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Grazia Tanta: Demography in Europe – a world of inequalities (2015-2020)

In 2007, in the Lisbon Treaty, with pomp and circumstance, territorial and social cohesion was promised within the EU. In 2021, demographic discrepancies remain enormous and permanent.

Originally published by Grazia Tanta.


1 – Demography reflects the capitalist drift and its promoters

2 – Demographic trends in the European regions

3 – The enduring demographic inequalities

4 – Permanent internal regional inequalities

1 – Demography reflects the capitalist drift and its promoters

Observation of the directions and values of the population evolution of a nation-state or region, included in one of the first, reveals quite clearly the relationship of population with the territory, and particularly with its ruling classes and its indigenous capitalists. It is evident that a political class with a predisposition for corruption and patronage takes the population like a herd to be sheared on a regular basis, compelling it to remain submissive and undemanding of decent incomes and dignified living conditions, in order to please multinationals or unqualified and clumsy local businessmen with a vocation for slavery. In order to attract “foreign investment” and be competitive in the global arena, the struggle of all against all is in force.

On the other hand, the political class of a richer country, with a shortage of less qualified or worse paid workers, will use immigrants as a way of containing salaries and rights; and will know how to keep the threat of expulsion, fear and submission at tolerable levels, managing the anathema launched by local nationalists, racists and fascists, so as not to provoke an exodus.

In the context of the neoliberal drift, a territory and its population are mere products, more or less competitive, like coffee machines or bananas; if they are more competitive, birth rates will be higher, the age profile will be balanced, it will welcome people coming from less competitive areas of the same nation-state, from countries near or even very far. Migration, especially from distant places, is not easy for the newcomers, who are confronted with an unknown language, different habits, low salaries, more difficult and poorly paid work, authoritarianism and animosity from local chauvinist, racist and fascist groups.

The Lisbon Treaty (2007), with pomp and circumstance, introduced the concept of territorial cohesion. This means that the respective populations can and are able to take advantage of their territory’s particular characteristics to generate employment and decent wages for their inhabitants; so that their work effort produces “a more balanced and sustainable development” to use the patois of the bureaucrats. As it will be quantified later on, the inequalities in the European framework are profound, in terms of quality of life and income, the desertification of huge areas, the migrations that accentuate inequalities and generate ethnic animosities and xenophobia that follow the growth of GDP in some places and entropy and abandonment in others. Covid, beyond its inherent action, has come across the inability of the political classes to manage the presence of the virus, more than a year after the outbreak of the crisis; except in the confinements, teleworking, layoffs, inappropriate use of police forces, etc.

The Treaty also says (Article 176) that the European Regional Development Fund will contribute to the correction of imbalances; which, fourteen years later, is slow to show results. The result is xenophobic and fascistic attitudes; stale nationalisms and patriotisms that have been capturing conservative electorates; and throwing the so-called left-wingers into a past decrepitude, since they do not know any better.

2 – Demographic developments in European regions

About five years ago, we observed the demographic evolution in Europe, detailing the analysis to NUT – 2 regions, from 1990 to the period 2010/15. Five years later, we intend to make a similar analysis for the period 2015/20, comparing it with the previous five-year period and, of course, observing the changes that have occurred in the meantime. In graphical form, the following maps show, for the purposes of comparison, the evolution between the periods 2010/2015 and 2015/2020. 

The observation of the following two maps, with the demographic variations for the two decades, shows several compact patches of areas with demographic expansion as well as population regression.

In 2010/15 there are four large patches with population declines below -1% (red) – one covers most of the Iberian Peninsula; another covers substantial parts of Germany; a third extends from Poland to the Gulf of Finland; and a final patch covers the Balkans and Hungary, although it should be noted that data is not available for several countries, including Greece.

The regions with a population decline between 0 and -1% in 2010/15 are two broad areas; in the western part of Germany and a territorial band extending from the westernmost part of Poland southwards to Slovakia, as well as isolated regions in several countries.

In 2015/20, the Iberian area with a population decline of less than 1% is centred on Western Iberia, thus reducing in relation to the previous five-year period; the German territory with a population decline of less than -1% is substantially reduced and, on the other hand, the entire Western Italian territory from the Swiss border to the south, including the islands, shows clear population decline; in the Balkans the situation is unchanged even though data for almost the entire region is now available; finally, the population decline previously seen in Poland and the Baltic countries is spreading through Finland and densifying southwards.

