Is Europe committing suicide?
We get caught up these days with the ongoing War on Terror, the rise of the BRIC nations, whether China will be THE new superpower and whether we’ll all be outsourced to India. But let’s spend some time thinking about Europe. My step-son is French and he bemoans the decline of the socialist French state and its cradle-to-grave health and welfare system. The heady days of France’s socialist government were 1981 to 2002 when the state spread burdens and responsibilities for health and welfare in an equitable fashion. But France is now in crisis. The unemployment rate is hovering around 12.2% and it’s 22% for those under 25 years. A largely unassimilated African and Arab immigrant population exploded into violent riots and civil unrest in 2005 and 2007. Some say the French language may be heading towards extinction – English is now the lingua franca of diplomacy; French language study has markedly declined in the US due to the competition of Spanish language studies, presumably driven by the large Hispanic American population of the US.
But are the traumas of France an isolated occurrence or is Europe itself on the perilous track to decline? Bruce Thornton’s new book, Decline and Fall: Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide, ponders Europe’s potential demise. A continent that once burnt brightly is perhaps more like a dying star. Thornton, who is a classics Professor, points to a number of factors that are influencing the ability of Europe to reclaim its glory days:
- dwindling birthrate
- unsustainable welfare states
- undiscriminating immigration laws
- a failure to confront the gathering of Islamic jihadism
- Christianity is a receding force in Europe
According to a United Nations report, Europe will need something like 700 million immigrants by 2050 to offset declines in the size of population and to support an ageing population. The population across Europe is expected to decline: Italy, for example, with currently 57 million people, will shrink to 41 million by 2050. The Russian Federation will decline from 147 to 121 million by 2050. And replacement migration will be required to prop up Europe because the projected median age in 2050 is 53 years old. Overall, Europe’s population, currently at around 731 million will likely be 664 million by mid-21st Century. And so Europeans will represent 7% of the world’s population instead of its current 11% share. If you’re interested in projections of population decline in Europe, you can check out the UN report here.
And Europeans’ love affair with leisure and siesta could prove their undoing as well as generous welfare entitlements, which have long been viewed as an antidote to ruthless American-style capitalism. Europe’s economic siesta translates into, for example, a traditional 35-hour working week in France (which Sarkozy killed off recently) as opposed to the 40+ hours the Americans are used to. And it means that for every one person working in Spain, there is one person receiving a social security benefit. Or that a Dutch physicist, who is “stressed”, at the age of 48 can look forward to guaranteed disability benefits of $US1,630 a month until the age of 65.
Of course, this all means spiralling welfare dependency costs; the challenge of welcoming 15-20 million Muslims into the European community; ongoing battles with unemployment rates; dwindling defense spending; and a decline in Europe’s ability to influence in the world. Sarkozy is valiantly attempting reform in France and it will remain to be seen whether the pseudo-religious manner in which Europeans view the welfare state can be arrested and replaced by a move towards a free-market economy. Otherwise, we might be saying “Europe RIP” by 2050.