‘France’s relative attractiveness could stall,


Ten years ago, United Nations projections showed a dramatic shift in Europe’s demographic balance: By 2050, France was set to become the most populous country in the European Union. Plunged into a demographic winter, Germany would lose 10 million inhabitants, while France would gain nearly 10 million, to approach a total of 75 million. If France was younger than its neighbor, it could become the leading power in continental Europe, in terms of both human and economic resources.

This hope has now been lost since the latest projections are spectacularly different. In 2050, metropolitan France will have just 66 million inhabitants, compared with 79 million in Germany.

Beyond the inherent fragility of this type of forward-looking exercise, what has happened in 10 years? The mini-baby-boom in France that occurred at the beginning of the century has faded, and the number of deaths is much higher. Across the Rhine, migration flows have substantially changed. Against a backdrop of globalization, wars with their trail of refugees, population growth and climate change in the Global South, the immigrant population is growing everywhere. But, as François Héran’s latest book, Immigration : Le Grand Déni (“Immigration: The Great Denial”), remarkably explains, France has not proved particularly attractive. At the same time, Germany has welcomed an average annual flow of roughly 1 million migrants, half from Europe and half from countries outside the EU.

The obsession with ‘regaining control’

The contrast in numbers is matched by a dizzying contrast in political terms. Instead of being concerned, those in power are relieved – privately – that so few Ukrainian refugees have chosen France, even in comparison with countries even further away from Ukraine geographically: six times fewer than in Ireland, three times fewer than in Portugal and two times fewer than in Spain. Whether it’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin’s project or those of Les Républicains (LR, center right) party members, the obsession is to “regain control” by fighting the mirage that France is attractive, using costly bureaucratic policy and equally bureaucratic quotas.

And yet, while France’s natural demography remains more favorable than Germany’s, the latest projections from the French National Institute for Statistics and Economy suggest a virtual stagnation in the available workforce over the coming decades, assuming a constant migration policy. Even if we were to eradicate underemployment, there would still be a shortage of manpower to meet the needs that are already present, those caused by dependency and, even more so, by the necessary “far-reaching action” for the climate highlighted in the report prepared by Jean Pisani-Ferry and Selma Mahfouz.

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