Looking at the regions where population growth was positive but less than 2% in 2010/15 reveals several territorial concentrations. One is prominent on French territory; another is broadly spread between the Czech Republic and the Adriatic, including parts of Austria and Northern Italy. There are also important areas in Southern Italy, Poland, Western parts of the English coast, Scotland and finally the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia, Swedish and Finnish territories.

Looking at the same level of population development for 2015/20, there is an enlargement in the área, comprising the north of England and Scotland, the northern regions of Norway and Sweden, and also in the south-western area of Germany, as well as several smaller areas, mainly in Spain, northern Italy, Poland or the Czech Republic.

Robust population growth (2-5 per cent) in 2010/15 covers several areas. One is southern and western France; another stretches from Italy (Lazio) to southern Germany; a third covers the whole of southern England; and it also covers southern Sweden, Iceland and Belgium.

Taking the same parameter for the 2015/20 period, a vast, homogeneous zone should be highlighted, starting in Navarre and Catalonia, crossing southern France and reaching southern Germany and almost all of Austria. Other, smaller areas are observed in England, on the North Sea coast and on the Norwegian coast; and, in addition to large areas of Turkey.

In the first half decade, the situations of demographic growth above 5% present the largest territorial areas in southern Norway, in the areas of Stockholm and Helsinki; in the areas of Geneva, central Switzerland (including Zurich); in Languedoc-Roussillon and Corsica in France; in Lazio, Luxembourg and in the areas of London and Prague. On the map, the most extensive area of strong demographic dynamism is in Turkey.

In the 2015/20 approach we have separated cases of population growth between 5 and 10%, from those where it is more than 10%. The latter cases are very few – Iceland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Greek islands of the North Aegean sea (near Asia Minor) and some regions of Turkey.

With regard to situations of demographic growth of 5 to 10% over the period, the most extensive are in southern Scandinavia, Ireland, Corsica, the Balearic Islands and Turkey: in addition to the most dynamic Swiss regions (Geneva and Zurich), city-centric or urban areas such as Berlin, Leipzig, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Hamburg, Bremen, Budapest, Madrid and Helsinki stand out.

3 – Lasting demographic inequalities

The evolution portrayed in the various five-year periods since 1990 shows (table below) the values corresponding to the total population of the countries with demographic reduction. Their number remains relatively constant, with a higher period in 2010/15, resulting from the inclusion of Germany, Spain and Estonia, which is no longer the case in the most recent five-year period; Italy, on the other hand, showed a negative indicator in the last period. These situations are easily revealed in the two maps presented above. The situation in 2015/20 shows, for the first time, a reduction in the volume of the populations assigned to these countries with decreasing populations. 

Countries with decreasing population (EU)*
Population (1000)66049103189104190168365234261162802
%  of total EU13,721,221,133,546,231.7
All the períods – Bulgária, Estónia, Croácia, Letónia, Lituânia, Hungria e Roménia
In 5 periods – Polónia, except 1995/90
In 3 períods – Rep. Checa (the first three);
In 2 períods – Eslovénia (first two); Alemanha; Portugal e Grécia (last two)
In one períod – Eslováquia (2005/2000); Espanha (2010/15); Itália (2015/20)
With a decreasing population in the last two five-year periods (not EU members) – Sérvia, Albânia; e, Montenegro (2015/20)

We then proceed to distribute the EU countries – and others in the European area – according to the average figures for population growth (in %) over the two five-year periods:

DecreasingWeak growth <1)  Medium growth (1-5)  High growth (>5)
Lituânia-4.4-7.0Monteneg.0.5P. Baixos3.02.0Suíça 5.8
Letónia-4.0-6.3Rep. Checa0.7Dinamarca2.92.3Noruega 6.4
Alemanha-0.7Rep. Checa1.5 

Nota:  Non-EU country members (letters in italics )                                      Eurostat

Within the EU, 20 countries do not change the scale of their demographic dynamics, 9 of which have consolidated population decline, while another 9 show demographic growth in both periods, which reveals the great and persistent inequalities within the EU. It also reveals that Community funds are far from generating homogeneity and equality of living conditions, as can also be seen in the maps herein inserted. In fact, to admit that a homogeneity in living conditions between the various regions of Europe is a serious and persistent objective is a litany that appears in the speeches of the political classes and eurocrats, to numb and deceive the people; the reality portrayed in the maps easily shows that “the king has no clothes”.

