Europe's 'Baby Bust' Signals Major Change; Military, Economic Strength May Falter

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 24, 2005 | Go to article overview

Europe's 'Baby Bust' Signals Major Change; Military, Economic Strength May Falter


Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the cradle of Western civilization, the cradles are empty. From the Atlantic to the Urals, in good and bad economies, in Protestant and Catholic societies, the countries of Europe are witnessing an unprecedented decline in birthrates.

This "baby bust," analysts warn, will affect economic growth, social-welfare programs, patterns of immigration and Europe's ability to pull its weight diplomatically, culturally and militarily in the 21st century.

In 1900, according to U.N. estimates, one out of four human beings on the planet - 24.7 percent - lived in Europe.

Today, the European population share is a little more than 10 percent. By 2025 - with the average woman in the European Union bearing just 1.48 children in her lifetime - the ratio of Europeans to everyone else is projected to be less than one in 14 - 7 percent.

The dearth of babies, coupled with longer life spans for today's elderly, "have major implications for our prosperity, living standards and relations between the generations," according to a "green paper" on demographic change issued by the European Commission earlier this year.

With fewer younger workers in Europe supporting more older pensioners, the immediate worry has been the fate of generous welfare and social protection systems across the continent.

But "the issues are much broader than older workers and pension reform," said Vladimir Spidla, EU social affairs commissioner.

"This development will affect almost every aspect of our lives, for example the way businesses operate and work is being organized, our urban planning, the design of [apartments], public transport, voting behavior and the infrastructure of shopping possibilities in our cities.

"All age groups will be affected as people live longer and enjoy better health, the birthrate falls and our work force shrinks. It is time to act now," he said.

Outside threat

One direct fallout from the demographic slump was on vivid display during the riots that rocked the suburbs of Paris and a string of French cities this month.

The rioters were overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of young, unemployed sons of immigrant families from North and West Africa. As in countries across Europe, the largely Muslim immigrants were drawn to France to take low-end jobs that the native population could not or would not do.

With large-scale immigration from former colonies such as Algeria, France's estimated 6 million Muslims represent 10 percent of the nation's overall population.

Michael Vlahos, a former State Department analyst now with the Joint Warfare Analysis Department at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Laboratory, argues that the "Arab boomer" generation now in its teens and early twenties will have an outsized impact on European society.

With native European populations not producing enough children to maintain current population levels, "the bow-wave of the Arab 'boomer' generation, buoyed by aggressive illegal immigration, could still push the proportion of Muslims in France, Italy and Spain up to a quarter or even a third of their population," Mr. Vlahos wrote in a recent analysis.

In the coming 40-year period beginning in 2010, "even if Muslims in Roman Europe still only represent 20 to 25 percent of the total population, working adults may reach 40 percent or more," he wrote. "That era - from 2010 to 2050 - could alter the nature of European civilization."

The motives of the French rioters - economic, social, religious - remain a subject of hot dispute.

Few think that Islamic fanaticism triggered the riots. But the threat of al Qaeda attacks, such as those against rush-hour commuters in London and Madrid, continues to shadow France and other Western European nations.

In one well-known case, a disaffected Islamic terrorist cited the demographic imbalance in France as one source of his frustration.

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Europe's 'Baby Bust' Signals Major Change; Military, Economic Strength May Falter
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