Posted: Sun Mar 25, 2007 12:19 am Post subject: The end of Europe as we knew it
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Europe appears to be losing faith in its own future, Pope Benedict XVI said Saturday, warning against "dangerous individualism" on a continent where many people are having fewer children.
"One must unfortunately note that Europe seems to be going down a road which could lead it to take its leave from history," the pontiff told bishops in Rome for ceremonies to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, a major step toward the creation of today's European Union.
Benedict said he was concerned about Europe's "demographic profile"—though he did not describe the trends that have alarmed the continent for decades.
In countries like Italy, where many married couples have one or no children, the population is expected to shrink dramatically in a generation or two unless fertility rates quickly increase.
Benedict expressed concern that Europe's population trends, "besides putting economic growth at risk, can also cause enormous difficulties for social cohesion, and, above all, favor dangerous individualism, careless about the consequences for the future."
"You could almost think that the European continent is in fact losing faith in its own future," Benedict said.
A recent Eurostat survey showed Poland's fertility rate to be the lowest in the EU, at 1.23 children per woman.
Sociologists and economists blame the economy, particularly the unemployment rate—at 14.9 percent the highest in the EU. Worried about losing their jobs, many women in Poland put off having children, often until it is too late.
Earlier this month, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski proposed a new program of tax exemptions and support for working mothers in the hope of encouraging births and ensuring that Poles "continue as a nation."
Italy's fertility rate steadily plunged to a low of 1.25 children per women of childbearing age in 2001, with the last few years seeing a small turnaround, mainly due to births to immigrants.
Italian experts cite Italian's desire for an easier lifestyle, but they also blame shortages of day care centers, expensive housing and a sluggish job market which sees many Italians living at home until well into their 30s as reasons for the country's relatively few children.
Antonio Golini, an Italian demographer, told The Associated Press recently that unless the retirement age is raised, Italy will have more people drawing pensions than it will have workers in 2050.
Spain also has a low fertility rate, while France, with family friendly policies such as cheap day care and generous parental leave, has experienced a baby boom.
France had more babies in 2006 than in any year in the last quarter- century, capping a decade of rising fertility that has bucked Europe's graying trend. Its fertility rate in 2006 was 2.0 children per woman.
A rate of 2.1 children per woman is considered the minimum necessary to keep a population from shrinking.
Ten percent of France's population is "Muslim" in the same way as the other 90% is "Catholic." France is a secular state and the French are a mostly secular people. This is because in France religion is very restricted and controlled by the state. Anything that doesn't fit with the secular moral code of the state is banned. This stands in sharp contrast to America where there is a real free market of religion, which is one of the reasons why the US is a much more religious country.
Immigration to France has remained low and declined since the 80s. It was in the 60s and 70s, during the Trente Glorieuses when the country's robust economy attracted so much immigrant labor. Today the foreign born population is about 8% of the total population. This compares to the US where about 12% is of foreign birth. A steady policy of subsidies for child rearing has increased France's birth rate among native ethnicities. So it is not just a higher birth rate among North African decedents (or Beurs, of which there are 3 million) that accounts for the rising national average.
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