The number of situations of demographic decline is almost equal in both periods, with greater homogeneity in the most recent period where the most serious cases are between -4.4 and -2.6% of population reduction, much lower than in the most recent five-year period, especially for Lithuania and Latvia. As mentioned above, for both periods, and as can be seen on the maps, the cases of greater population decline are located in the Baltic and in the Balkans. In 2010/15, Germany, Spain and Portugal were the only countries with demographic decline in Western Europe and, in the following period only Italy and Portugal were in this situation, which certainly dragged into the last period the wounds generated during the “healing” intervention of the regulatory institutions (IMF, ECB …).

Capitalism  has not  equality, between nation-states or between people, as its brand image; on the contrary, inequality allows the choice of the cheapest, the most precarious, the most submissive, because it results in greater margins of capital accumulation and greater competition among those who depend on their labour to live, even if only poorly. Decades ago, the demand for cheaper labour was limited to the rural areas of the same country (Portugal in the 1950s, for example); then it spread to nearby countries (Portuguese, Spanish, Maghreb emigrants to France or Yugoslavs to Germany in the 1970s);and, more recently, in an intercontinental framework, with Latin Americans and Africans throughout Europe, Philippins in the Persian Gulf monarchies and, tutti-quanti in the USA, especially Latin Americans, honoured with an electrified and guarded Wall, which was one of the great flags raised by Trump. As a rule, homogeneity in the populating of territories does not exist and is a potential frustration for those who believe in human rationality applied to planning, territorial cohesion and other beautiful melodies sung by the political classes.

Germany, Estonia and Spain are the only countries that have moved from a population decline in 2010/15 to population growth rates, with Italy in the opposite direction. The following chart shows five-year changes in population for all countries in Europe, in alphabetical order.

We highlight in the following graph, some situations:

·       Some countries show a population growth of more than 5% in 2010/15 – Luxembourg and Malta  – both close to tax havens and both, EU members; and also Norway, or the European vault (Switzerland). Turkey is a special case at a time of geopolitical assertion among Muslim countries in its vicinity, after the cessation of hopes of an EU integration. An integration of a country with the population of Germany, with a Muslim population  and, with “competitive” wages was not well regarded in Europe.

·       With a population growth of more than 5% in 2015/20, Luxembourg, Malta and Turkey will remain, to be joined by Ireland, Iceland and Sweden.

·       The most notable cases of population decline in 2015/20 are Lithuania, Latvia, Serbia, Romania, Croatia, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary and Portugal, whose situations are broadly unchanged from the previous five-year period.

The inequalities expressed in the above table for European nation-states can be further detailed by considering information on the population-dropping regions in each country for various points in time over the past 25 years. The resulting profile is as follows:

EU regions with falling populations in the five-year period ending in the year in question 
Total de regions199520002005201020152020
Bélgica (11)11
Bulgária (6)666666
Rep Checa (8)nd67133
Dinamarca (5)1
Alemanha (36)5111225254
Estónia (1)11111
Irlanda (2)ndnd1
Grécia (4) (a) (13 em 2020)129
Espanha (19) (b)552118
França (22)2511310
Croácia (2)ndndnd122
Itália (19) (c )71173216
Chipre (1)
Letónia (1)111111
        Lituânia (1) ( 2 em 2020)111111
Luxemburgo (1)
        Hungria (7) ( 8 em 2020)377666
Malta (1)
Holanda (12)1141
Áustria (9)3111
        Polónia (16) (17 em 2020)nd12109118
Portugal (7)nd21366
Roménia (8)778777
Eslovénia (1)11
Eslováquia (4)3222
Finlândia (5)1112
Suécia (8)533
     G Bretanha (35)610211
Total UE (252)469775739793

a) Data for only 4 of the 13 Greek regions which held around 46% of the total population

4 – Internal regional inequalities

The observation in the previous table for a 25-year period can be complemented with information on all the regions with high population decline in Europe (2000/2020) and using the designations of the regions as they are referred to in their countries. We have also made a calculation of population changes in 2000/2020. (%)

                                                          (%)                                                             (%)

