by Rory Watson in Brussels and Richard Ford (August, 27 2008)
Britain is set to become Europe’s most highly populated nation within two generations, driven by immigration.
Forecasts published by the European Commission suggest that Britain will overtake Germany within 50 years as the population rises from 60.9 million today to 77 million.
The projected 25 per cent increase triggered renewed calls for the Government to stem the flow of immigration, which has surged since Labour came to power 11 years ago. Increasing population, together with a rise in the number of elderly people, will heap further pressure on public services, particular the NHS.
Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that the report showed a coherent strategy was needed to deal with population growth. “This not only requires an annual limit on immigration, which takes into account its impact on the public service infrastructure and cohesion," he said, “it also requires us to tackle other issues like family breakdown which have a direct effect on resource use in our country, as well as to improve our skills base."
A Home Office spokesman said that the Government was introducing a points-based immigration system to ensure only those individuals that Britain needed could come here to work or study. “The points system is flexible, allowing us to raise or lower the bar according to the needs of business and the country as a whole," he said.
The latest figures suggest that the number of people over the age of 80 in Europe will almost triple from 22 million to 61 million within 50 years, when there will be two people of working age to support every pensioner. The current ratio is four to one.
While Britain’s population is set to rise by a quarter, the biggest increases will be in smaller countries. The population of Cyprus will rise by 60 per cent and those of Ireland and Luxembourg by more than 50 per cent, the Commission estimates.
The population of France, which has the highest birth rate in Europe, will increase to 72 million, while Spain will grow from 45 million to 52 million. Germany, by contrast, will shrink from more than 82 million inhabitants to about 70 million, because of a trend towards smaller families.
The populations of 14 of the EU’s 27 members are expected to be smaller in 50 years than now. The most significant changes will be in countries that have joined the EU only recently. The population of Bulgaria is forecast to fall by 28 per cent, Latvia by 26 per cent, Lithuania 24 per cent, Romania 21 per cent and Poland 18 per cent.
EU statisticians predict that within seven years deaths will outnumber births and that the only source of population growth will be migration as people on Europe’s eastern and southern flanks look to improve their lot by emigrating to the Union.
In the short-term, the number of citizens in the EU is expected to rise from 495 million today to 521 million by 2035. But from this peak, it will gradually decline to 506 million in 2060.
A European Commission spokeswoman said: “We are concerned with finding out whether our member states will be able to pay for the costs linked to ageing, and whether future generations will not be overburdened."
Tom Clougherty, the policy director at the Adam Smith Institute, said that the projected 25 per cent increase in Britain’s population would have a significant impact on infrastructure and public services. “The main implications will be for housing and transport, both of which are already in short supply," he said.
“In the former, we have a market that is restricted by planning regulations, preventing developers from meeting demand, while in the latter there has been a lack of government investment."
Public services would also come under strain. “In healthcare the rationing that we are seeing already is likely to get worse," he said.
However, John Salt, from the Migration Research Unit at University College London, said: “I do not think anybody is really in a position at the moment to plan for what is likely to be happening in 50 or 60 years time. There are too many variables. For instance, we do not know how long the present trend on net migration is going to continue."
Published in The Times here