Eurostat: Baltics face toughest population challenge in EU

  • 2005-04-13
  • By Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, along with their East European siblings in the EU, will be the main contributors to the bloc's declining population over the next four decades if current demographic trends continue, a newly released report by Eurostat shows.

If birth-and-death trends don't take a turn for the better, from now until 2050 the EU will see its population decline most drastically in Latvia (about 19 percent), Estonia (16.6 percent), Lithuania (13 percent) and the Czech Republic followed by Hungary and Slovenia, the survey says.

The three Baltic countries are also among the union's poorest regions. According to another Eurostat survey released last week, Estonia's purchasing power stands at 45 percent of the EU25 average, while in Latvia and Lithuania the respective numbers are 37 percent and 40 percent.

Eurostat, the EU's statistical office, issued a report on EU population projections from 2004 to 2050 on April 8, using current demographic trends. The report, however, does not take into account possible measures that could change trends.

Continent-wide, the total population of the EU25 will increase from 456.8 million in 2004 to over 470 million in 2025. The growth, however, will be mainly driven by immigration, as the number of deaths in member states is expected to surpass births as soon as 2010.

Even then, the net migration effect will fade after 2025, when the EU population is expected to take on its gradual decline so that by 2050 a little less than 450 million people will live in the EU25 zone (though total population of the union expected to rise dramatically with the inclusion of countries such as Turkey).

The 10 states that joined the union in 2004 will experience a population decrease of 11.7 percent over the whole projection period, while "Old Europe's" population will grow by 0.4 percent.

Perhaps most importantly, the EU will see a dramatic fall 's from 67.2 percent in 2004 to 56.7 percent in 2050 's in the share of working-age population. The share of young people aged 14 and below will also decrease by about 3 percent, while the elder demographic will nearly double, from some 17 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2050.

Apart from the notable population increase in micro- and small EU states such as Luxembourg, Cyprus and Malta, the bloc's economic tiger, Ireland, is expected to enjoy a 36-percent boost from 2004 to 2050.

However, even Ireland could face almost triple the elderly dependency ratio (population aged 65-plus as a percentage of people aged 15 to 64) by 2050.

Experts have pointed out that such problems cannot be solved through central planning, since Brussels lacks full authority to shape member states' social and pension policies.

During a meeting in New York last week, experts from the U.N. Commission on Population and Development, named aging and urbanization, reduction of fertility levels and family size, and increased family planning as the global population's foremost demographic trends.

Social Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Marika Raiski said the general situation in Estonia was that the population is shrinking, mostly due to a low birth rate, which in turn boosts the country's ratio of senior citizens.

The ministry said that in 1995 the share of up-to-14-year-old children made 20.9 percent of the total population, and in 2003 that share stood at 16.6 percent. The working-age population, aged 15 to 64, amounted to 65.8 percent of the total population in 1995 and to 67.5 percent in 2003. In 1995, the percentage of people aged 65 and over was 13.3 percent and by 2003 it had increased to 15.9 percent.

Certain progress, however, has been recorded over the last year. If in 1995, over 13,500 children were born and over 28,000 people died, then in 2004, the country saw 14,055 births and 17,831 deaths.

The increase might be connected to the parental allowance system introduced in January 2004. The new government not only has demonstrated its loyalty to the current family policy, but also plans to increase allowance terms from 11 months to 14 months. The system will thus remain in force at least until the end of 2007, the year of the next general elections.

Another positive trend recorded in Estonia was the improvement of maternity hospital services and the health of babies.

According to the Estonian Baby Doctors Society, in 1992 about 15.7 babies out of 1,000 died during their first year, and in 2002 than frightening rate has dropped to 5.7. The number of dead-born babies per thousand made 9.8 in 1992 and 4.9 in 2003.