Skip to main content

Population Declines in Eastern Europe

The impact of the EU's free movement policy is heavily discussed here in the UK, particularly in relation to immigration from Eastern Europe. What is rarely discussed is the impact of this policy on Eastern Europe.

The United Nations latest population projections reveal that the ten countries with the fastest shrinking populations are all in Eastern Europe. Since 1989 there have been some significant falls in population, for example:

Latvia        27%
Lithuania   23%
Bulgaria     21%

Many of these population declines started well before these countries joined the EU but the continued emigration to Western European countries has exacerbated the situation. According to the Economist 700,000 Bulgarians live in other EU countries.

Emigration is not the only reason for the decline in population. Fertility rates are very low, they range between 1.3 and 1.6 in the ten fastest shrinking countries. This is not dissimilar from many Western European countries but in these countries the population is bolstered by immigration. By contrast there are low levels of immigration in Eastern Europe. Somewhat paradoxically many Eastern European countries are very resistant to immigration despite falling population numbers, although for many immigrants their desire is to locate in Western not Eastern Europe. Thus a more welcoming approach may not significantly increase numbers.

The UN population projections for 2050 and the percentage declines are as follows: