Since its historic reunification almost two decades ago, Germany has been easily the European Union's most populous nation, with 20 million more inhabitants than its closest rival.
But by 2050 Britons, who both reproduce more and allow more immigration, are likely to outnumber Germans and within a further 10 years France, too, should have leapfrogged its eastern neighbor in the population rankings.
The findings come in an official EU study, released Tuesday, which concedes for the first time that Europeans will begin their long foreseen demographic decline in just seven years' time - the point at which deaths exceed births.
The report, published by the European Union's statistical agency Eurostat, reveals large variations between the birth rates of member states but paints an overall picture of an aging population.
The document does not explore the reasons for differences in European fertility. But it does hint at the profound economic and social changes likely to unfold during the next half century, as the proportion of older people grows steadily.
The document did not spell out these likely shifts, but they could include reduced funding for schools, heavy burdens on welfare and social security systems, and perhaps even a political push for much larger immigration, which is currently deeply out of favor with most European voters.
According to the document, not only would Germany lose its status as Europe's most populous nation but several East European nations would experience a sharp drop in numbers - with populations shrinking by a quarter or more. By contrast Cyprus, Ireland and Luxembourg would all boost their numbers by at least half.
Immigration would not, on current trends, make up the shortfall in the working age population, the report says.
Now with a combined total of 495 million people, the 27 nations that make up the EU would increase their population to a total of 521 million in 2035 before falling back to 506 million in 2060.
The document deals only with population trends in Europe. According to another report published last year, the United States population will increase from 301 million to 468 million in 2060, including 105 million new immigrants. The study, by Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, an independent research institute, used U.S. Census Bureau data and Census Bureau assumptions about future birth and death rates.
Officials stress that the European projections should be treated with caution because they assume current trends continue and that there is no change of policy to deal with the looming demographic crisis.
But for Europeans the economic implications of an aging population are stark. The Eurostat report says that in 2008, in the EU's 27 nations, "there are four persons of working age (15-64 years old) for every person aged 65 years or over." In 2060 "the ratio is expected to be two to one."
The document also suggests a shifting balance in terms of countries' population size. By 2060 the United Kingdom would have 77 million people; France, 72 million and Germany, 71 million. Italy's population would grow slightly then fall back to its current level of 59 million while Spain would increase from 45 million to 51 million.
But Poland, which currently numbers 38 million, would drop to 31 million, a reduction of 18 per cent.
Meanwhile even bigger decreases would hit Bulgaria (28 percent), Latvia (26 percent, Lithuania (24 percent) and Romania (21 percent).
By contrast the population of Cyprus would grow by 66 percent, Ireland by 53 percent, Luxembourg by 52 percent and the United Kingdom by one-quarter.
"From 2015 onwards," the document says, "deaths would outnumber births and hence population growth due to natural increase would cease. From this point onwards positive net migration would be the only population growth factor.
"However from 2035 this positive net migration would no longer counterbalance the negative natural change and the population is projected to begin to fall."
Amelia Torres, a European Commission spokeswoman, said the EU needed to stabilize its finances, increase employment and make structural reforms related to pensions.
"We are concerned to find out whether member states will be able to pay for the costs linked to this aging and whether future generations will be over-burdened by it," she said.
Last week, German researchers from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development said that without immigration, the EU's population will shrink to 447 million by 2050, Reuters reported from Berlin. The experts predicted that some rural areas - notably in Poland, Bulgaria, Eastern Germany, northern Spain and southern Italy - would empty out completely, Reuters said.
6 months ago