Why is depopulation seen as a problem

Fear of depopulation

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In fact, it is easier to analyze the background to the systemic crisis. Above all, this includes the notorious underfunding. In an EU comparison, Poland ranks fifth from bottom in terms of public health expenditure per capita. Germany spends around three times as much. Only a few other Eastern European countries are worse than Poland: Croatia, Latvia, Bulgaria and Romania. And the underfunding is of course also reflected in the payment of medical professionals. Healthcare workers in Western Europe or Scandinavia earn many times more than in the young EU states in the east. An internist, for example, earns around four times as much in Germany as in Poland.

The obvious consequence: Young, well-trained doctors in particular with knowledge of foreign languages ​​often migrate immediately after completing their training. This in turn has consequences for the supply density. In 2017 there were around 4.7 doctors for every 1000 inhabitants in Germany, compared to only 2.4 in Poland. But this "drainage of competence" is also noticeable with nursing staff and technical staff, which is called in technical jargon Brain drain referred to as.

All of this taken together must have a dramatic effect in a pandemic situation. It is therefore no coincidence that reports in the Polish media of employees in the country's clinics who are working on the verge of exhaustion or already beyond their limits are increasing. It doesn't look much different in the Czech Republic, which is currently one of the most severely affected by the corona pandemic in Europe. But also in the other eastern EU states the difficulties are comparable to the Polish problems.

In the Ukraine, nurses are moving to Poland

The countries further east are hit even harder, especially crisis-ridden Ukraine. Countless doctors have migrated from there to neighboring Poland in recent years. But also Ukrainian, Georgian or Belarusian nurses fill at least some of the gaps that the Brain drain tore in the east of the EU. The bottom line is that the corona pandemic once again reveals what the Bulgarian political scientist Ivan Krăstev summed up with the catchphrase "migration as surrender": People are leaving because they no longer believe in the sense of staying.

Krăstev considers the "fear of depopulation that is rampant in the East" to be perhaps the biggest problem in Europe, including the West, which is profiting from immigration. "In a world of open borders [...] the Central and Eastern European countries face the same threat as the GDR before the Wall was built," writes Krăstev. The new nationalism in the East is a decisive result of this problem. Seen in this way, the time after the corona pandemic, which throws a glaring light on all these difficulties, could still be very uncomfortable in terms of European politics.