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The EU is wreaking havoc: Central Europe is depopulating

Author : Newspaper Rzeczpospolita

Since the collapse of communism, Romania has lost 1/6 of its population, Bulgaria -1/5, Lithuania - 1/4, and Latvia - 1/3. In part, this is the consequence of European integration
23:21, 21 August 2018
Open source

Since the collapse of communism, Romania has lost 1/6 of its population, Bulgaria -1/5, Lithuania - 1/4, and Latvia - 1/3. In part, this is the consequence of European integration. More than ten years ago, Poland has also faced this phenomenon. After its accession to the EU, more than a million Poles left for the UK, Ireland, and Sweden. Three years later, the wave has weakened, and later the place was taken by visitors from the east, primarily from Ukraine. Therefore, according to a recent report from the statistical agency Eurostat, the size of the population of Poland has practically not changed since 1989 (38 million people).

Otherwise, the situation in several other countries of Central Europe looks different. Luxembourg's statistics report that the population of Lithuania is rapidly declining and then go Croatia, Latvia, Bulgaria, and Romania. The situation looks very worrisome not only on the continent's scale but also on the world scale, because, according to the UN, the same countries top the list of countries with the worst demographic balance. Moreover, in modern times, such a sharp decrease in the population is often associated with wars or epidemics.

Related: 1.2 thousand illegal migrants in Ukraine

"The situation is alarming: there are already 2,000 villages in Lithuania, universities close their departments, there is a shortage of labor," says the director of the Lithuanian Center for Social Research Sarmine Mikulioniene. At the time of the Soviet Union collapse the population of the country reached 3.7 million inhabitants, now this figure is a quarter less. Entire regions are turning into a desert, and the density of the population has decreased to 44 people per square kilometer (this is three times less than in Poland). In Latvia and Estonia, it is still worse (35 and 29 people per square kilometer, respectively).

"First of all, this is the effect of emigration, which we encountered after 2004. Most of the young people leave, the population is getting old. If this continues, our pension system will just collapse," Sarmine Mikulioniene notes with concern.

Related: Labor migration from Ukraine increases: Should it be limited?

To what extent has this phenomenon become a side effect of the EU enlargement? In 2004, the European community was joined by the poorest state in its history. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, trying to prevent an economic shock, proposed to establish a seven-year transition period and open the "old EU" labor market for citizens of new member countries only when it ends. However, at the initiative of Tony Blair, the UK, Ireland, Sweden, and the other states began to lift the restrictions. At this step, Poland and its neighbors in the region also insisted, apparently mistakenly believing that we would benefit from this.

"It served as a catalyst for mass emigration, but the root causes just the other thing. It should be considered why young people in Lithuania still do not see prospects at home," Mikulioniene stressed.

The same problem can also be seen on the Balkan Peninsula.

"Everyone who has an opportunity to leave leaves the country. I do not believe that the existing corrupt system can be destroyed," says Monica Lupu, a programmer who plans to move to Holland. After the end of the communist era, Romania has already lost 3.5 million inhabitants, and there are signals that the outflow of a population has not stopped.

Related: Labor migrants transfer almost $ 10 billion a year to Ukraine

Delft Technical University expert Martin Van Ham notes in a conversation with Rzeczpospolita that the reasons for mass emigration are not limited to integration with the EU.

The Soviet Union tried to keep the population in the village since the task of Lithuania was to create the products for the whole country. Under capitalism, such a system became useless, there was no work outside Vilnius, Kaunas, and Klaipeda, so people began to emigrate," the expert explains. Ukraine and Belarus, which are not part of the EU, are also experiencing a demographic crisis due to the out-migration. Еhe integration was supposed to promote rapid economic growth that would keep people in their homeland, however, due to the painful crisis encountered, in particular, by Lithuania or Romania, expectations were not justified.

"It's a vicious circle, it becomes harder to break away from it. When young people leave, fewer children grow up, and it aggravates demographic problems. Lithuania's accession to the Eurozone process did not stop," Mikulioniene claims.

Some countries of Central Europe, for example, the Czech Republic, managed to avoid falling into this trap: they managed to reach a sufficient level of development in order to prevent people from moving.

Related: Ukrainians are forced to become labor migrants: How to return them?

"Sweden has faced with this phenomenon at the beginning of the 20th century, when we have lost one-third of the population, as a result, wages in our country increased, and immigrants began to return. This will happen to Central Europe too. Currently, emigration is beneficial to the countries of this region, because it allows reducing the unemployment rate and gives a significant funds inflow," says Pieter Belevander, an expert on migration from the University of Malmö.

Despite the fact that the Polish economy is doing very well, we still do not witness a mass return of emigrants; it is difficult to expect this process to begin in Romania or even in Lithuania.

Related: Lithuanian government to set quotas amid rising immigration from Ukraine

The Baltic States are experiencing a real race against time. "Reducing the population is a blow to our security, and Russia can take advantage of this situation. The tension is mounting in society. Recently we had a discussion over whether to allow a Russian-registered corporation that is engaged in taxi transportation and collects data about its customers work in our country. There are also discussions on the issue about whether to accept Ukrainian migrants, many of whom speak Russian," Mikulioniene explains.

The new number of the onboard magazine "Aeroflot" is full of advertisements for the luxury real estate: most of all offers come from Sochi, then Latvia - Riga and Jurmala come. This is one of the many signals showing that Russia has not forgotten about its former possessions.

Jędrzej Bielecki

Read the original text at Rzeczpospolita

Related: Poles' attitude to Ukrainian labor migrants has changed

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