Marc Elcardus is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and author Re-Set And Freedom / security. His contribution appears every two weeks.
At the end of 1980, we were 9.8 million in this country. A modern country makes population projections, documented estimates of the expected future population. This can potentially be useful for planning education, employment, health care policies, spatial planning, and so on. In 1981, the Belgian Statistics Service estimated that we would have 9 million inhabitants in 2020 and 8.8 million in 2025. We are 11.6 million today, more than 2.5 million more than expected. That is Brussels (the nineteen municipalities) plus one Antwerp plus one Gent plus one Bruges plus one Leuven plus one Aalst plus one Mechelen plus one Hasselt plus Sint-Niklaas more than expected. Fortunately, we are not a planned economy, imagine. But unless there were wealthy parents, it became difficult for young people to purchase adequate housing.
In 1992, when it was already clear that population growth was underestimated, forecasts were revised. According to the new calculation, we will be 10.5 million today. So, between 1992 and today, 1.1 million more people have been added than expected.
Immigration is, of course, the reason for the systematic reduction of population growth. In the 1960s, net migration (the number of people migrating minus the number of people migrating) averaged 14,275 people per year. In the 1970s and 1980s, many believed that this balance would decline. When our forecasters were crunching the numbers in 1992, their European colleagues reassured them that migration was a transient phenomenon.
“In the context of national projections,” our statisticians noted in their report, “almost all EU countries have assumed a decline in net migration or an annual zero balance between now and 2020.” Zero balance between 1992 and 2020! The Belgians didn’t believe it, but you never know when so many experts might expect it. They considered three possibilities: a low migration balance of 0, a high of 20,000 and a settlement of an average of 10,000 per year.
Until the year 2000, this interstitial hypothesis was not far from reality. During that period, the average annual net immigration was just over 14,000. A difference of 4,000 people might not seem like much, but because of family reunification and because the immigrants also had children, after a few decades there would be a few hundred thousand additional residents, who in turn would become Elderly and in need of care. From the turn of the century the high estimate, an annual credit of 20,000, was also found to be lower than the overall estimate. Over the past ten years, the average annual net migration is 47,000 people (not counting illegal immigration and the exceptional year 2022 with only 63,000 Ukrainian refugees).
As of 1992, the population was growing by about 51,000 people annually. In the context of the 1990s, just under half of this was due to new immigration. Over the past 10 years (excluding 2022 again), 80 percent of the population growth has been due to immigration. The Statistical Service (Statbel) expects the balance of migration to stabilize at 25,000. This is much lower than has been observed recently. However, many international reports do not predict a decrease, but rather an increase in migratory pressure. Sub-Saharan African countries often combine a lack of economic development with rapid population growth and a lack of community formation and thus vulnerable states with immediate sensitivity to the consequences of global warming.
Along with the Netherlands, Belgium (and even more so Flanders) is one of the countries in the world with a very high population density. It’s time to ask what number we want to be with. What population density are we allowing this country to become? A fierce battle for space is already raging between people who want a home, people who want to protect nature, farmers, people who want a smooth road network, who hope for recreational space, industrial work… The greater the density of population, the more it becomes a sum game Zero, as one loses what the other gains, and loss means, as is the case today for a number of farmers, the end of a dream of life.
It may be gradually announcing from a spacious house on the green that from now on everyone will have to live in small apartments. For many in those apartments, life is stifling with no prospect of that dream in which flowers are blooming, children are playing, the barbecue is burning and the cat is sunbathing: a house with a garden.
In the Netherlands, Paul Schaeffer pointed out in a controversial study (Trend of Migration, Scientific Council for Government Policy) that small differences in net migration eventually cause huge differences in population size. This eventually led to the creation of a government commission to advise the Dutch government on scenarios and policy options related to migration and demographic development. I think it would also be appropriate to bring together here a committee of real people who develop scenarios of desired and potential demographic development, who study the economic, social, political and cultural consequences of different scenarios and the measures needed to mitigate them. to check.
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