The government needs to make real choices about moderating immigration to keep the population manageable, according to an influential state commission, set up by parliament last year.
By 2050, the Netherlands will be “busier, greyer and more diverse than it is at present” and that means the limited space needs to be better utilised, the Demographic Development 2050 commission said on Monday.
The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in Europe and one where the population is growing quickly, the committee said. And that means population growth needs to be controlled.
“We need to make choices about migration and in doing so put the quality of the economy and social cohesion first,” said commission chairman Richard van Zwol. “This is necessary to ensure sure education, healthcare, and housing remain available to everyone in the longer term.”
Migration is a central issue in the ongoing talks on forming a new coalition government in the Netherlands, with all four parties involved calling for limits to the number of new arrivals.
At the same time, however, industry argues that immigrants are crucial to parts of the economy and to help care and pay for the ageing population.
The commission recommends focus on “moderate growth” which would take the population to 19-20 million inhabitants by 2050. National statistics agency CBS estimates that at current levels, the population will reach just under 20 million by that date. The population is currently just under 18 million.
To achieve this, the population should be allowed to grow by between 40,000 and 60,000 a year, the commission said. The population grew by 140,000 last year but the CBS expects this to settle at around 70,000 a year from 2028.
“By acting now to ensure moderate growth in the population heading towards 2050, service shortages and inequality between different groups will be limited as much as possible,” Van Zwol said.
Social affairs minister Karien van Gennip said in a reaction to the report that it is important to establish what economic activities contribute to the Dutch economy.
“We have a real problem if it is attractive to employers to bring in three people from Eastern Europe rather than invest in a robot,” she said.
“The Netherlands must not become a low wage country. The benefits of cheap labour currently go to the employer while society picks up the cost. That needs to be done more fairly and the government should have a leading role in this.”
At the end of 2022, her ministry’s chief inspector called for a rethink on Dutch economic strategy, telling the NRC in an interview that employers are able to increase their profits using cheap labour, but the social cost – the pressure on scarce space, housing and schools – is being picked up by society.
Without limits, or targets, for population growth, employers will continue to bring in workers to do certain jobs because successful economies like the Netherlands and Germany are ‘magnets for migrant labour’, Rits de Boer told the paper.
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