Freedom of movement is often lauded as one of the EU’s greatest policies, as it allows workers to take up employment in any other member state under the same conditions as its home country. But Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic has warned the policy is causing population decline across the bloc, something that is badly affecting smaller EU nations. The centre-right leader described it as “an existential problem” and called on Brussels to help prevent a greater drop across the bloc.
Mr Plenkovic told the Financial Times EU member states are being hit with falling populations because of low birth rates and emigration to more prosperous regions.
He said: “This is a structural, almost an existential problem for some nations, and we are not the only one.
“We are losing a city of 15,000, 16,000 people per year just by the fact that we have 15,000, 16,000 more deaths than births.
“For a country of around 4million, that is a lot, right? Plus we have freedom of movement now”.
The population fell in 10 of the 28 EU member states in 2018, including some of the bloc’s smallest nations: Croatia, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania, according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistics agency.
But Croatia, the EU’s newest member, was particularly affected by a declining population and is the fifth-fastest shrinking country in the world.
At the beginning of 2019 it recorded a population of 4.07 million – it’s lowest since 1957.
The country is also set to lose 17 percent of its 2017 population by 2050, according to the United Nations.
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He said: “We really did a lot in terms of demographic politics, tax, childcare, amounts of money that we give to parents for motherhood, etc — we are doing as much as we can.
“But I think we should do something at the European level.”
But Croatia isn’t alone in grappling with a shrinking population, with other former Yugoslavian countries facing stark demographic trends.
Romania’s population could fall by 30 percent in 2015, the UN predicts and has already lost a significant chunk (16 percent) of its 1990 population.
In Hungary, prime minister Viktor Orban has been heavily promoting higher birth rates.
Women who bear four or more children will never have to pay income tax again, while newly married couples are eligible for a loan which will be written off if they have three children.
Serbia, too, has tried to provide cash benefits for each child, with an increasing scale for up to four children.