 

The length of residence will typically depend on one’s permit, and you will need to reapply for another residence card before your old one expires if you want to continue to live, work or study in Norway. 

However, some residence permits can expire before a new one is issued, leaving some confused about their rights while waiting to hear back about their latest application. 

So, what are the rules? The Local has spoken to the Norwegian Immigration Directorate (UDI) to find out what your rights are if your permit expires while waiting for a new one. 

READ ALSO: The most common reason Norwegian permanent residence applications are rejected

Can I keep working in Norway while waiting for a new permit? 

Those with renewable residence permits can continue working (and studying as the same rules apply) while they wait for an answer to their application, even if their permit expires in the meantime. 

“If they (the resident) have a renewable residence permit and they register the application on time, they can work and stay in Norway as before until they receive an answer to the application. This applies even if their residence permit expires while they wait,” Per-Jan Brekke, a senior press adviser at the UDI, told The Local. 

What if my employer asks me to document my rights while my permit is expired? 

You can document to employers and the authorities that you have applied on time by using your application for your new permit and your expired residence card. 

“Your residence card shows the date your residence permit expires. The receipt reference number shows the time when the application was registered. The first four digits of the number show the year the application was registered. The next four digits show the date (YYYYMMDD). For example, receipt numbers beginning with 20200815 show that the application was registered on August 15th 2020,” The UDI writes on its website

Applicants can find their application in the portal

The UDI can also provide written confirmation, which cannot be used to confirm residence when travelling. 

What about my other rights? 

To keep your rights while you wait for a new permit to be issued, you must register an application for renewal or permanent residence online at least seven calendar days before your current permit expires. 

If you apply within this time frame, you will continue to have the same rights to live, work and study in Norway as before- even if you have not had your appointment with the police yet. 

More specifically, this means that you will still have the right to receive support from NAV and remain listed as a resident of Norway in the National Population Register (Folkeregister). 

You can read more about your rights while waiting for a new permit on the UDI’s website here

Can I leave Norway?

Technically, you can leave Norway, but you will have a tough time travelling and may be refused entry to Norway and other countries at the border. 

“Even if they have applied in time, they may have trouble travelling in and out of Norway while waiting for a new permit. This is because they don’t have a valid residence card. Without the residence card, they can be stopped in the border control in other countries. They may also have trouble getting into Norway again when they return,” Brekke told The Local. 

“If they are staying abroad when their residence permit expires, they risk not being allowed back into Norway,” Brekke added. 

Additionally, the UDI cannot provide travellers with written confirmation that they can use to travel while they wait for their new permit. 

“We can`t write confirmations that can be used for travel and which airlines and other countries’ authorities will accept. All travels without a residence card will therefore be at your own risk,” Brekke said. 

How long are waiting times? 

The UDI advises applying as early as possible due to long police waiting times. There isn’t a catch-all expected waiting time for applications, though. Instead, it will depend on the permit you are applying for and your own situation. 

The Norwegian Immigration Directorate (UDI) has guides on rough waiting times for your application times, which it updates regularly. 

The waiting time only calculates the time it takes to process your application and doesn’t take into account how long it will take you to get an appointment to hand in your documents. 

The waiting times are updated every month, so it is worth checking regularly. Additionally, it may take longer to process your case than the waiting time provided. 

You can click here to take a look at the UDI’s waiting times for various application types. 

 For information on renewing a temporary residence permit, click here

You can also find information on ordering a new permanent residence card here