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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Croatia will establish a ministry for demography. This is the first such resort in the EU

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Croatia is the first European Union country to decide to establish a ministry for demography. – This shows how urgent the problem Croatia is facing is, and which significantly affects the country's economy and society as a whole – says Professor Ivan Czipin from the University of Zagreb.

Sanja Klempić Bogadi, demography expert at the Migration Research Institute, reminds that Croatia it already had a ministry dealing with “demography, family, youth and social policy”, some of the responsibilities of which were taken over in 2020 by the Central Office for Migration and Youth. – I am afraid that the fact that the problem will be dealt with by the ministry, and not the office, will not significantly improve the situation – he emphasizes.

– Demographic problems have been highly politicized in Croatia for 10 years, which is more clearly visible with the growing number of foreign workers filling the gaps in the labor market – adds Klempić Bogadi.

Data from the statistical office show that the country's population began to decline in 1991, when it still amounted to 4.8 million. By 2021, Croatia's population had shrunk by approximately 900,000. – The war and the transition from a planned economy to a market economy accelerated the depopulation process – explains Prof. Chipin.

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Demographic crisis in Croatia

– Depopulation hit rural and less developed areas the most due to lack of work and low wages. Emigration after accession to the EU is also of great importance, especially of young people. It is estimated that several hundred thousand residents have emigrated since 2013, mainly to… German, Austria, Ireland and other developed countries. Emigration is favored by differences in earnings and living standards, but also by educational, family, political and other reasons that should not be ignored, he explains.

– The last census conducted in 2021 showed that a decrease in the number of inhabitants was recorded in all counties (voivodeships). Croatia is characterized today by two demographic processes: depopulation and aging – adds an analyst from the Institute of Migration Research.

The reasons given for the problems included: long-term migration, aging society and low birth rate.

– Currently the biggest demographic and economic problem is the lack of labor force. We do not have exact data, but it is estimated that between 300,000 and 400,000 people have emigrated from Croatia over the last ten years. people, most of whom were of working age. Labor market shortages result not only from emigration, but also from the premature departure of part of the population to retirement due to transformation problems and the collapse of many companies – reminds Klempić Bogadi.

Emigrants to save the Croatian economy

In recent days, Croatia's public debate has featured several ideas to solve – or alleviate – the country's demographic problems, including possibility of attracting emigrants from South American countries.

– Bringing in these people could have positive effects, but the number of Croatians living outside the country is regularly overestimated. It ignores the fact that some of them, although they have Croatian roots, have no connection with the country of their ancestors and do not identify with it. Potential immigrants from South America are even the fourth generation, most of whom do not know the Croatian language. In recent years, similar ideas have not brought results, so today I am definitely skeptical – notes the expert.

Her assessment is shared by prof. Czipin, who emphasizes that “many so-called Croats come from mixed families, often having only one ancestor who emigrated from Croatia.” – The mass return of these people and their descendants therefore seems more like wishful thinking than reality. Despite efforts to make a mass return of the diaspora, it seems that we squandered this opportunity in the 1990s,” adds an expert from the University of Zagreb.

Experts point out the need to try to stop Croatians from emigrating and to attract workers from abroad, which could alleviate the problem in the short term.

– The government should focus on maintaining the current population in Croatia. It is also necessary to adopt a long-term immigration policy that will be able to adequately respond to future economic needs. Discussions on demography often ignore the fact that the quality of life is a key factor retaining residents, which is why it is particularly important to focus on investments in education, which increases human capital, which is crucial for effective adaptation to demographic changes – explains Klempić Bogadi.

Financial incentives for Croatians

– The state can influence migration to a much greater extent than other demographic processes. This may include providing financial incentives for returnees, facilitating bureaucratic procedures, providing easier employment in rare professions, or language learning. Furthermore, it is important to develop programs to facilitate the integration of immigrants into Croatian society. Leaving migration policy to the market and employers could increase anti-immigrant sentiment among the local population, which should definitely be avoided, drawing conclusions from the bad experiences of some developed countries – emphasizes Prof. Chipin.

He explains that often undertaken Attempts to increase child benefits primarily affect birth dates, but not the final number of children. – European demographers considered newborn benefits ineffective, while free kindergartens and flexible work organization were considered the most effective – he adds.

– Young couples need more flexible working conditions, as well as actions in the area of ​​housing policy that make it easier to become independent from their parents. Attempts to encourage parenthood using financial incentives very often do not bring demographic results, as the recent example of Poland shows – says prof. Chipin.

– In demography it is often said that the past shapes the present and the future. Croatia's demographic past, especially in the last three decades, was unfavorable, so you cannot expect miracles and stop negative trends overnight. It should be noted that low fertility and high emigration should not be treated only as a “problem to be solved”, but as a “symptom of some other social problems”. Demographic trends are mainly consequences, and the causes lie elsewhere, sums up a professor at the University of Zagreb.

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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