Severen tsentralen-26,7Dytiki Makedonia-7,8
Yuzhen tsentralen-16,5Peloponnisos-2,3
Redução populacional(país) 2000/2020   1239 milRedução populacional(país) 2000/2020    57 mil
Estónia-5.2     Irlanda31,4
Redução populacional(país) 2000/2020     72 milAumento populacional (país) 2000/2020 1187 mil
Centre – Val de Loire-0.5Letónia-19,9
Aumento populacional (país) 2000/2020 6775 milRedução populacional(país) 2000/2020474 mil
Eslováquia1.1Rep Checa4.1
Západné Slovensko-2,8Severozápad-0,7
Stredné Slovensko-1,4Strední Morava-0.5
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/202059 milAumento populacional(país) 2000/2020   416 mil
Áustria11,2Vidurio ir vakaru Lietuvos regionas-21,6
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/2020899 milRedução populacional (país) 2000/2020718 mil
Chemnitz (2015/2020)-2.5Norte-2,1
Aumento populacional (país) 2000/20201003 milAumento populacional(país) 2000/202047 mil
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/2020126 milAumento populacional (país) 2000/2020198 mil
Luxemburgo44,4Países Baixos3,0
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/2020193 milAumento populacional(país)  2000/20201544 mil
Mellersta Norrland-1,0Pohjois-ja Itä-Suomi-2,8
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/20201466 milAumento populacional (país) 2000/2020354 mil
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/2020108 milAumento populacional(país) 2000/2020  6 mil
Suíça20,1Reino Unido13,4
Suíça20,1Reino Unido13,4
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/20201442 milAumento populacional(país) 2000/20207852 mil
Warminsko-Mazurskie-1,8Redução  populacional (país) 2000/2020 452 mil 
Podlaskie-1,1   Veri-5,1 
Mazowiecki regionalny-1,3   Jug-6,7 
Redução populacional (país) 2000/2020305 mil Redução populacional(país) 2000/2020213 mil 
Liguria-4,0 Roménia-13,9
Molise-6,9 Nord-Vest-10,6
Campania-0,1 Centru-12,5
Puglia-2,0 Nord-Est-16,7
Basilicata-8,0 Sud-Est-19,0
Calabria-6,6 Sud – Muntenia-16,4
Sicília-2,4 Sud-Vest Oltenia-20,5
Sardegna-1,6 Vest-13,4
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/20202718 mil Redução populacional(país) 2000/2020  452 mil
Region Vojvodine-1,5Espanha17,0 
Region Sumadije i Zapadne Srbije-2,5Asturias-4,6 
Region Juzne i Istocne Srbije-3,0Castilla y León-2,9 
Redução populacional(país) 2000/2020601 milAumento populacional (país)   2000/2020 6862 mil 
Aumento populacional(país) 2000/2020889 milAumento populacional(país) 2000/2020  85 mil
Montenegro3,1Agri, Kars, Igdir, Ardahan-1,5
Aumento populacional (país) 2000/2020  19 milAumento populacional(país) 2000/202016266 mil
Macedónia do Norte2,7Bélgica12,5
Macedónia do Norte2,7Bélgica12,5
Aumento populacional (país) 2000/202055 milAumento populacional(país)    2000/20201283 mil
Jadranska Hrvatska-1.4Dinamarca9.2 
Kontinentalna Hrvatska-8.0Dinamarca9.2 
Redução populacional (país) 2000/2020 440 milAumento populacional (país) 2000/2020493 mil

Note:  Redução populacional (país) = Population reduction (country)

            Aumento populacional (país) = Population increase (country)

           493  mil =  493 thousands

Community funds aim to provide favourable conditions for investors and, to a lesser extent, to prevent the massive migrations that take place in Europe and which include, as elements that generate “competitiveness”, the acceptance of workers from Africa, Asia or Latin America, with discriminatory rules, lower incomes, more difficult tasks and always with the threat of expulsion; and many thousands of those who arrive in Europe every day do so clandestinely and even at the risk of their lives. The unhumanitarian acceptance of “illegal immigrants” and refugees, humiliated and persecuted by the repellent agency of capital called Frontex[1], only serves to accentuate this humiliation, obedience, precariousness and low labour costs, since companies established in Europe are obliged to be competitive, as stated in the missal of capitalism, especially the neoliberal way.

On demographic inequalities in the world, Europe and Portugal, see:

The evolution of wealth in Europe (2000/19)   english)

Desigualdades na dinâmica demográfica na Península Ibérica (1990/2019)

These and other documents, here: 

[1] Frontex is an expanded version of the Portuguese SEF which, following the murder of a Ukrainian immigrant by members of the institution, has since been dissolved; but whose members will be split between other police forces.

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