Humanitarianism vs. empty houses

Europe has to face a choice today: either it opens its doors to immigrants or it will have to get used to a gradual decline in its standard of living. All because of the demographic crisis

In some regions of Germany, detached houses, which used to be a dream come true for the model Germany family, have become a millstone around the neck of their owners. The properties are falling into disrepair because they are maintained individually by the elderly people who, although they live there, do not have such great housing needs and would prefer lower living costs. According to Hildegarda Schröteler-von Brandt, a professor of architecture at the University of Siegen, there is no guarantee that the money earned from the sale of a house would be enough for the owner to get even a room in a care home. According to an article published in ‘Der Spiegel’ a few years ago, some towns in Germany are undergoing depopulation to such an extent that the low water consumption is leading to blockages in sewage pipes and problems with the maintenance of the infrastructure. In Sonnenberg, a town once famous for the production of toys, some of the house and apartment blocks have even been demolished and grass sewn to prevent the empty buildings from becoming eyesores. Naturally, derelict properties and windows boarded with plywood lower the value of neighbouring properties and negatively affect the entire local area. Even though the migration from villages and small cities to large metropolises is mostly to blame for such problems, it is exacerbated by another phenomenon that could have much more serious consequences. According to research published by the Hamburg Institute of International Economics earlier this year, Germany has the lowest birth rate of any country in the world. Only 8.2 children are born per 1,000 people annually, i.e. 0.2 less than Japan, which had previously been the worst performer in this regard. According to government forecasts, if the current trend continues, by the year 2060 the German population could decline by as much as 20 pct (to 67 mln). This would be a disaster for the German social security system and consequently for the entire economy.

Factoring in the current demographic trends, in order to maintain its current standard of living the largest economy in Europe needs one of two things: either a sudden increase in the birth rate or the migration of more workers to Germany. The first option is completely unrealistic, since even providing subsidies for families, which costs German taxpayers over EUR 200 bln per year, has been found to be ineffective for increasing the number of children born in Germany.

The demographic indexes are also alarming in many European countries. According to the data of the Polish Central Statistical Office (GUS), the population of Poland will decline to less than 34 mln by 2050 compared to 38 mln at present (i.e. by 12 pct). Stanisław Gomułka, an economist at the Business Centre Club, believes that halting this decline would require accepting as many as 200,000 immigrants per year. The population of Russia is set to decrease by 22 pct (to 111 million) over less than 35 years and the decline in Portugal will amount to 29 pct over the same period of time.

At the moment there are 60 mln people across the world who have had to flee their homes due to the upheaval of war. This is in fact several times more than just a few years ago and the highest figure since World War II – but the number of refugees in the 20th century was usually in the tens of millions. Added to that, 20,000 people die every day because of hunger and malnutrition-related diseases. This disturbing figure is actually relatively low compared to the previous century, when many more people fell victim to starvation. In spite of all this, only now has Europe decided to open its borders to those desperately seeking refuge here. Coincidently or not, this has happened at the time when it faces the biggest demographic crisis it has ever experienced.