From Socialist Voice, September 2008

Demographic changes and wage rates spur migration flows

Europe’s population is ageing, and falling, with some regions in eastern Europe likely to become almost deserted in coming years. Meanwhile new studies show that the European Union still has wide disparity between men and women’s pay as well as in levels of minimum wage.
     The population of Europe will drop from 591 million to 542 million by 2050, while the proportion of those over the age of sixty-five will grow from 16 per cent to 28 per cent, according to a report by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development.
     European women on average have 1.5 children, compared with 2.5 in Asia and Latin America and 5 in Africa; an average of 2.1 is needed to sustain long-term population figures.
     But the average masks wide differences between European countries. Britain, Ireland, France and Scandinavia are in the range 1.8 to 2, while Germany, Spain, Italy and most of eastern Europe are below 1.4.
     Based on twenty-four social and economic indicators, including age trends, job prospects, and levels of environmental pollution, the survey found that Scandinavia, Britain, the Netherlands, western Germany, Switzerland, Slovenia, Austria and France face the best future in the form of vibrant, economically successful societies.
     Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, southern Spain, southern Italy and eastern Germany have bleaker prospects, though regions around capital cities, such as Bratislava, Prague, and Budapest, defy the negative eastern European trend.
     The sustainability or “attractiveness” map of European regions translates into migration flows, which will see populations drop by 12 to 18 per cent by 2030 in the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus and large swathes of rural Bulgaria and Romania, as well as some parts of Poland and east Germany. “Remote areas no longer have any means to stem outward migration, they are simply drained empty,” the study says.
     The report provides a comparison of Irish and German demographic developments and should alert us to the possibility that we may end up subventing German pensions through EU “own resources” should we allow the Lisbon Treaty to be foisted on us or, alternatively, through a modified EU Pensions Directive.
     The widely differing levels of minimum wage available to workers in EU member-states shows another reason why some eastern European economies continue to suffer outward flows. While employees in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg can legally take home no less than €1,279 to €1,570 per month, a Bulgarian worker’s bottom line is only €92 per month, while Polish or Czech employees can only count on €247 to €288, according to a survey by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, based in Cabinteely, Co. Dublin. In Ireland the minimum wage at present provides €1,384 per month for a forty-hour week.
     Average earnings are generally rising much faster in the east than in the west. Inflation-adjusted pay went up by 18.3 per cent in Latvia last year and by 4.4 per cent in Poland, while real income shrank by 1.1 per cent in France. The average increase throughout the European Union in 2007 was 8.3 per cent, while in Ireland, despite the baying by employers, it was 4.9 per cent—a mere 0.7 per cent ahead of Britain and 3.4 per cent below the EU average.
     Meanwhile, the gender gap persists. Women in the European Union still earn on average 15.9 per cent less than men. Slovenia, where women tend to earn 93.1 per cent of men’s wages, is the most egalitarian EU state in this regard, with Ireland, surprisingly, at 91 per cent or fourth-best of the member-states and Italy, Spain, Poland and France also scoring high. Slovakia is the worst place to work for women, with only 73.1 per cent parity, while Germany also scores low, with 78 per cent.
     So, the gap continues to exist; but despite the obvious contradiction, the ICTU and some unions urged us to support the Lisbon Treaty because measures taken by the European Union had closed the gap! If this was true, surely founder-members, such as Germany, would have achieved a situation of parity?
     However, even the gender-conscious Netherlands maintains a full 20 per cent gap, leading one to the only conclusion: that workers must not rely on the European Union to give them rights, as the ICTU and others would advocate.

■ The full report can be seen at www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P6-TA-2007-0098+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN&language=EN.

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