For the past few decades, France’s birth rate has been a source of national pride. The country’s fertile recipe is sourced from a mix of pro-child government policies and generous childcare provisions, matched with a culture focused on modern family models and gender equality. After a long decline in the 1970s and 1980s, France’s birth rate went up in the 1990s and continued to climb. By the start of the new century, French births were still rising while many European countries’ were falling, holding the number one spot in the bloc for nearly half of the 2000s. But since 2015, the country has seen a three-year decrease in the ratio of babies born per woman. France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE) released the country’s 2017 birth rate statistics last month, revealing a substantial drop in the birth rate to 1.88, down from 1.92 in 2016 and 2.01 in 2014. And yet, the country is still neck and neck with Ireland in holding the highest fertility rate in the Union.
Despite the drop in births, France’s population has not decreased. On the contrary, it has increased over the past three years. In fact, population figures have climbed positively during the last three decades. The reason? Immigration. Numbers from February 2018 estimate that France’s current population sits at 65.14 million, which ranks 20th in the world. It has an annual growth rate of 0.5%. Within the 28-member bloc, its population ranks second only to Germany. And yet, the principle reason for this increase is immigration, rather than an increase in French births.
Europe’s overall population growth has dwindled since the 1960s, that is, until the start of this decade. In 1950, four of the world’s top-ten most populated countries were within western Europe. Today, Europe’s most populated country, Germany, ranks 16th globally. Birth rates have shrunk to such a degree that several populations within the continent are shrinking. What’s more, a slowing birth rate has created an ageing population.
While some may argue that a growing population means more mouths to feed, and ageing population, the phenomenon that is occurring in several European countries as well as Japan, is economically disastrous in the long-term. It brings with it a decline in the workforce, leading to less overall output, while piling on increased health care costs and pension commitments. These variables all lead to a decrease in standard of living.
This is where migration is making a net-positive contribution to the block. Eurostat data showed that in 2016, the same year in which 13 of the 28 member states had more deaths than births, immigration boosted the bloc’s total population numbers by more than 1.5 million. Out of 18 member states that saw an increase in population in 2016, 5 reported that migration was the “sole driver of population growth,” given that the natural population change was negative.
While France’s birth rate has indeed seen a dip, it still maintains a rate more than 15% higher than the EU average, and about a 28% higher than its South EU Summit (SEUS) counterparts. Comparing figures of each of the 7 SEUS nations over the last 55 years, it’s clear that France is closest to reaching the ideal “replacement rate” of 2.1 children per women to maintain a stable population.
EU Average – 1.58
Many of the SEUS member states are those who have been hit hardest by the wave of migrants pouring into Europe. And yet, they are also some of the countries within the bloc with the greatest need for population growth. All but France are frontline nations, who have received hundreds of thousands of migrants on their shores since the start of Europe’s “migration crisis” in 2015. However, France, for its part, is facing a record number of asylum claims (100,000 in 2017 alone) and French President Emmanuel Macron is working diligently to find the sweet spot in his domestic policies between keeping the door open to outsiders, and literally clearing the country’s streets— many of which were filled with illegal immigrants at the end of last year.
In January at the 4th South EU Summit in Rome, the heads of state of France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Malta and Cyprus collectively called for increased support from the bloc in its efforts to manage migration inflows. The leaders underscored that the issue is both of regional and international importance, and should be acknowledged as such. “Our fundamental role and burden of protecting those borders must be acknowledged and shared by the EU,” they stated in the joint declaration released following the Summit’s working session. “We firmly believe that positive outcomes on the external dimension of the Migration Agenda need to be complemented by a determined effort to build a new and fair Common European Asylum System (CEAS) based on the effective respect of the principles of responsibility and solidarity, especially towards frontline Member States.”
The seven southern European nations will gather again shortly in Nicosia, Cyprus for the next summit.