Population Growth in EU Nations will Cease in Next 50 Years

How to pay for costs linked to aging will be a major concern

Population growth in European Union nations will grind to a halt over the next 50 years, with the number of retired people set to almost double and weigh on the economy, Eurostat said earlier this week.

The decline, which will begin in earnest in 2015, would only be counter-balanced by immigrants coming into the 27 EU nations. The trend will have important ramifications for the European economy, with the number of working age people supporting every retiree projected to drop by half over half a century unless policies change.

According to the data, the EU population -- which totaled 495 million people on January 1 -- is set to rise to 521 million in 2035, but then decline to 506 million in 2060. By that time, Britain would overtake Germany as the EU's most populous nation. Births will continue to fall while the annual death rate will rise, with population growth due to "natural increase" to cease in 2015, Eurostat forecast.

"We are concerned with finding out whether our member states will be able to pay for the costs linked to aging, and whether future generations will not be overburdened," said Amelia Torres, the European Commission's spokeswoman on economic affairs.

The number of people aged 65 and over will virtually double from 17.1% this year to 30% in 2060, with those 80 and over set to almost triple, from 4.4% to 12.1%. "From this point onwards, positive net migration would be the only population growth factor. However, from 2035 this positive net migration would no longer counterbalance the negative natural change," the statement said. "In other words, there would be only two persons of working age for every person aged 65 or more in 2060, compared with four persons to one today," the agency said.

Eurostat said there would be wide differences between countries, with the population in Cyprus set to grow by 66% over the next half century, while that in Bulgaria, the EU's poorest nation, would decline by 28%. Populations in Britain, Ireland, Luxembourg would also see strong growth, while those in Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden would drop significantly.

The agency projects that Britain would have the largest population of the 27 EU countries in 2060 with 77 million people, followed by France with 72 million, Germany 71 million, Italy 59 million and Spain 52 million.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

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