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The Blighting of Europe Proceeds Apace

Walter Russell Mead

One crisis begets another: according to The New York Times, southern Europe’s economic woes have sent birthrates plummeting, as couples opt for fewer children in the face of persistently high unemployment and low growth:

Approximately a fifth of women born in the 1970s are likely to remain childless in Greece, Spain and Italy, a level not seen since World War I, according to the Wittgenstein Center for Demography and Global Human Capital, based in Vienna. And hundreds of thousands of fertile young people have left for Germany, Britain and the prosperous north, with little intent of returning unless the economy improves. […]

It adds to the growing concern about a demographic disaster in the region. The current birthrates are well under the 2.1 rate needed to keep a population steady, according to Eurostat. […]

While dwindling populations threaten all of Europe, “the really serious problem is that some of the weakest countries are the ones with the least favorable demographics,” said Simon Tilford, the deputy director of the Center for European Reform in London. “Lower birthrates in the south will mean weaker growth and productivity, holding the birthrate down and producing more fiscal problems.”

Over time, he added, “it suggests that the already divergent economic performance between Northern and Southern Europe may become structural rather than cyclical.”

The last point is a crucial one, speaking to the perverse EU dynamic whereby the prosperous, export-driven north (especially Germany) profits from the artificially low Euro caused by the troubled south. The coming demographic crisis is likely to further exacerbate that divide, with disastrous consequences for the continent writ large.

The EU was supposed to bring “flourishing landscapes” to the continent, in Helmut Kohl’s memorable phrase, ushering in an era of prosperity and democracy. This obviously isn’t happening, but no disaster, not even looming depopulation, seems to shake the confidence of Europe’s top policy makers that they are on the right track.

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