The demographic make-up of Europe is changing. We are getting older and the number of people of working age is decreasing. A study commissioned in 2007 on "Europe's Demographic Future" found that around 56 million immigrant workers could be needed by 2050 to compensate for this decline. A report on the demographic future of Europe by French PSE Member Françoise Castex will be discussed by MEPs in their February plenary session. It is likely to stress the positive role immigration can play.
The high point of immigration into the European Union was in 2004 and 2005 with 2 million people entering the Union each year. They form part of the 3.7% of the total EU population who are from outside the borders of the 27 states.
Eurostat - the EU's statistical collection agency - has found that decline in the working population could begin by the end of this decade - in just two years time. On the other hand, if 2005 levels of immigration are maintained that the population will continue to grow until around 2030.
Countries with low fertility rates such as Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland could require a significant number of immigrants over the coming decades if they want to maintain the existing number of people of working age.
Working population provides tax revenue
Having sufficient people of working age is vital not only for the economy but also for tax revenue. This money will be needed to fund the pension and health needs of the growing numbers of elderly people.
However, the extent to which immigrants integrate and are accepted are delicate issues. A "Eurobarometer" survey found that the insufficient integration of immigrants causes a negative perception of migration. According to polls, only 4 out of 10 EU citizens feel that immigrants contribute to their country.
The report by Françoise Castex MEP aims to try and address this issue by emphasising that the EU needs a clear and reasoned approach to immigration to counter xenophobic opinions and attitudes. It calls for immigrants to be given legal and social security and for human traffickers and employers who use illegal labour to be the target of legal and criminal measures if need be.
Steps to manage migration
A proposed European "blue card" based on the American green card has been one way suggested of managing immigration. Under the proposed scheme it would facilitate the free movement of "brains" around the Union. MEPs have supported the creation of such an EU work permit system. In September last year they backed a report by Italian PSE Member Lili Gruber which called for managed legal migration.
Ireland and Spain are frequently put forward as two countries whose economies have benefited from well managed immigration. Neither country would have achieved the strong economic growth they did between 1999 and 2005 without foreign labour.
The Parliament and EU immigration policy
The ongoing problem of illegal immigration into the EU continues to overshadow attempts to manage the influx. The number of third-country nationals in an "irregular situation" in the EU appears to be, according to somewhat conflicting estimates, between 4.5 m and 8 m. At present, the EU is seeking a coherent immigration policy. The European Parliament is involved in this process at every stage.
A report by Spanish Socialist MEP Javier Moreno Sánchez on the fight against illegal immigration (adopted by MEPs last September), said that irregular migrants must not be treated like criminals. Many of them risk their lives seeking freedom or the means of subsistence in Europe.
As long as the EU has a higher standard of living than those countries to its South and East, then the temptation of migrants to come to the Union will always exist - especially if there are jobs waiting to be had.
- With fertility falling in Europe - what can be done?
- Ageing and shrinking Europe - what's the answer?
- European "blue card" to solve problem of aging population?
- Gruber report on the Policy Plan on Legal Migration
- Moreno Sanchez report on policy priorities in the fight against illegal immigration of third-country nationals
- Françoise Castex draft report on the demographic future of Europe