Emptying Countries

Did those who promoted the free movement of people within the European Union predict this?

Under the heading ‘Population decline’ the 18 January 2020 issue of The Week reported that the prime minister of Croatia says his country is suffering a “population loss equivalent to losing a small city every year”.

He is calling for EU-wide strategies to tackle the ‘existential’ threat in southern and eastern Europe caused by falling birth rates and mass emigration.

Last year, a study found that 230,000 Croatians left (mostly for Germany, Austria and Ireland) between 2013 and 2016.

That’s in a country with a population is just 4.2 million. The populations of ten of the EU’s 28 member states fell in 2018, with the biggest relative drops recorded in Bulgaria, Latvia, Lithuania, Croatia and Romania.

One can imagine it as the rich countries sucking the creativity and vigour out of the poor satellite countries. Was it foreseen?

We can think back to the decades before the free movement of people was written into the laws of European Union. People emigrated to the United States, for example, because of lack of opportunity or persecution in their home countries.

Not everyone left their homes to find a new life. Some held back. It was those willing to take a chance who went. That is true whether they were running from oppression or running to something.

The result was that the United States thrived (along with other reasons of geography and natural wealth) because it was populated by people who took a chance. I don’t think it is a stretch to picture it that way.

And in that case, the depleted populations of Croatia and the other countries are also the populations that didn’t make the jump, that didn’t risk all. The risk takers have gone. What damage can that do to a country filled with those who stayed behind?